Faces in the Crowd: Vince Taylor - The Original Ziggy Stardust


Vince Taylor, while not widely known to US rock fans, was an influential part of the European rock scene in the late 50's and early 60's.  While not widely known to US rock fans, Taylor was an influential part of the European rock scene in the late 50's and early 60's. Along with his band, The Playboys, Taylor released such rock gems as Endless Sleep and Brand New Cadillac; a song which was later covered in fine fashion by The Clash. 



Taylor's unpredictable personality, while an asset on stage, caused considerable friction within The Playboys and the band fired Taylor from their ranks. Shortly thereafter, they were booked to play the Olympia Theatre in Paris.   I gleaned more details about this part of Taylor's career from Wikipedia: "Despite his sacking, Taylor remained friendly with the band and he asked if he could come to Paris too. Here he dressed up for the occasion in his black leather gear and added a chain around his neck with a Joan of Arc medallion which he had bought on arrival at Calais. He gave such an extraordinary performance at the sound check that even the band was amazed, and the organizers decided to put Vince at the top of the bill for both shows. As a result of his performance at those two shows, Eddie Barclay signed him to a six-year record deal on the Barclay label.  Vince & the Playboys closing the show was determined by Vince's actions upon his arrival at Paris Gare du Nord railway station and had nothing to do with the sound check. At 6.00 am, as the artistes Wee Willie Harris, Vince Eager, Dave Sampson, Nero & The Gladiators and Vince and the Playboys approached Paris on the train, the promoter, Jack Murray, offered top billing to anyone who would dress up for a photo shoot at the station. Vince was the only one prepared to move his butt, get dressed in full leather stage gear and make-up and pose for the press. Later that day he was on the front pages of all the Parisian newspapers as the leader of the Anglo Rock invasion aimed at bringing down French rock 'n' roll legend Johnny Halliday. He closed the bill on both nights, stole the show and became a major player in French rock 'n' roll."  One of the highlights from this period of Taylor's career took place when Taylor & The Playboys opened for the Rolling Stones at the Olympia Theater in Paris in 1964.  Despite his on-stage rapport with the Playboys, the off-stage relationship faltered.  As a result, the band broke up once more. 


Taylor worked several shows backed by the English band, The Echoes; a combo who also functioned as Gene Vincent's backup band whenever he played the UK.  Taylor somehow managed to convince the promoters that The Echoes were actually his former outfit, The Playboys, and the small tour went off as planned. 

As Taylor's career wove along a path of band break-ups and drug use, it reached a bizarre flash point in the sixties when, just prior to going onstage, Taylor experienced a religious epiphany during which he perceived himself to be a sanctified prophet.   "A mixture of acid, amphetamines and alcohol proved fatal to his mind and in front of a full house, on the brink of becoming a huge international star, he had a break down - coming on stage and trying to evangelize the audience, he claimed to be the prophet Matthew, and he preached until the band agreed with everything he was saying. The audience pretended not to understand, thinking that it was part of the show. After 15 minutes of running around with a towel on his head, and a few poorly executed songs, he began to wreck the whole stage like The Who.  All of this took place before the band's set was officially underway. The band disbanded and Taylor joined a religious movement."  (Wikipedia) 



Taylor recorded and performed sporadically throughout the 1970's and 1980's.  In his later years, Taylor lived in Switzerland where he worked as an airplane mechanic.  He often claimed that the time he spent in Switzerland was the happiest period of his life.  


The world of rock music paid little notice when Taylor passed away from cancer in 1991.  While Vince Taylor's approach to his musical career was that of a loose cannonball, he did leave a permanent mark on the British pop scene as being one of the first British rockers who possessed a unique personality and an authentic "American" sound.  



Taylor's influence has been validated by none other than David Bowie who, on more than one occasion, claimed that Taylor provided the main inspiration for his Ziggy Stardust character. 

"Bowie says that he based the character of Ziggy Stardust on the eccentric rocker "Vince Taylor" (real name Brian Holden and also known as the "French Presley") who moved to France and worked as an Elvis impersonator. Born in 1939 in Middlesex, Taylor's family migrated to the US when he was seven years old.  By the mid-1950s, his family had moved to California, where Taylor's sister married Joe Barbera, of the famous Hanna-Barbera cartoon partnership. It was in Los Angeles that Taylor - clearly influenced by Elvis Presley - began to hone his act in various LA nightclubs. In 1957 Taylor returned to London as a leather rocker and made such an impact that within a few months he was signed by EMI. At gigs, he would show all the signs of typical rock'n'roll magnetism, the screams from the women in the audience drowning out his weak voice, his only superficial flaw. Trips to Europe proved somewhat more chaotic, as his performances - with Taylor dressed in black leathers, wearing make-up, throwing himself about on stage as if in an epileptic fit - induced riots. Months of this exacting routine, however, began to take its toll as Taylor started to fall prey to the lure of drugs. Come 1964, Taylor was on the edge, his diet of drugs, wine and an increasing God complex leading to his eventual downfall. From the mid-1960s, he drifted from club to club in London, claiming to anyone who would listen that he was the Son of God, his food intake consisting solely of eggs. His best known work is his 1959 single "Brand New Cadillac" which was covered by the Clash on London Calling (1977). The Clash's Joe Strummer recalled: 'Vince Taylor was the beginning of British rock'n'roll. Before him there was nothing. He was a miracle.' Bowie first encountered Taylor at the Giaconda cafe on Tottenham Court Road in 1966.  "He was the inspiration for Ziggy. Vince Taylor was a rock n roll star from the Sixties who was slowly going crazy. Finally, he fired his band and went on-stage one night in a white sheet. He told the audience to rejoice, that he was Jesus. They put him away." - Bowie (1976)" (The Ziggy Stardust Companion website)


Van Morrison, in his song "Going Down Geneva", remembered Taylor with the following lyric: "Vince Taylor used to live here, nobody's ever heard of him, just who he was, just where he fits in."




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