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Sam Taylor and the King′s X sound that changed the end of the 20th century

Musicians can have a lot of prominence on stage. That′s where they get the applause, and there it′s easy to miss the credit of hundreds of other professionals working behind the scenes. Elvis Presley would be unrecognizable today without the work of Colonel Tom Parker. Pet Sounds would be unrecognizable today without the work of The Wrecking Crew. Much of the music of the late last century would be unrecognizable today without the work of Sam Taylor. Ask for example Jeff Ament from Pearl Jam, or ask Mike Inez from Alice in Chains!

Article by Pablo Fernández from Barcelona on Friday, November 6th 2020 ·.·★ Reading takes 25 minutes or 5056 words.

Vernon Reid from Living Color, Dimebag Darrell from Pantera or Jim Martin from Faith No More all point to the same source of inspiration in the recent book ′King′s X: The Oral History (Greg Prato, 2019). But note that the future musicians of King′s X were a simple backing and cover group in 1987 - which is when they cross paths with Sam Taylor. It took him just a year to train these three young musicians and record with them for the Metallica distributor the ′Best Album of 1988′ according to the prestigious British magazine Kerrang! Everything was praise and gratitude then in the statements of the musicians and there was not a single young musician on planet Earth who was not exposed to the originality of that new sound.

Sam Taylor had exerted so much pressure and had gotten so much devotion from them then that in interviews the musicians claimed that they hardly knew how to sing before they met Sam Taylor. On June 17, 1989 the musicians of King′s X posed on the cover of Kerrang! under the ironic title of ′Monarchy in the UK′. At this early time the magazine already mentioned the rumor that the group was basically a creation of Sam Taylor. Not long after the musicians of King′s X were occupying the huge stages of Woodstock ′94 and thinking they could do better without the restraints of Sam Taylor.

They therefore contacted the famous Brendan O′Brian, who -yes- did not stop then producing successes at that time, but King′s X did not enter the sales charts again after 1996. Impressed since then by the brevity of their own success and recognition , the musicians of King′s X nevertheless continue to assure on the Internet that they do not owe much to Sam Taylor. We all know that our opinions come and go and change over time, but when they change so abruptly there is normally an additional personal reason. That is one of the many topics that Sam Taylor himself talks about in the following interview!

′They were influenced by the recordings in the same way I was by George Martin′

What were your plans for your life when you were young? Did you plan it the way it finally is?

I always wanted to make music, and tour the world.

How did you get involved in the production of the ZZ Top? They were based in Houston either at that time, right?

When I was a studio player in Nashville the last half of the ′70s I began asking a bunch of questions about record deals, songwriter′s deals etc and became interested in knowing more. I worked with a guy there that was a music publishing consultant. One of the things we came across was non-collected royalties in Australia for ZZ Top songs. I called up Bill Ham who was their manager and producer and said: Hey, we found these uncollected monies and we′d be glad to collect it for you.

He asked me if I knew how to run a music publishing company, I said yes. He offered to fly me to Houston over the July 4th weekend in 1982. He offered me a job on the spot. I rejected it. I told him I wanted to find talent, develop it and produce records. He said if I′d do the publishing for one year he′d find a band that I could produce. As soon as I got settled in August 1982 I asked what the plans were for MTV on the ′Eliminator recording they were making. That was one year after MTV had started. Note only did they not have any, they didn′t know what MTV was. I talked them and the label into a lot of things during those day, the first was doing the band′s first four music videos.

How did you get involved in the production of the video ′Captured in Time and Space by Star Song Records? Were you involved during the planning and the recording of the performance itself? Do you have good memories of that experience?

I had just left working with ZZ TOP summer of 1985 as general manager and VP of publishing when the founders of Star Song Records asked me if I would consult their label in the area of music publishing and music videos. The first project we did together was a Petra music video and this long-form concert.

′I passed because the songs were all over the place and the lead singer sounded like he was imitating Bono′

Please correct me if I′m wrong. Before you met Doug, Ty and Jerry they previously recorded ′Sneak Preview (1984) in Springfield, Missouri. According to my sources they landed in Texas looking for a contract to distribute ′Sneak Preview through Star Songs Records , which was at that time the label that was promoting Petra. Was that connection with Star Songs the connection that helped you all to be in contact?

