Jack "Happy Jack" Taylor

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While many musicians change their playing relationships constantly through their careers, "Happy" Jack Taylor basically played with same sidekick his whole life. Perhaps that was what he was so happy…
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While many musicians change their playing relationships constantly through their careers, "Happy" Jack Taylor basically played with same sidekick his whole life. Perhaps that was what he was so happy about. At any rate, his childhood friend Charles "Chick" Hurt grew into his musical associate, a relationship that would continue until the late '50s when the two country pickers retired. The pair founded a group called the Kentucky Ramblers in 1930, changing the name to the Prairie Ramblers and picking up lead vocalist Patsy Montana a couple of years later. Both moves were made in response to the growing national interest in so-called cowboy music. While some listeners may wonder if it was really necessary for the group to come riding into their gigs on horseback, there is no question that Montana got her money's worth out of the relationship with this group. In 1935, the singer recorded a bit of wishful thinking entitled "I Want to Be a Cowboy's Sweetheart" and it became the first million-selling song to be recorded by a female country singer. Taylor's musical interests went well beyond simple cowboy songs, however. The versatility of the Prairie Ramblers was more like something expected from an innovative '60s pop group rather than a mountain music band. In fact, the blend of traditional country and other influences, such as swing and gospel, lead in only one direction: the style that came to be known as Western swing. Thought to be primarily a Texan phenomenon, the influence of this style went well beyond the Lone Star State. The Prairie Ramblers' broadcasting base on the WLS National Barn Dance show out of Chicago was more than a hop, skip, and jump from the Alamo, but nevertheless the Western swing was an important part of the group's show. So was somewhat off-color material, such as the song "I Love My Fruit," considered to be the first gay hillbilly song, and perhaps the last as well. Taylor was concerned about the band's reputation in this regard, and pushed for protective measures such as recording these numbers under the alter-ego of Sweet Violet Boys, printing the name of the composer backwards, and having Montana leave the studio so she wouldn't be shocked. By the time the group finally disbanded in the late '40s, the two old Kentucky pals were the only original members left. They continued playing together as a duo in the Chicago area until retiring.