Gloria Ann Taylor – 1973 – Deep Inside Me plus singles
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Gloria Taylor grew up just out of the reach of death, her young life defined by a mother’s love for her seriously ill daughter and an abiding belief in the healing power of the Lord.
Within this cauldron of faith and fear a soul singer was nurtured and cast into the world with a voice imbued with gritty honey soul and an ache tempered by joy and hope.
The singles that the North Toledo native cut alongside her husband, producer Walter Whisenhunt, in the ’60s and ’70s were fascinating genre-bending exercises in funk, soul, disco, R&B, gospel, and rock that faded into obscurity, lost to questionable business decisions, a weariness with the music industry grind, and bad luck.
Thanks to an Internet-fueled underground market for old soul music that has been lost — a 12-inch copy of Taylor’s 1972 song “Deep Inside of You” is on sale online for more than $1,000 — and some good luck, Gloria Taylor’s music has been rediscovered and so has she.
Now 70, Taylor exudes the calm of a person whose spirituality is the bedrock of her life. She was born in West Virginia, but moved to northwest Ohio when she was 2 along with her siblings.Her mother, Ruby, doted on Gloria as she grew up in Toledo.
“She would take me everywhere she went because they said I would only live until I was 16. I had rheumatic fever,” she said, sipping a glass of water in the downtown office of her attorney, Larry Meyer. This meant the girl was frequently at Bethel Chapel church with her devoutly religious mom, soaking in the gospel music.
“My mother was a great singer and I took a whole lot from her,” she said. Gloria’s brother, Leonard, who was two years younger and would grow up to play an important role in his sister’s music career, remembers their mother well. “If you think Gloria had a voice, oh man. I remember [mother] holding my face when I was a baby and I could feel it, you know, I don’t know what it was but it was something beautiful,” he said in a telephone interview from his home in California. “She would hold me with her hands in my face and she would sing to me. And it was some of the most beautiful things I heard.”
Gloria Taylor spent three years at what was then known as Feilbach School for Crippled Children before attending Woodward High School. Her mother died when she was a teenager and the 10 children were sent to live with aunts and uncles, forcing the young girl to grow up fast. At 18 she was living with two of her sisters and also her own children — she would have three sons — raising a growing family and trying to pay the bills. That’s when she learned she could sing outside the church and make some money, performing Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays at a club called the Green Light in the early ’60s.
“I was mostly a spiritual type person, but I needed the money. I had my sisters and we liked to go to the drive-in, to movies, and we liked barbecue,” she said. While doing an act that drew heavily on Aretha Franklin and other contemporary singers for inspiration, she was discovered by Walter Whisenhunt, a promoter for James Brown and others who saw something special in the innocent young singer. Taylor was asked if Whisenhunt, who became her husband, “swept her off her feet.”
“Not really,” she replied. “The music business did. I was just snatched out of that club into the real deal, you know what I mean?” Suddenly she was vaulted from Toledo clubs to a much bigger scene that included Detroit and led to meeting contemporaries such as Diana Ross, Franklin, Bobby “Blue” Bland, Lou Rawls, and Shirley Caesar. Brown was an important person in helping her and Whisenhunt develop professionally, Taylor said.“Whenever we needed something, James Brown was there for us,” she said. “That was a good man. James Brown was one of the nicest men I knew in the music business.”
Whisenhunt, Gloria, and Leonard began fashioning an act and writing songs, with the men handling much of the production as they worked their way into the rarified world of late ’60s/early ’70s soul music. “I think [Whisenhunt] wanted to be another Berry Gordy and he had the perfect artist and we were making it,” Gloria Taylor said.
She and Whisenhunt moved to California, touring and cutting singles such as the bouncy “You Got to Pay the Price,” for which she was nominated for a Grammy in 1970 along with Ruth Brown, Tina Turner, Dee Dee Warwick, and Franklin, who won. The songs the Taylors and Whisenhunt cut during this time are hybrids of various genres, all of which feature complex arrangements that transcend the era. Many of the songs can be heard on Youtube and they reveal a dark complexity that remains fresh.
Her funked-up version of Dolly Parton’s “Jolene” is timeless and forever changes how you hear an iconic country song. “Deep Inside You” is an addictive 2½-minute psychodrama built around a persistent bass line, while the epic seven minutes-plus “Love Is a Hurting Thing” features rock guitar, a disco beat, haunting piano, and Taylor’s soaring vocal workout. Leonard Taylor said the layered nuance of the arrangements and songwriting were intentional efforts to stand out in a crowded pop market. “We were just doing what we felt. We weren’t trying to do like anyone else. We made that our purpose to do our own thing,” he said.
