WES VOIGHT aka CHIP TAYLOR (By Tony Wilkinson)
Born James Wesley Voight, 21 March 1940, New York (and thankfully still with us)
The name of Chip Taylor is synonymous with hit songs and it is amazing to think that one person is talented enough to write such classic songs as diverse as 'Wild Thing', 'Angel Of The Morning', 'I Can't Let Go', 'Country Girl, City Man', 'Try (Just A Little Bit Harder)', '(I Want) The Real Thing' and 'Just A Little Bit Later On Down The Line'. Perhaps what is not so well appreciated is that Chip commenced his career as a great rock 'n' roll singer under the name of Wes Voight.
Chip/Wes was born James Wesley Voight in the Yonkers area of New York, the youngest of three brothers, each of whom was born approximately one year apart. The other two are Academy Award winning actor Jon Voight with the eldest, Barry, being a world-renowned geologist who invented the formula for predicting volcanic eruptions that is accepted as the yardstick for such matters. Their dad was golf professional whilst mum was a swimming instructor and schoolteacher. The parents encouraged each of the three boys to follow their instincts by giving the advice that "there is nothing you cannot achieve".
Growing up in Yonkers, music was the natural bent for Wes, especially from the tender age of eight years old when he started to listen to country music put out over the airwaves by West Virginia Radio Station WWVA late at night: "I guess that my favourite artists and influences were The Brown Family, The Louvin Brothers and later Johnny Cash and Elvis Presley. From the start, I liked to listen to country music or blues and this encouraged myself to form a high school and in 1955 be the name of The Town And Country Brothers that played totally country music."
The Town And Country Brothers consisted of Wes on lead vocals and guitar, Ted Daryll on drums and Greg Gwardiak on lead guitar. From the outset, Wes wrote the songs for himself and the band. In this respect, the other two recognised the fledgling composing talent and encouraged Voight. He recalled: "Greg's confidence in my songs played a big part in my later success. This encouragement lead to our first recording, which was a demo. session at which we cut the first song that I wrote called 'Faded Blue'. "
This demo reached the hands of Henry Glover who was the then A&R head of the R&B division of King Records based in New York. Glover loved the recording and advised Voight that it was exactly the kind of material he was looking for, namely a combination of blues and country. Signed to a recording contract under the name of Wes Voight, a session was arranged for 12 September 1058 in New York: " Instead of using my band, at the last minute the company bought in Mickey Baker (from Mickey & Sylvia) on guitar and Panama Francis on drums, both famous R&B players. Both Ted or Gregg played on the session, and I feel that the recordings would have been more 'me' if the company had allowed us to record as a band. "
Be that as it may, eight tracks were cut at this session and some superlative rock 'n' roll was laid down - all of which were issued over the next couple of years on four singles. The first release was 'Anther Guy's Line/Midnight Blues' on DeLuxe (a subsidiary of King) #6176 and was credited to The Town Three featuring Wes Voight. What caused the record company to change the name from The Town And Country Brothers to The Town Three remains a mystery. Both of the songs are great mid-tempo rockers with fine rockin' moody vocals from Wes and first-rate guitar picking from Mickey Baker.
The next release quickly followed and was 'I Want A Lover/Little Joan' on DeLuxe #6180 but there was a subtle change in the name appearing on the label as this time the tracks were credited to Wes Voight and The Town Three. 'I Want A Lover' is again a tasty mid-tempo rocker with fine backing whilst 'Little Joan' is a teen-beat ballad. Incidentally, Joan was to become the first wife of Wes.
For the third release, there was a switch to the main King label with the record this time being simply credited to Wes Voight. 'I'm Movin' In/Everything's The Same' (King #5211) are two great rockin' tracks. 'I'm Movin' In' is real mean 'n' moody somewhat similar to 'Turn Me Loose' by Fabian but with the notable exception that Wes can really sing and stay in tune. 'Everything's The Same' is akin to the Ricky Nelson Imperial style.
The fourth and final issue from this prolific session was in August 1959 with 'I'm Ready To Go Steady/The Wind And The Cold Black Night' on King #5231. The topside was again in the Fabian style but with an up-lift in tempo, a fine fine rocker. 'I'm Ready To Go Steady' coupled with 'I'm Movin' In' was also released in the UK on Parlophone R4586 but trying to locate a copy is about as hard as finding hens teeth.
This fourth record also saw the demise of the name of Wes Voight on record labels, it was shortly to be replaced with Chip Taylor. However there is a mystery track titled 'Dream On Little Princess' which surfaced in 1998 on the triple CD 'Inside The Brill Building' set by Barry Mann (Brill Tone BMW #111). Although credited to Mann, Chip has listened to this cut and confirmed that it is in fact one of his recordings dating from circa 1959.
At the end of the fifties, it was thought that people may have difficulty in pronouncing the name Voight and so a change was decided upon. Chip was his golfing nickname and Taylor was picked on as being a typical White Anglo Saxon Protestant name.
When asked why there were not more releases for King, Chip replied that it was down to his manager who thought he could do better elsewhere. Certainly these records (as good as they are) were not commercial successes - perhaps due to the major promotion being limited to a tour of the radio stations. With the expiry of the King contract, the days of The Town And Country Brothers came to an end too. Of the original group, Gregg Gwardiak passed away in1996 but Ted Daryll is still active on the music scene today as a jazz producer and noted authority on that style of music. Ted co-wrote 'Country Girl, City Man' with Chip and in his own right composed 'She Cried' for Jay And The Americans.
