Motown songwriter R. Dean Taylor of Toronto dies at 82

When a famous team of successful songwriters decided to leave Motown Records in the late ’60s, it was a Toronto man who helped Diana Ross and the Supremes pursue their chart-topping success.

In 1968, Brian Holland, Lamont Dozier and Eddie Holland, responsible for a string of eight supreme hits that began with 1964’s “Where Did Our Love Go” and continued through to “You Keep Me Hangin’ On” 1966, left Detroit home. of Motown Sound due to a royalty dispute.

The label’s founder and owner, Berry Gordy Jr., brought in a new group of writers to keep the momentum going, and Canadian R. Dean Taylor was one of the recruits.

“Panic set in and Berry said, ‘We’re gonna prove Motown isn’t Holland/Dozier/Holland,'” Taylor recalled in a 1982 interview with Doug Thompson, the show’s writer, producer and director. Canadian radio documentary “The Producers”. .”

“He (Berry Gordy) rented a suite of rooms in a big hotel in Detroit and had pianos moved in. It was a Thursday or a Friday and Berry told us that they were going to record The Supremes on Monday and we better come up with a song. He called us ‘The Clan’ – it was Paul Riser, Hank Cosby, Frank Wilson, Pam Sawyer, myself and God knows who else – and we were all sitting in the room trying to figure something out.

What they found, largely through the writing and production efforts of Taylor and Sawyer, was “Love Child,” a song about the anguish of an impoverished child born out of wedlock – and the first chart-topper of the Supremes that was less Holland-Dozier-Holland magic.

Reaching No. 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 for two weeks and eventually selling two million copies, “Love Child” underscored Taylor’s importance to the label, although there was immediate controversy.

“The deal was that we would split the writer’s royalties, but Pam and I actually wrote the song,” Taylor told Thompson. “She called me later and she was crying and I said ‘what’s wrong?’ She said, ‘I have a copy of the file and there are four names on it!’

“So I got all hot and rushed in to see Motown’s lawyer and he got Berry on the phone who enlightened me by calling me ‘ungrateful’.

” I did not care. ‘Love Child’ was a very important song for me.

Frank Davies, who helped induct the song into the Canadian Songwriters Hall of Fame in 2008, said “Love Child” was even more significant in terms of Motown’s future direction.

“It was a big hit because of its social commentary as well as its pop success,” Davies said.

And it wasn’t Taylor’s last: With ‘The Clan’ again – which also featured Deke Richards – he again struck Supremes songwriting gold in 1968 with the Top 10 ‘I’ m Livin’ In Shame”.

While these were some of his most visible contributions to the Motown canon — along with his own hit, 1970s “Indiana Wants Me” — Taylor, remained largely a behind-the-scenes figure at the label who, with Memphis-based Stax, was responsible for bringing soul and R&B music to the mainstream.

Taylor died Jan. 7 at his Los Angeles home at age 82, more than a year after contracting COVID-19 and being placed in hospice care.

Before signing with Motown in 1963, Richard Dean Taylor, born in Toronto on May 11, 1939, grew up in the city and established himself as a performer at an early age, appearing in outdoor country music competitions and playing the piano with many groups. Although her father got her a non-creative job at the Vickers and Benson ad agency in Toronto, Taylor’s heart was making records.

Releasing several singles in the years before the CRTC required Canadian radio stations to broadcast a minimum of 30% Canadian content, Taylor enjoyed some success with the CHUM turntable hit “At The High School Dance.” , which he recorded in New York in 1962 for Amy-Mala, a subsidiary of Bell Records. This would eventually lead him to Motown.

“My option came up and they decided whether to re-sign me or not,” Taylor told Doug Thompson. “In the meantime, I was working at the Vickers and Benson advertising agency in Toronto, although I spent most of my time in my car trying to hear the record. A friend of mine who had been at the agency had moved to Detroit, we were really close, and he called me and said, ‘There’s this company that I read about here called Mo -something”. Going to New York to talk about your contract, why don’t you stop by, I’d like to see you and we’ll try to get you an audition.

“So I did. My audition was with Brian Holland and Lamond Dozier and I played them my ‘shabby’ tunes. For some reason Brian just picked me up and he brought me upstairs in the legal department and they signed me on as a writer.

