Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes

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Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes inevitably loom large in any serious history of Liverpool rock & roll -- a great irony considering that they had most of their success in Hamburg, and never made it…
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Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes inevitably loom large in any serious history of Liverpool rock & roll -- a great irony considering that they had most of their success in Hamburg, and never made it outside of those two cities. They deserved better, based on the recorded evidence and the role they played in the city's musical history. Along with the Beatles and the Searchers, they were among the relative few Liverpool bands of the late '50s and early '60s to steadily build an audience, and maintain a consistently high quality of music and playing -- in contrast to the other successful bands of the period, however, their membership was anything but stable, more resembling a revolving door of talent coming and going. Guitarist-singer Edward "Ted" Taylor started out in music while still at school during 1956 with his bandmates Bobby Thompson (guitar, vocals) and George James, as members of the James Boys Skiffle Group, whose main inspiration was skiffle king Lonnie Donegan. Taylor and James had known each other since the age of five, and Thompson was a longtime school friend.

Meanwhile, the Dominoes were formed in the summer of 1957, out of the remnants of a Liverpool skiffle band called the Sinners, who gave up skiffle and switched to rock & roll after they saw the movie Rock Around the Clock starring Bill Haley & His Comets -- they evolved into the Bobby Bell Rockers, arguably the first rock & roll band in Liverpool, with a membership that included future Lee Curtis All-Stars and Pete Best sideman (and Giles, Giles & Fripp producer) Wayne Bickerton on guitar. In the summer of 1957, the James Boys played a gig with the Dominoes and thereafter decided to give up skiffle music. In the end, Ted Taylor and then Bobby Thompson (shifted over to bass) joined the Dominoes, who transformed themselves from a sextet to an octet (and even a nonet), back to a quartet, and then into a quintet over the next two years -- the lineup of the Zodiacs (later to become Ian & the Zodiacs was formed out of the Dominoes during this period. Kingsize Taylor was the leader of the band, with his name tacked onto its front end in 1960.

They made their debut at the Cavern Club in January of 1961 backing Cilla Black, who became an unofficial fifth member of the group at numerous gigs over the next year. Kingsize Taylor cut an amazing figure, six-foot-five and with huge hands, yet playing solid Carl Perkins and Chuck Berry-style guitar. He had a good ear for talent -- the Dominoes were a farm team for numerous other Liverpool bands, including the Deltones, Rory Storm & the Hurricanes, and the Eyes, not to mention the Fourmost. Through it all, Taylor and pianist Sam Hardie were constant in the lineup, with Bobby Thompson passing in and out. In 1961, the band was voted the sixth most popular group in Liverpool, five places behind the Beatles. During the summer of 1962, Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes went to Hamburg for the first time, where they quickly established a serious audience. They spent a three-month residency at the Star-Club playing hard, very danceable rock & roll with a pair of guitars, bass, drums, and a sax. Taylor also took the trouble, during the second half of 1962, of recording performances by the Beatles on a portable reel-to-reel machine. Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes were signed to the Philips label and started cutting records that year with "Never in a Hundred Years," which was released in Germany and England (by Fontana Records). They also backed singers like Audry Arno and others on various Polydor sessions held in Hamburg, and members of the band played behind Alex Harvey on one LP. The group also worked under the pseudonym the Shakers for Polydor -- which was a separate company from Philips at the time -- where they cut a complete LP.

By 1964, they were able to record for the Star-Club imprint on Ariola, where they cut a very solid body of two dozen rock & roll numbers. By this time, however, the extensive time they'd spent in Hamburg had taken its toll. Although no one quite recognized it at the time, with the signing of the Beatles by Parlophone in the summer of 1962, a sudden shift took place in the focus of music in Liverpool. Kingsize Taylor might have witnessed the very first indication of the change, without realizing it, when drummer Dave Lovelady left the band to continue studying architecture -- Taylor approached Ringo Starr, then considered the top young drummer in Liverpool, and offered him the drummer's spot, and he turned Taylor down, having already accepted an offer from the Beatles. The release of the Beatles single "Please Please Me" in early 1963, only solidified the change. If the Liverpool band scene had been a source of curiosity before, it was now acting like fly paper to dozens of record producers and hundreds of ambitious talent managers. The Dominoes, for all of their reputation and the quality of their music, weren't there to be discovered by the producers who swarmed over the city. By the time the smoke cleared, the band had lost the moment in more ways than one. Not only was every slightly talented group in the northern port city given an audition, but the nature of what constituted the Liverpool sound had been established and solidified for the public. And it didn't include one, much less two saxophones, which is exactly what Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes had in their lineup and their sound. They tried hard to look the part, as established by the Beatles, complete with distinctive matching suits, but they were just a little too old.

Additionally, they were on the wrong end of a trend that was sweeping in with the new bands -- the Dominoes didn't write songs. Bobby Thompson left in 1964 to join Cliff Bennett & the Rebel Rousers, while guitarist-singer John Frankland and drummer Gibson Kemp -- who'd taken the spot that Ringo Starr had turned down -- left to form the Eyes during the summer of 1964. Kingsize Taylor kept working in Hamburg, backed by bands like the Remo Four and the Griff Parry Five, before he organized a new band, called the New Dominoes, from players, English and German, that he encountered in Hamburg. They endured into 1965 playing engagements in Germany, but by 1966 Kingsize Taylor was cutting records for English Decca and Polydor as a solo artist. Taylor finally left the music business in 1967 and never looked back, except once. A decade later, he re-emerged from retirement by way of a tape that he'd made of the Beatles at the Star-Club in 1962. After a series of court maneuvers, this amateur recording was released to the public in 1977 and, for the next 21 years, tantalized serious fans with its content and outraged casual listeners with its quality. Otherwise, he has been content to work at his permanent day job in Liverpool, as a butcher. In 1999, Bear Family Records issued the complete Ariola recordings by Kingsize Taylor & the Dominoes as part of its box set Die Ariola Star-Club Aufnahmen. The group's legacy is virtually forgotten outside of the ranks of old Liverpool and Hamburg music hands, but they provided a training ground for the personnel of many bands that played and recorded (as did Taylor) into the late '60s, and made some impact on the charts, including the Merseybeats.