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Bobby Taylor, Soul Singer Who Helped the Jackson 5, Dies

By Mr. Taylor’s account, he was stunned by the Jacksons and especially taken with the lead singer, a child phenomenon named Michael.

“He was singing like James Brown,” Mr. Taylor said on the NBC program “Dateline” after Jackson’s death from a drug overdose in 2009. “He was dancing as well as James Brown.”

Mr. Taylor said that after the show he told Michael and his brothers that he wanted them to audition for Motown in Detroit, where Mr. Taylor lived. He said he then spent several days coaching the group, letting them stay in his apartment before their audition.

Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers – Does Your Mama Know About Me (1968) Video by PilotOfTheAirwaves1

Mr. Taylor was prone to embellishment, his friends and family have said, and others have been credited with discovering the Jackson 5, including Diana Ross. (The title of the group’s 1969 debut album was “Diana Ross Presents the Jackson 5.”)


Bobby Taylor, left, and Berry Gordy Jr. onstage in 2010.

Yumfun Liang

But in a Twitter message after Mr. Taylor’s death, Jermaine Jackson, one of the group’s members, wrote that Mr. Taylor had “put J5 on the path,” and Mr. Gordy himself suggested that it was Mr. Taylor who had guided the band to Motown’s studios.

In his autobiography, “To Be Loved: The Music, the Magic, the Memories of Motown,” Mr. Gordy recalled that he had first heard of the Jackson 5 through his creative assistant, Suzanne de Passe.

“She told me she had first heard about them from Bobby Taylor,” he wrote.

Mr. Gordy signed the Jacksons soon after the audition.

Mr. Taylor helped produce the first Jackson 5 album and worked on their second, “ABC” (1970) before his involvement with the band waned.

Robert Edward Taylor said he was born on Feb. 18, 1934, in Washington, though his daughter said that the year was actually 1939, as Washington census records indicate. She was not sure why her father had added five years to his age, she said.

His mother, the former Ethel Mae Kemp, was a beautician, and his father, Raymond Taylor, left the home when Bobby was young. As a teenager, Bobby moved in with relatives in Columbus, Ohio, and graduated from high school there.

An aspiring singer, Mr. Taylor, who had a working knowledge of several instruments and a supple, silken voice, toured with the Four Pharaohs, a doo-wop group based in Columbus, then studied at San Jose State University in California. He was working as a musician at a San Francisco nightclub when he met a guitar player named Tommy Chong.

Mr. Chong, who would gain fame as half of the stoner comedy duo Cheech and Chong, worked with Mr. Taylor for a time in San Francisco before returning to his native Canada. There, in the early 1960s, he invited Mr. Taylor to join the band that became Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers. The group mainly performed covers of Motown songs.

In a telephone interview, Mr. Chong described Mr. Taylor as an outgoing, outspoken person who “could sing everybody else’s songs better than they could themselves.”

“He had a higher range than all the singers there,” Mr. Chong said.

He also mentioned Mr. Taylor’s penchant for exaggeration, which led to rumors that Jimi Hendrix was a Vancouvers regular. Hendrix sat in with the band for one night, Mr. Chong said, after which Mr. Taylor “told everyone that Hendrix toured with us.”

“I think he used to say the Beatles were with the band,” he added.

Mr. Gordy signed the group after hearing them perform in the mid-1960s. In 1968, they released an album, “Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers,” whose tracks included “Malinda,” written by Al Cleveland, Terry Johnson and Smokey Robinson, and “Does Your Mama Know About Me?,” by Mr. Chong and Tom Baird.

That song was the band’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 29 on the Billboard Top 40 chart. The band broke up soon afterward.

Mr. Taylor released “Taylor Made Soul,” a solo album on the Motown subsidiary label Gordy, in 1969 before leaving Motown in the early 1970s. He later worked with labels including Playboy Records, formed a production company and performed, most recently, near his home in Hong Kong.

In addition to his daughter, his survivors include a sister, Dorothy Murray, and a brother, Jerry Burton.

Mr. Taylor once joked that he was amazed, but not humbled, by Michael Jackson’s singular talents.

“He’s the greatest entertainer who’s ever been on the stage,” he said. “But he still can’t out-sing me.”

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