Bobby Taylor has died. The formerly Vancouver-based singer and producer passed away in Hong Kong, where he had been living for a number of years. He was 83.
Taylor is perhaps best remembered as the person who brought the Jackson 5 to the attention of Motown Records founder Berry Gordy, but he was also a well-regarded performer in his own right. His biggest hit, “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” was a 1968 single by Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, a band that also included guitarist and songwriter Tommy Chong, who later found greater fame as a comedian and actor.
Taylor was born in Washington, DC, in 1934 but ended up in Vancouver by the early ’60s, where he joined Chong’s band, which had relocated from Alberta. Formerly the Calgary Shades, the group went through several name changes, first calling itself Little Daddy and the Bachelors and then, controversially, Four Niggers and a Chink before settling on Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers.
Taylor quickly gained a reputation for his remarkable vocal prowess. As Chong told Rolling Stone in a recent interview, “He used to do ‘Danny Boy’ and make everybody cry in the audience. He would hit notes that were unbelievably high and he could sound like anybody he wanted to sound like—Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder, Smokey [Robinson]. I’ve been with a lot of singers, but nothing like Bobby.”
The Supremes were early supporters. In fact, it was Florence Ballard and Mary Wilson who saw the band perform at a Vancouver venue called the Elegant Parlor in 1965 and were sufficiently impressed to tell Gordy about it. The Motown head brought the Vancouvers to Detroit and signed them. The group cracked the Billboard charts with “Does Your Mama Know About Me?” (which Chong co-wrote), a No. 29 pop hit and No. 5 R&B hit.
After a few more singles with the Vancouvers, Taylor embarked on a solo career. He also discovered and mentored the Jackson 5, producing much of that group’s first LP.
In his last years, Taylor lived in China, first in Beijing and then in Hong Kong. He continued to perform and, writing for the South China Morning Post in 2011, he seemed satisfied with where his life had taken him: “I have 12 kids, met three presidents and in general, I wouldn’t change a thing. I won’t retire until God takes me away.”