Canadian Singer-Songwriter R. Dean Taylor, Dead At 82

Canadian Singer-Songwriter R. Dean Taylor, Dead At 82

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LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) –R. Dean Taylor, the Canadian singer-songwriter who recorded a #1 hit in 1970 with “Indiana Wants Me,” died on January 7th. He was 82.

His passing was confirmed to Larry LeBlanc by a friend of his wife of 52 years Janee. R., who said he died at his home in Los Angeles. A cause of death was not provided but Taylor was hospitalized with Covid last year but returned home after two weeks and was living at home under hospice care.

Born and raised in Toronto, Taylor took his first steps as a professional musician when he was just 12, singing at various open-air Country & Western shows in the Toronto area.

In 1960, Taylor recorded his first single, “At the High School Dance,” which proved to be a hot on Canadian radio, including the Toronto-based CHUM. He also appeared on a CBC dance party TV show and embarked on his first U.S. tour.

Three years later, Taylor signed with Motown Records, where he began working with the production team of Holland, Dozier, Holland, and began writing songs for the label as well.

His songwriting credits during the period include “Love Child” and “I’m Living In Shame” by the Supremes, “All I Need” by the Temptations, “I’ll Turn To Stone” by the Four Tops, and “Just Look What You’ve Done” by Brenda Holloway.

In 1965, Taylor released “Let’s Go Somewhere” marking the start of the most productive period of his career, which also included hits such as “Indiana Wants Me,” “Gotta See Jane” and “Ain’t It A Sad Thing.”

However, amid changing musical tastes, he was unable to maintain that success in the 1970s.

After a hiatus from the music industry, Taylor attempted to revive his career in the 1980s and also launched his own record label, Jane Records and built his own recording studio in Los Angeles.


He was reportedly working on an unpublished book detailing his time in Motown at the time of his passing.

In 1972, Taylor sat down with CelebrityAccess Senior Editor Larry LeBlanc, who was then writing for the Hit Parader, to share an insider’s view of Motown. We’ve reprinted the article here as a tribute to Taylor.

 

Dean Taylor: An Insider’s View Of Motown

Larry LeBlanc, Hit Parader, July 1972

MOTOWN IN the Sixties. The image, if we can narrow it down to one, was slickly packaged blackness. It was Holland-Dozier-Holland producing bump-and-grind jukebox hits. Almost every time they walked in the studio they cut some major R&B classic.

So by the time R. Dean Taylor, a white Canadian who had worked with H-D-H, recorded ‘Indiana Wants Me’ and ‘Gotta See Jane’ for the Corporation’s Rare Earth label, Motown was regarded as a black institute, one that loomed over the music scene in such an outsized dimension as to appear more myth than real.

But, the two records became hits, #1 monster hits around the world and Motown was dazzled by the now white market potential.

“Berry Gordy Jr., just went crazy,” exclaimed Taylor in his plush Motown office. “The first white artist to pop through #1 records. It opened up a lot of doors for Motown. Since ‘Indiana Wants Me’ Motown has not been regarded as a black company. Before it used to be nothing but a R&B, black company. When the Supremes came out with pop records it was still ‘well, it’s the Motown Sound’. Now, it’s a record company. It’s everything.”

Taylor, a figure of weird energies and terrifying precocity, a moving target with more taste than he’s given credit for, has finally made it big after 10 years in the business. An old pro, battle hardened. The walls of the darkened office are a memoriam to the arrows and bullets in all the pop trade magazines that marked his ‘fast’ rise in the music business. It’s difficult to believe that 10 years ago he did his best to keep alive, and achieved some small measure of identity, by playing tambourine on Motown sessions along with people like bassist James Jamison, drummer Benny Benjamin and bandleader Earl VanDyke.


“I used to wear holes in my pants,” Taylor revealed. “I used to bang it on my leg and have the mikes around the thing. I played on just about every session they did. Not because of the money — because lots of times there was no money, $10 or nothing.”

Mostly he hung around and picked up hints and tips from anyone with a story. During recording breaks, while others were out having a beer, Taylor conferred, theorized with Brian Holland.

“I’d ask Brian: ‘Why the hell are you doing that? The guy’s playing bass and it doesn’t sound right.’ He’d say: ‘Will you listen to it?’ He’d take the time to explain to me things I didn’t have any idea about.”

That was the kind of rapport Taylor thrived on. And Holland told the young artist: “You have all the qualities of making it, of being a big star, but I really don’t know your type of music, what bag you’re in. I just know you’re going to make it.” Holland made it financially possible for Taylor to shunt back-and-forth between Toronto (his home) and Detroit. Taylor would stay in a sleazy rooming house near the West Grand Boulevard studio.

Taylor admitted that he had rarely written before he joined the Motown complex, and he’s sure that Holland’s presence had a lot to do with developing his own music. “When I joined Motown I had to learn to write. I could always write songs but I always couldn’t write good songs. The difference between a hit and a good song can be a very slight thing. It could be the way the thing is put together. It could be the structure. I didn’t know this. I learned from Brian. I learned from the best.