Yes. Star Songs Records had signed them and was trying to figure out what to do with them. They had made some plans but most, if not all of their connections, were in the Christian music business and Doug, Jerry and Ty wanted to be in the ′real′ music business. Darrel & Wayne who were the owners asked me if I would take a look at Morgan Cryer′s backup band, which was Doug, Jerry & Ty at that time. They were working for Star Song Records at the time to survive, and consider managing and producing them. They set up a showcase for me in an abandoned shopping mall. I went in and listened to 6 songs. I told the owners of Star Song Records that the band was ok but the songs were all over the place and the lead singer sounded like he was imitating Bono, and I passed.

Darrel & Wayne begged me over the next few weeks to reconsider. I said I would need to find out if they had any good songs worth recording and why the lead singer was trying to sound like a white kid from Ireland. I took them into a rehearsal setup and started going through their songs. They had claimed that they had over 80. We started at 10 in the morning and went to 7 every day for 2 weeks. After 3 days I had heard all of their tunes. By the way, none of those first 80 tunes ended up on any record I produced with them. They just weren′t very good. They had gone to lunch and stayed behind and grabbed an acoustic and tuned it to D/A/D/A/D/E, something my guitar player in the 60′s used to do and was playing a Raga style tune when Ty came back from lunch and asked me how I was getting that sound. He started fooling around with the chordings and began the development of the song WONDER.

About this time I was getting to know them better and privately I asked Doug why he sang like a white young Irish kid. He said Ty didn′t like it when he sang the R*B / soul stuff. By this time I had asked them about the musical influences and heroes Doug liked Little Richard and Sly Stone; Ty liked KISS and The Beatles; Jerry liked Led Zeppelin and Bob Dylan so I asked them why they didn′t sound like any of these artists. I had already asked Ty why he was playing the new wave style guitar licks and styles if he liked KISS and THE Beatles. He said Doug didn′t like KISS nor The Beatles. Long story, but when got them, talking Ty told Doug he loved the R&B / Soul vocal stylings and had for a long time wondered why Doug didn′t sing like that. Doug virtually said the same thing about Ty′s guitar playing.

They had been under a misunderstanding and were both trying to please each other, except they had the wrong impression. It was a clearing of the air and gave them all linens to be themselves. Jerry was encouraged to write lyrics for the new song Ty was working on and Doug started singing in a way I had no idea that he could and KING′S X and their song was born! I think Ty later said that he had was already making demos with dropped-D tunings by then but if the timing is true to his recollection they didn′t play any of that for me those first 2 weeks.

Yes. I have read on the Internet that in the latest reviews that you pleased them to work with them and all that crap... Which makes no sense to me, I have read a lot of the earlier interviews and you now confirm it′s also not true.

Star Song offered me all of their contracts: record deal, publishing and management. After the 2 weeks in the rehearsal setup I agreed to take them on. I went to Doug, Jerry & Ty and told them that I would work with them only if I gave them their agreement and we split everything 4 ways, becoming full partners in all the band′s dealings.

′I remember it as being the tuning on the acoustic guitar at the rehearsal place in Pasadena, Texas′

Do you remember if Jon Zazula had some influence regarding the heavier sound of the first King′s X album?

Jon and Marsha were a great encouragement but had nothing to do with the influence of the sound. He would give his feedback but my deal with them was we had complete creative control from the beginning over all the music and videos.

The sound of ′Out of the silent planet (1988) was back then so unique and actually at the same time is so similar to the sound that is captured by you, in another local band named ′The Awful Truth (1989), that it makes me think you as a producer had a very relevant role? Do you agree?

Yes. I had a specific interest in, what i would term it as, a symphonic meets heavy rock meets great melodies and harmonies. I was a early fan of The Who; Emerson, Lake & Palmer; Crosby, Stills, Nash &Young and I grew up on gospel quartet music with great singing ala The Statesmen Quartet when Jake Hess was a member. Interestingly, Doug had a similar gospel music background albeit black gospel. I think I recall that David Von Ohlerking from The Awful Truth grew up listening to gospel quartet music. I know Monty Colvin did. I was a stickler for writing good melodies and working very hard on figuring out great harmonies. I also, probably a throwback to my Nashville songwriter days, was a stickler for a good arrangement as well. Of course, one never mentions Steve Ames, the engineer on all those great recordings. He also had a great ear for arrangements and was a technical genius.

