Vince Taylor – Ziggy played guitar

In 1998, Alan Yentob made a documentary to mark David Bowie’s 50th birthday. Amongst other things in the programme, Bowie explained how his Ziggy Stardust persona came about. In the mid sixties, Bowie sometimes used to hang out with a rock ‘n roll singer called Vince Taylor, who was totally flipped out on drink and drugs. Taylor used to always carry maps about with him. Bowie recounts that on one occasion when they were in Charing Cross Road, Taylor unfolded one of the maps and began pointing to places where UFOs would be landing over the coming months. Taylor was convinced that there was a strong connection between himself, aliens and Jesus Christ. At one gig he came on stage wearing white robes. He told the audience that the rock ‘n roll stuff was a lie and that he was in fact Jesus Christ. Vince Taylor’s increasingly bizaare behaviour effectively ended his music career. David Bowie ressurected Vince Taylor in the early 70s, when Taylor’s strange world view became one of the essential ingrediants of the Ziggy Stardust character.

Before we take a look at the life and music of Vince Taylor here’s a reminder of Bowie’s Ziggy Stardust persona, from the 1972 album ‘The Rise and Fall of Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders from Mars’ this is called Starman

Vince Taylor was born Brian Maurice Holden in 1939 in Isleworth, Middlesex. When he was 7 the family moved across the Atlantic to New Jersey. In the mid 50s Taylor’s sister married Joe Barbera, who would soon form one half of the Hanna/Barbera cartoon empire. The family moved again, to California, where Taylor attended Hollywood High School. It was at this time that Taylor fell in love with the music of Elvis Presley and Gene Vincent. He tried his hand at singing and took part in local amateur gigs. Joe Barbera became his manager. Taylor accompanied Barbera on a business trip to London, and liked the music scene there so much that he stayed. He formed a number of bands, none of which lasted long because of his diffident manner and ever increasing drug abuse. With an incarnation called The Playboys, Taylor managed to get a recording contract with Parlophone Records, who in 1958 released two Playboys singles, one of which is called Brand New Cadillac

The singles were not the success that Parlophone hoped and they dropped The Playboys, who were picked up by Palette Records. In 1960, Taylor and the Playboys released Jet Black Machine

Dressed in black, Vince Taylor looked every inch like a rebel rocker. In 1961, after two successful concerts in Paris, Eddie Barclay of Barclay Records signed him to a six-year recording deal. During the the 1960s, Taylor became big in the French rock ‘n roll scene. His erratic, prickly personality and drug use meant that he didn’t have a regular band. Whomever he could persuade to play with him at various times were billed as ‘The Playboys’. This next track from 1962 is called Space Invaders

By the mid sixties, Vince Taylor was totally wasted by acid, speed and alcohol. It was during this time that David Bowie knew him. Remarkably, Taylor managed to stay alive and on the rare occasions when he was coherent he continued to give sporadic performances into the 1970s and 1980s. Perhaps even more remarkable, Vince Taylor spent the last years of his life working as an aircraft mechanic in Switzerland. He died in 1991 at the age of 52.

As David Bowie once said, if Taylor hadn’t existed, he would have had to have been invented. Over the years lots of people have covered Taylor’s songs. One of the best known ones is Brand New Cadillac by The Clash…

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