“I saw in Brian, genius. He doesn’t know the technical terms of music; he uses grunts and groans — ‘I want the horns to go bellllahhhh.’ The three couldn’t read music. They’d bang away on the piano and an arranger would write out the chords they were doing.” Taylor paused and plunged on again. “Brian would cut a tune higher than Levi Stubbs (of the Four Tops) could sing it so Levi would give that gritty performance. Levi would always say: ‘Oh, man why don’t you knock the key down?’ Like ‘Standing In The Shadow Of Love’, that took two nights, about 16 hours to dub in, line by line. The guy could hardly hit the notes. I remember ‘Can I Get A Witness?’, the Marvin Gaye thing years ago. That tune was so hard for Marvin that, at one point, someone else had to sing one passage. They had to match up voices afterwards so it could sound like Marvin. He couldn’t hit the notes.”

In response to the inevitable topical question about the regimentated, tight Motown structure he evidenced a neutral attitude. He told of a large creative group — a community and four and five-man coalitions — from which a musician with a specific idea can draw help in developing that idea. But at the same time, he admitted, the Corporation sometimes cannot give full rein to an artist’s creative powers, that it’s often emotionally exhausting and a little maddening for an artist to fight for his product. For example, when Brian Holland fought all the way uphill for release of Taylor’s’ first single ‘Let’s Go Somewhere’ for the Corporation’s VIP label, it died for lack of promotion.

“It was like doing Brian a favor putting the record out,” Dean recalled, edging his voice with sarcasm. “Nobody in the company would have faith at all in me.” Taylor half-faked a wince and puffed quizzically on his cold pipe, peered into the bowl and set it aside. “I also had a record called ‘There’s A Ghost In The House’. It wasn’t promoted. The company wasn’t really there. If it wasn’t for Brian the records would never have gone out.”

Dean revealed that ‘Gotta See Jane’ had originally been released on VIP four years, receiving vehement opposition from forces within Motown. “In England, it made #2. In America, it bombed, got nowhere. It had no promotion here at all. Everybody said ‘Dean’s a writer’.”


‘Gotta See Jane’, which was produced by Taylor, convinced Brian Holland that Dean should be able to secure a Motown producers’ contract. A few months passed before Taylor received the necessary contract.

“A producers’ contract,” explained Dean, “is very hard to get at Motown. There are writers and producers. There are very few producers at Motown. There are probably seven who have producer contracts.”

In 1967, Holland-Dozier-Holland, who had kept Motown fed with natural hit songs, stopped writing and left the company in a flurry of accusations and counteraccusations. And then, Diana Ross and the Supremes, who had regular, almost automatic hits, had a great deal of trouble finding a follow-up to ‘Reflections’. But it all got smoothed out with ‘Lovechild’, a song that recounted the woes of illegitimate birth. It also established a beachhead on brand new turf — social commentary.

Dean, who was instrumental in writing the hit, explained how the song came about. “We locked ourselves in a room with Berry Gordy Jr. and came up with the tune. I sang the vocals on the demo, singing in a falsetto voice, which is really a laugh, so Diana could get the thing as a tune. After that came ‘I’m Living In Shame’.

“I had written album tunes I personally wouldn’t buy myself,” he continued. ‘Lovechild’ I dug. I would have bought it. But ‘All I Need’ I would never have bought. I wrote it for the money. I wrote it because I was into this thing: how a black person sings a song, black lyrics. Being around these people it rubs off on you. I found myself into the R&B stuff without even thinking of it, just all of a sudden doing it. I’ve got a tune now I’ve done with the Four Tops. It’s a Motown black record only because I threw my mind into the black bag for that time and did it. But that’s not where I really am at.”

In his songs, Taylor has taken an essentially true incident, extended its truth, fantasized it up, until it’s intensity is both high tragedy and low camp. “I write about real life things. Things with shock value in them. Things that people just don’t write about, things we all think about, that are around us. I’ve always written those kind of songs. Songs of the Shakespearian thing & the anti-hero, the hopelessness of life.

“In ‘Indiana Wants Me’ I was thinking about a wanted man. I saw two movies that really turned me on — Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid and Bonnie and Clyde. I thought: ‘what’s a wanted man going to feel?’ Driving along one day, all of a sudden, I thought ‘Indiana Wants Me’ — that’s a supertitle. I’m going to write about a wanted man.

“I knew it was a hit record. It sounds like hindsight but I studied the record for a long time before it was released. I got the opinion of people I respect enormously. I even predicted it would be #1 which it was. When it happened I wasn’t really knocked against the wall. I had expected it to happen.”

Following ‘Indiana Wants Me’ and ‘Gotta See Jane’ was ‘Candy Apple Red’, a song about suicide which barely made the pop charts.

“It’s a macabre kind of song,” said Dean. “I thought it would grab peoples’ attention. I’m sitting on a hill dying, committing suicide. These are things I write about — we all think about. I’m sure everyone thinks what a horrible thing it would be to have made a mistake and know there’s no way back.”

Dean mentioned his most recent project, a movie titled Tears In A Golden Circle, which he has been working on for over a year.

“I’ve written the script and I’m directing and acting in it. It’s a music orientated film but not an Elvis movie. It’s very serious. It’s about a person struggling to make it in the music business and the premise of the story is the people he destroys getting to the top. In fact, it’s the story of ‘Indiana Wants Me’. The concept of the film came from the song.

“I don’t know anything about how to make a movie. All I know is what I want to see in the rushes, what I want to see on the screen. Writing and motion pictures, to me, is nothing but imagination — to imagine something, crystallize your thinking, and actually feel and almost to be able to touch it. I don’t care how they get it there. The cameraman gets it there. The soundman gets it there. I don’t care. I just know what I want to see.”

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