Everything comes from something else.
David Bowie’s chance meeting with a faded rock star who thought he was Jesus Christ was the first of the building blocks that led to Ziggy Stardust.
Bowie was a teenage Mod fronting his band the Lower Third when he regularly bumped into Vince Taylor at the La Gioconda club in London. Taylor was an “American” rocker who had been a major star in France. By the time Bowie met him, Taylor was a washed-up acid casualty who had fried his brain after ingesting waaaaaay too much LSD.
Taylor was born Brian Maurice Holden in Isleworth, England in 1939. He was youngest of five children. In 1946, the family emigrated to New Jersey, where Taylor grew up on a diet of Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis and Gene Vincent. When his sister Sheila dated Joe Barbera—one half of animation team Hannah-Barbera—the family moved to California.
Like millions of other young American teenagers, Taylor wanted to be a rock ‘n’ roll idol. His singing was so-so but he could do a good Elvis impersonation. Barbera offered to manage him. Through Barbera’s contacts Taylor got his first nightclub bookings singing rock standards with a band. He later joked he was only ever chosen to be the singer because of his teen heartthrob looks.
While rock ‘n’ roll was ripping the joint in America, Taylor was surprised to find that back in his birth country the biggest star was a toothsome all-round entertainer called Tommy Steele. With his boy-next-door looks and wholesome cheeky chappy banter, Steele was loved by both the moms and daughters across the land. Taylor figured if this was English rock ‘n’ roll, then he would clean-up with his Elvis routine.
(Sidebar: While Taylor clearly pinched Presley’s act, Elvis later pinched Taylor’s black leather look for his 1968 comeback show.)
When Joe Barbera traveled to London on business—he took Taylor with him. This was when Brian Holden adopted the name “Vince Taylor.” “Vince” from Elvis Presley’s character “Vince Everett” in Jailhouse Rock. “Taylor” from actor Robert Taylor.
Taylor adapted his stage act from Elvis and Jerry Lee Lewis. He added a biker boy image—black leather jacket, pants, gloves, and winklepickers. He wore makeup and mascara. What he lacked for in voice, he made up in performance. Taylor was a wild man. Utterly unrestrained. His body jerked as if he’d been hit by 100,000 volts of electricity. He wiggled his hips and thrust his pelvis at the hormonal teenyboppers who screamed his name. He was sex on legs. Vulgar. Nasty. Every parent’s nightmare, every teenage girl’s pinup.
His early shows in England during the late fifties-early sixties brought him a record deal. He cut a few disc and wrote the classic song “Brand New Cadillac” (later recorded by the Clash). Taylor garnered mega column inches in the music press. But when he should have been heading to the top, Taylor sabotaged his own career by failing to turn-up for gigs. The reason? His jealousy.
Before a gig he would phone his girlfriend to check up on what she was doing. If she didn’t answer the phone—off Taylor would pop to hunt down his girl and the man he imagined she was with. This meant his backing band the Playboys often performed the gig without their iconic front man. This unreliability damaged Taylor’s reputation in England. The Playboys split-up and reformed around the band’s one consistent member—the drummer.
To make money to pay his debts, Taylor took a gig in Paris in 1961. He was bottom of the bill. Top of the bill was Wee Willie Harris (later immortalized in “Reasons to Be Cheerful—Part Three” by Ian Dury). Taylor was pissed with the billing. He decided to show the promoters who was King. During rehearsal for the show, Taylor gave one of his greatest most violent most outrageous performances. He was a rock ‘n’ roll animal. The promoters saw their error and gave Taylor top billing.
This gig made Taylor an overnight star in France.
More on the rock-n-roll ‘Naz(arene) with God-given ass,’ after the jump…