With this turn of events, Chip briefly forsook the music business and became a professional golfer. However the music bug was still with him and when a wrist injury sidelined his prospective golfing career, he quickly returned to music for a full time living. After two releases on MGM, Chip was signed to Warner Brothers Records for the first time and secured his first chart placing at position #80 in 1961 with 'Here I Am' (WB #5314) - a gentle beat ballad. The flip-side 'I Love You But I Know' is similar to the sounds that Rick Nelson was achieving around this time and does contain some mighty fine James Burton style guitar picking. This disc was followed by another tasty item, 'Guy Don't Need A Lot Of Time/Lucky Star' (WB #5333).
In 1965, after three releases on Mala Records and one on the Rainy Day label, Chip linked up with Al Gorgoni to form Just Us and the duo secured a chart placing with 'I Can't Grow Peaches On A Cheery Tree'. Originally issued on the small Boston based Columbus Minuteman label, it developed into a regional hit and was subsequently purchased for national distribution by Colpix Records. It started to climb the national placings but within three weeks, Colpix filed for bankruptcy. Kapp Records ensured that it appeared on the top 100 upon acquiring the track. This was followed by a further three single releases on Kapp between 1966 and 1971. In 1971, the duo expanded to a trio under the name of Gorgoni, (Trade) Martin & Taylor and signed for Buddah Records. This contract resulted in the issue of one single and two albums on the label. Especially worth mentioning is their 'Gorgoni, Martin & Taylor' album (Buddah BDS #5113) that contains their original version of 'I Can't Let Go' complete with swooping piano runs which Jerry Lee would be proud of - this was before the Hollies got their hands on the song. The same L.P. also contains the superb bluesy 'You Crazy Girl'. Chip then branched out again as a solo artist in 1972 and, whilst staying on the same label, released the excellent country rock album 'Gasoline' (Buddah BDS #5118).
The sixties also saw Chip acting as a producer on many good records, notably by Billy Vera either as a solo performer or with Judy Clay - the 1967 smash 'Storybook Children' by the duo was a Taylor production - and the extremely talented Evie Sands. Chip is particularly proud of his association with Evie: "She recorded the original versions of 'Take Me For A Little While' and 'I Can't Let Go' for Blue Cat (in 1965) and was the first to record 'Angel Of The Morning' for Cameo/Parkway (in 1967). Her version was breaking big just as the company filed for bankruptcy. She then had a big hit (in 1969) with her version of 'Anyway You Want Me' (A&M). Al Gorgoni and I produced all this stuff. Evie got on stage with myself in 1997 and sounded better than ever. Al and I, along with Tommy Spurlock, produced her latest album 'Women In Prison' which was released in Europe in February 1999. "
The late part of the sixties also saw Taylor producing the humorous version of his own composition 'Wild Thing'' by Bill Minkin imitating the vocal style and mannerisms of Senator Bobby Kennedy. This disc was a huge American hit. It was followed by similar releases, including a whole album's worth released under the name of The Hardly Worth-It Players.
Come late 1971 or early 1972, Chip re-signed with Warner Brothers and this union saw the release of three albums between 1974 and 1975. The first of these was titled 'Last Chance' (UK Warner Bros. #K56036) and today has justifiably become recognised as a cult classic. The L.P. contains the most meaningful tribute song to rock 'n' roll - and the sounds of Sun Records in particular - with '(I Want) The Real Thing'. Chip subsequently produced another version of this song by the late country singer Stoney Edwards. This album was subsequently re-issued on CD in 1997 by Train Wreck Records. The second Warner Bros. Album, 'This Side Of The Big River', (UK #K56036) contains a live version of Johnny Cash's 'Big River', an interpretation that reeks pure emotion and aggression.
1976 saw the pacting with Columbia Records and the release of 'Somebody Shoot Out The Jukebox' (#34345) that was then followed in 1980 with the L.P. 'Saint Sebastian' on Capitol (#ST-11909). Apart from a spell as the New York A&R man for Polygram Records, Chip decided to forsake the music industry once again and this time concentrated on gambling - both cards and the horses. His talent at this was renowned and he ultimately succeeded in getting banned from every casino in Atlantic City due to his perpetual winning ways: "I had a horse racing (betting partnership) with the legendary gambler Ernest Dahlman. Ernie is the biggest and most consistent money-maker ever in the game. He credits my influence with much of his success - together we never had a losing year."
This lasted until 1993 when Chip went on a national USA songwriters tour with such as Rosie Flores, Darden Smith and Don Henry. However, it was not until 1995 that he came back full time to music: "In 1995, my mom got seriously ill. I started to sing again for her. It was then that I decided to give up gambling and devote my life to making music to whoever would care to listen."
Starting out in 1996 with the CD 'Hit Man' containing his interpretations of thirteen of his songs, there has since then been a steady succession of CD releases and tours, including many in Europe. For sure, he has made and written some superlative music.
Train Wreck TW002 - 'Hit Man' (1996)
Train Wreck TW 237 - 'Chip Taylor's Last Chance' (1997)
Ace CDCHD 975 - 'King Rock 'n' Roll'. This various artist compilation contains three tracks recorded as Wes Voight, namely 'I'm Movin' In', 'I Want A Lover' and 'Midnight Blues'.
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