Then Whisenhunt made a decision that Gloria and Leonard Taylor say in retrospect robbed them of their momentum. When their record label CBS wouldn’t release the songs they were cutting fast enough, he bolted for Mercury. Gloria said the problem was that at the time labels would release singles in a measured way, holding some back until others started dropping down the charts and Whisenhunt was impatient.
“The worst thing he could have done was take me off CBS,” she said. “It was the biggest. Man, you’re a potential millionaire on CBS.” Whisenhunt went on to create the California-based label Selector Sound and a few off-shoots.
“He pretty much thought he could start his own record label and we could do our own thing,” Leonard Taylor said. “But looking back, that was a bad thing. She should have stayed at CBS because she would have had enough revenue behind her.” After 10 years, Taylor’s marriage and career had stalled out in the 1970s.
“I was tired of everything,” she said. “Every dime we could get went to the music and shows. I was tired and saying, ‘It’s not going to work.’” So the mother of three sons — Glenn Taylor, Edward Taylor, and Walter Whisenhunt — moved back to Toledo, worked, and sang only in churches over the ensuing decade. The great work she did seemed to be relegated to obscurity.
Over the years, Leonard Taylor became the caretaker of his sister’s legacy. An active musician in California who never stopped writing songs and singing, he monitored her music’s usage over the Internet and found that it was becoming a hot commodity on sites such as eBay and with tiny European bootleggers masquerading as record companies.
The music also came to the attention of Michael McFadin, president and founder of Ubiquity Records, a southern California label that specializes in vintage soul artists. He contacted her and offered to re-release it in a proper format.“The trends with this old soul music are that the nuances change from year to year,” he said in a telephone interview. “Right now it’s more of a boogie sound with strings and her music has that so it’s very much in vogue with people who collect this kind of music.”
When Ubiquity reached the Taylors, Gloria knew she needed an attorney to help with negotiations and she found Meyer, a Toledo lawyer who specializes in music copyright law. Initially he was skeptical because he had never heard of her or her music. “The first thing I did was Google her name. The second thing I did was smile. This was great music, something I was proud to be part of,” Meyer said.
Negotiations were completed so that Ubiquity could give the music a proper release rather than the cheap knock-offs that the European label Music Gallery is doing online. (Note that if you buy the Music Gallery Recordings versions that are on the Internet, the Taylors receive nothing from the sales and the releases are unlicensed, unlike the impending Ubiquity set.)
The Taylors’ music is now licensed and if it is placed in a film or TV show, something Ubiquity seeks to do, they could receive some of the profits. McFadin said the label has been racing against the bootleggers to give Gloria Taylor’s music the kind of packaging that it deserves. “We like to find lost gems and get them in front of more people than they were the first time around,” he said. “She’s got a great voice and her husband was a good producer. It kind of blends genres; there’s funk and soul and a little bit of disco and there’s a sophistication to it.”
Enrique Estrella, Ubiquity’s general manager, said in an email that the package will be released in early spring 2015, and that thanks to the interest from collectors and vintage soul aficionados the compilation is “definitely one of our most highly anticipated releases.” Meyer said that the fact her music has been heavily bootlegged and attracts so much interest online is a testament to Taylor’s talent despite the fact she has been essentially ripped off.
“On the one hand, it’s crazy that she doesn’t see any of that money,” he said. “But on the other it’s certainly a validation of her music.” For her part, Gloria Taylor admitted frustration with losing control of the music from a business perspective, mentioning a Columbus rapper who samples “Deep Inside You.”
“I just hope people enjoy it,” she said with a deep sigh. “But I don’t want people making more money off of it than I do.” But she doesn’t lose sight of the spiritual point of view, which in many ways is more important to her and her work singing at the River of Life Church on Upton Avenue. “I still sing and people say, ‘Girl, come on and record something!’ But I put my heart and soul in that music. My children, my husband, my sisters, I was doing it for them too and for the Lord.”
So would she ever consider singing those songs again, or recording new material? “I want to do what the Lord wants me to do because it seems like whenever I do what I want to, it works and then it doesn’t. I’m putting my life in God’s hands now,” she said, mentioning the illness that nearly killed her 60 years ago. “He let me live to be this old. Man, here I am 70 years old! That’s a blessing so I just go with the flow.”