What contact did they have in that early era? I mean did they meet at some point in Houston, the members of both bands King′s X and The Awful Truth in 1988, I mean before The Awful Truth recorded their debut album with you?

As I understand it, David Von Ohlerking, Monty Colvin and Alan Doss from Awful Truth were gigging around Springfield, Missouri, where they were calling college, in different bands during the time that Sneak Preview was there as was Frank Hart from Atomic Opera and they were all friends. I believe that Ohlerking, Doss and Colvin ended up coming to Houston to become Morgan Cryer′s backup band after Doug, Jerry and Ty started working with me.

I remember reading interviews with Doug, Ty and Jerry in the early 90s, they often were mentioning you as a master, a guru that taught them even how to sing. I mean, before they met you they were a covers band but in the pick of their success they recognized you totally changed them. You remember those interviews? They were mostly of the time magazines for metalheads by the way. You rode some of them as me?

Yes. I think that was how they felt at the time as we were being very productive. I′ve been told they changed that story a bit after we separated.

′I had to stop everything with them for my mental and physical health′

Have you heard the song ′Final Breath by Pelican? If not I do encourage you to do it.

I have not. Thanks, I will.

Do you remember how D-Tuning came into place during the recording of ′Out of the silent planet (1988)?

As I mentioned earlier, I remember it as being the tuning on the acoustic guitar at the rehearsal place in Pasadena, Texas. As I understand Ty says he was doing it before which is very possible because of the influence by Ace Frehley from KISS.

What do you think young musicians from Pearl Jam, Stone Temple Pilots or Alice in Chains learned from the sound you all created in Houston? D-Tuning? Heavy+Melodic Sound? Others?

I don′t know. I′ve been told they were influenced by the recordings in the same way, I would guess, I was by George Martin′s production talent. I think a lot of time as a musician learning and trying to learn you just grasp at anything you can get hear and try to figure it out, especially if you like it. I think somehow it may have given the guiding artistic influencer permission to go down that road. Make sense?

Absolutely. There′s nothing new under the Sun but some people influence more than others and I do believe you should receive the same credit for those who reach excellence . When did you meet Frank Hart?

I′m not sure exactly. He had come down at some point from Missouri, I believe at Doug′s invitation. Doug was a nurturer and loved to help out other folks. I do remember being invited down to Galveston for an outdoor concert and between bands the sound guy played a demo from Frank′s band. Frank was standing by the sound board. I didn′t know him then. Doug said that the music being played was his fiend′s band and asked me what I thought. I told him I thought it was good. Then Doug introduced us. I think it was a setup! I′m glad he did. That′ s how I remember it.

Did you meet Kemper Crabb at that time? You joined them in that particular church?

I occasionally visited that church. As to Kemper, I had met him through the guys at Star Song as they had released several of his recordings. The Vigil, i think was one.

′I had a dream to build a kind of artist′ guild. More along the lines of Schaffer′s L′Abri′

I remember the emphasis you had talking about faith in that time, are you still a spiritual person? Do you consider yourself as a person loved by God?

More so now than ever. I am a believer and a follower of Christ. I am a fallen sinner doomed to a separation from God for eternity but was saved by his grace and power by the substitution of what Jesus did on the cross for the world.

In the distance we heard about Wilde Silas as a kind of Christians artists community but we had no details at all. The closest reference we had was JPUSA in Chicago but I′m pretty sure it wasn′t the case. How do you remember that ′community - if that could be the word we should use?

I had a dream to build a kind of artist′ guild. More along the lines of Schaffer′s L′Abri. I wasn′t familiar with JPUSA but I did know the beginning of the Christian music business as I was in a band with the first ever artist signed to Myrrh Records: Gene Cotton. I had talked to Kemper about being the head of the guild or school for lack of a better term but wasn′t′ interested in dedicating his time to it as he was still pursuing being an artist. So, the closest I came was signing, managing and producing various bands that claimed to know the Lord and who would allow me to help create their artistic visions.

Who was at the end more interested and more involved in the real relationship you had as Wilde Silas? And who was the lees interested?

