Rock Moment: Vince Taylor and U.K. Rockabilly

After the explosion of Elvis in the mid-1950s, a host of rockabilly pretenders popped up to hopefully one day knock the King off his throne.  One of the more fascinating characters was Vince Taylor, an Englishman who hit it big overseas but remains virtually unknown on this side of the Pond.

Born Brian Holden in England, the guy who would become Vince Taylor moved with his family to New Jersey and later, to California.  He absorbed the rockin’ music of Gene Vincent and Elvis, and at age 18 Vince became a rockabilly artist.  His manager was Joe Barbera, half of the Academy Award-winning animation team Hanna-Barbera (Tom & Jerry, Yogi Bear); Barbera was Taylor’s brother-in-law.  The two went to London in the late 1950s to check out the music scene; Taylor assembled a band there and took off.

Vince Taylor released a number of singles on Parlophone (later to be the Beatles’ U.K. label) including the 1958 rocker “Brand New Cadillac” (famously covered by the Clash) and the 1960 jumper “Jet Black Machine.”  But Taylor was a wild man on stage, and his crazy behavior caused him lots of problems – his band broke up and reformed dozens of times. 

Taylor became a huge star in Europe however he developed drug problems and his band left him once and for all in 1964.  Taylor joined a religious group and tried a few comebacks but he was finished: he performed on and off throughout the 1970s and 1980s and finally Vince Taylor died in 1991 in Switzerland, where he was working as an airline mechanic.

Many rockers have cited Vince Taylor as an influence, and in 1999 Van Morrison in the song “Goin’ Down Geneva” name-checked Taylor, saying “Vince Taylor used to live here/No one’s ever heard of him.” 

MP3: “Brand New Cadillac” by Vince Taylor

MP3: “Jet Black Machine” by Vince Taylor

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