Outsider musician Shooby Taylor was the self-appointed "Human Horn," his singular and eccentric scat-singing style -- equal parts nonsense words, off-tempo vocalese, and saxophone-inspired squawks -- earning a small but reverential cult following. Born William Taylor in Indiana Township, PA, on September 19, 1929, he grew up in Harlem from the age of 18 months, afflicted by a childhood stuttering habit that no doubt shaped his future vocal approach. He entered the U.S. Army in 1953, and after earning his discharge two years later, he went to work for the U.S. Post Office. A lifelong jazz aficionado, Taylor revered scatmaster Babs Gonzales and began emulating his idol's distinctive style, studying at New York's Hartnett Music School under the GI Bill in an attempt to verbally express the musical sounds he heard in his head. He frequented jam sessions at Greenwich Village clubs in the hopes of finding sympathetic collaborators, but most professional musicians he encountered dismissed or openly mocked his unconventional style, an acquired taste by any definition.
After suffering an on-the-job injury, Taylor retired from the Post Office sometime in the early '70s, collecting a pension that enabled him to devote all of his energies to his music. In the years to follow he made countless home recordings of himself singing along with professional recordings, very rarely following the melody line of the song in question. In 1983 Taylor appeared on television's Amateur Night at the Apollo, but was booed off the stage. Around that same time he entered Angel Sound, a walk-in recording studio in the heart of Times Square, and cut dozens of tracks with engineer Craig Bradley, who also dubbed 14 songs onto a private cassette. When Bradley went to work at the New Jersey alternative radio station WFMU in 1989, he passed along copies of his Shooby Taylor tape to colleagues, among them Irwin Chusid, host of the station's Incorrect Music Hour.
Chusid began broadcasting Taylor's music on a regular basis, devoting an entire chapter of his 2000 book, Songs in the Key of Z, to an appreciation of the Human Horn's unique genius. However, Taylor himself remained oblivious to the growing interest in his work, while his legion of fans knew nothing of his whereabouts, or even if he was still alive. By now he was living in a Newark, NJ, nursing home, his singing career essentially curtailed by a stroke he suffered in 1994. Elektra Records executive and fan Rick Goetz finally located Taylor's son William Jr. in July 2002, and within days Goetz and Chusid descended on the singer's nursing home. Taylor was a guest on WFMU a month later, and Goetz and Chusid also transferred several of his home recordings to CD-R, preserving a larger chunk of his legacy. Taylor died on June 4, 2003, at the age of 74. ~ Jason Ankeny