If you′re asking who wanted to remain in fellowship as things were winding down I′d have to say that two folks tried the hardest, at that time, to try to make things make sense: Ben Huggins from Galactic Cowboys and Ty from King′s X. Eventually it all fell apart and afterwards Dane Sonnier tried and still does have an open door with me. Frank Hart has also reached out. Doug and I stayed in touch for along time but over the last 3 or 4 years I haven′t heard from him.

Do you want to share some thoughts on the moment that relationship was broken? They said you agreed with the break-up but have you met after that in some moment?

I was overwhelmed with all the responsibilities in 1992. I had a 5,000 sq foot office and rehearsal complex, 25 people on payroll and it seemed all I was doing was chasing money to make payroll and pay insurance. My doctor said I was getting ready to have serious health issues even though I was getting ready to turn 40, He said I should give up everything I didn′t like and only do the stuff I did like. I liked making art, music, films etc. So, I approached Doug, Jerry and Ty and proposed that I just produce their record and do their videos and find someone else to manage them.

I think they were also a bit hurt and jealous of ethereal the Galactic Cowboys had gotten from Geffen Records and even though I had offered them a financial position in Wilde Silas, they turned it down according to Ty - they didn′t want any liability, which was fine, But because of that they did not participate in any of the deals for Galactic Cowboys, Awful Truth, Atomic Opera. I had also brought someone in to help run their day to day stuff, deal with the label etc. This was not the right guy and I am sure, in hindsight, they thought I was neglecting them. I probably was, emotionally. Which is why I was trying to get out from under the ′business′ stuff.

In the end I think underestimated our relationship. I always thought of myself as their artistic partner but they usually refereed to me as their manager, And now I was saying I didn′t want to do that anymore. I think it really hurt them and they didn′t accept my offer so I had to stop everything with them for my mental and physical health. Looking back, I could have used better judgment. And, for the longest time I longed to still make records with them but that has passed. The best for me with them is in the past!

′BROTHERS BECKHAM will be the biggest band in the world one day′

What did you dislike the most about your experience in Los Angeles?

Besides the fact that culturally everyone is on a mental vacation all the time? I was more of a New York music business guy. I liked the pace there. LA was too noncommittal - they came in late, took 3 hour lunches and left early. At least it seems that the ones I knew there were like that, except Gary Gersh at Geffen. He was a go-getter and a great A&R guy. Really cared about his artists. And he really listened to great records. It just wasn′t for me. I was born and raised in Texas and honestly I hated the business in Nashville and couldn′t wait to get back to Texas so the chance to do that and work with a rock band like ZZ Top was a great homing device.

You later worked for Sonnier Brothers Band, Third Day, Moons of Jupiter, Archer, but now you are only working with just one single band named Beckham Brothers, correct? They sound pretty good, young and talented people. Reminds me a lot of King′s X back in the beginning: a trio with a left handed in the front playing the 60s sound and dressing cool vintage clothes. Maybe without their darkest tone? Is it just my impression? Did they like King′s X when they came to you?

Interesting observation. No, they had never heard King′s X, nor any of my records, They were offered to me by a friend in Arkansas, a blues player named Max Taylor, he is not family related by the way, who always called me ′Cuz for cousin. When I started working with Mitch and Mason Beckham they were 15 and 18 respectively and they loved and knew about all the great records I grew up with in the 60s. In fact that′s all they had listened to and all of it′s own vinyl They didn′t have a TV growing up just their grandma′s record collection. It was really like they stepped out of a time capsule from 1969.

They are called BROTHERS BECKHAM and they are signed to our label Wilde Silas Musicworks. Their debut recording comes out Dec 1, 2020 though Sony′s division named The Orchard for its global distribution system. They are great people and very very talented. They love Hendrix, Cream and all the great blues players. Oh yes, their mom once saw King′s X play in Dallas when she was in college.

What′s the future you envision for Beckham Brothers?

I personally believe BROTHERS BECKHAM will be the biggest band in the world one day. They are in the incubation stage now. They are one of the best live bands I′ve ever heard and their drummer Zeke is unbelievably talented on many instruments! And, they are all still young. Mason, red-haired, left-handed guitarist, just turned 18.

Thank you very much Sam. As mentioned before we are very grateful for your so long and hard work and we wish you the best in your new project.

This is an short translation of the original article published in Spanish by Entrelíneas: Revista de Arte as Sam Taylor y el sonido de King-s X que cambió el final del Siglo 20

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