Charley Taylor

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In the annals of blues history, Charley Taylor has been largely overlooked and his recordings, made during November and December 1929, are generally relegated to the status of a footnote to the life and…
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In the annals of blues history, Charley Taylor has been largely overlooked and his recordings, made during November and December 1929, are generally relegated to the status of a footnote to the life and work of Ishman Bracey, who in turn is regarded as a gutsy satellite of Delta blues legend Tommy Johnson. Unlike Charley Patton, Blind Willie Johnson, Blind Lemon Jefferson, Furry Lewis, and Robert Johnson, Taylor was not "rediscovered" during the blues revival of the '60s and early ‘70s. By piecing together the recorded and circumstantial evidence, it is possible to reconstruct a partial portrait of this elusive figure. The name Charley Taylor first appears on the radar of historical inquiry in Atlantic City, NJ where, during the early '20s, he is believed to have led a band that featured vocals by an aspiring blues singer from Chattanooga, TN named Bessie Smith. While no recordings by this ensemble have materialized to help verify the theory, it is plausible that this was the same Charley Taylor who later recorded with Bracey. If indeed Bessie Smith worked with Taylor in Atlantic City, those engagements place him further east than at any other point in his career. Subsequently, Taylor is known to have spent some time in Mississippi where he worked with Ishman Bracey and New Orleans clarinetist Kid Ernest "Mike" Michall, whose surname has also been listed as "Moliere". Near the end of 1929, the three men traveled to Chicago and Grafton, WI to make records for the Paramount label. The first platter they cut was released under the name of Ishman Bracey & the New Orleans Nehi Boys, a play on a popular brand of soda pop. "Jake Liquor Blues" referenced the prohibition-era perils of consuming bootleg hooch mingled with Jamaican ginger root extract and sometimes tainted with toxic solvents. The flipside's odd title, "Family Stirving" almost certainly resulted from a discographical typo and has been replicated ever since. Bracey and Taylor made one record as a duo: "Too Damp to Be Wet" consists mainly of Bracey laughing himself silly, stopping occasionally to force Taylor to listen to jokes that send Bracey back into paroxysms of mirth. "Where My Shoes At?" is built around a sort of minstrel show-styled argument about borrowed footwear spiked with more hilarity from Bracey and a tidy bout of barrelhouse piano delivered by Taylor, who dutifully contributes a few guffaws of his own. Going by Paramount's catalog numbers, the next titles ("Heavy Suitcase Blues" and "Louisiana Bound") stand as Taylor's only solo accomplishments. They are the perfect embodiment of his professional nickname: "44 Charley" Taylor, for traditionally, "44" refers to a piano blues taken at a medium tempo. The New Orleans Nehi Boys reconvened on at least three more occasions during December of 1929, their lively "Mobile Stomp" and "Farish St. Rag" counterbalanced by the more ruminative "Bust Up Blues" and "Pay Me No Mind." The New Orleans Nehi Boys backed Tommy Johnson on two takes of his "Black Mare Blues" and the "P.C. Railroad Blues," which exists as a Paramount catalog entry but has never resurfaced.