Adam White, co-writer of “Motown: The Sound of Young America,” said Taylor must have shown a lot of potential for Brian Holland to sign him as both writer and producer.

“Brian Holland really saw him as a bit of his protege,” White noted. “He must have felt that Taylor really had talent, otherwise he wouldn’t have wasted his time if he hadn’t.”

Taylor began working on Holland-Dozier-Holland sessions almost immediately as a ghostwriter, playing tambourine on sessions with the label’s Funk Brothers rhythm section and contributing to some hits where he received no credit, such as ” Standing In The Shadows Of Love” by the Four Tops. and “7 Dark Pieces”.

“He was paid cash for some of the ghostwriting he did and it was clearly good income for him,” White says. “As Holland-Dozier-Holland found more success, it seemed only right that he would also get some credit…So the best trio songs bearing his name were ‘I’ll Turn To Stone’ and “I’m In A Different World”, then, of course, his success with The Clan.

In a 1972 interview with Hit Parader magazine, Taylor told reporter Larry LeBlanc that Holland taught him the ropes.

“When I joined Motown, I had to learn to write. I always could write songs but I still couldn’t write Well Songs. The difference between a hit and a good song can be very small. It could be the way the thing is put together. Maybe it’s the structure. I did not know. I learned from Brian. I learned from the best.”

Motown tried to develop Taylor as an artist, but a few singles failed to gain traction. In 1968 he scored a hit in the UK with the self-written and self-produced ‘Gotta See Jane’ before striking international gold with the pop classic ‘Indiana Wants Me’, a tale about a fugitive fleeing the long arm of the law. , a song inspired by the films “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “Bonnie and Clyde”.

The song reached No. 1 on the Cashbox charts in the United States and peaked at No. 5 on Billboard.

“It opened a lot of doors for Motown,” Taylor told LeBlanc.

The song also confirmed the characteristics that would inhabit Taylor’s best originals: a sense of danger, drama and tension, as evidenced by Canadian hits such as “Taos, New Mexico”, with its main character rotting in a prison for that his future girlfriend decides to move on, and “Ain’t It A Sad Thing”, a song mourning the tragic damage done to the environment by corporations. Aside from Canada and his American stature, Taylor also made an impact on the northern UK soul movement with “There’s a Ghost in My House”.

“He wrote dark songs,” Janee Taylor, his wife of 52, told The Star. “He wrote a song called ‘Candy Apple Red’ about suicide. He wrote about things that troubled people in life.

Taylor himself told LeBlanc that he writes “about real-life things — things with shock value… things that people just don’t write about, things that we all think about, that are around us. I’ve always written these kinds of songs. Songs of the Shakespearian thing and the anti-hero, the despair of life.

When Motown moved to Los Angeles in the early ’70s to be closer to Berry Gordy’s Hollywood aspirations, the Taylors moved with him. Despite many efforts, however, Taylor never had another American or international success, despite signing numerous acts to his own independent labels and publishing deals,

“Looking back, it probably wasn’t the best decision,” says Janee Taylor. “Dean had all these different labels, a production company and all these artists that he signed and produced records… It took time and he was spending his own money on it. But no one of notoriety came out.

In 1983, Taylor also made a foray into country music, but again, to no avail.

“I think he was disappointed,” Janee Taylor said of her animal-loving vegan husband, a private man who loved collecting western cowboy memorabilia and cartoon character watches.

“He got discouraged after a while. He was almost becoming an executive but as far as his own writing goes, I think that got lost. Maybe if one of his bands had been a big hit, he might have felt different.

For the past two years, Janee Taylor said her husband caught COVID-19 and “never fully recovered”, spending the last year of his life at home with palliative treatment. She said he died in her arms at 7:30 a.m. on January 7 and that his lack of social media skills delayed the official announcement of his death by a few days.

Although underrated by Motown standards, Taylor left a rich legacy of songwriting that has been covered by everyone from Janet Jackson and The Fall to Gladys Knight & The Pips and the Mynah Birds, the temporary band formed by Rick James and Neil Young in the mid-’60s.

“He broke down barriers,” Frank Davies said. “When you think of a white kid from Toronto working in an all-black music company and the way Lamont Dozier and the Hollands embraced and mentored him, it just demonstrated his talent and the fact that music doesn’t know of borders.

“He also produced a body of work that was embraced by so many artists and he had a successful career as an artist. It is a rarity.

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