Veteran Musician Plays in the Limelight
Gaylan Taylor enjoyed a recent summer evening on the porch of his house in Laveen, watching a monsoon storm.
“Mother Nature at her finest,” said Taylor, a native Phoenician, a life-long musician, and the newest member of The Limeliters, a folk trio that’s been recording music and entertaining since 1959 with songs such as “There’s a Meetin’ Here Tonight,” “City of New Orleans,” “Wabash Cannonball” and “Whiskey in the Jar.”
“I am so, so proud to be a member of the Limeliters,” Taylor, 59, said. “We are having so much fun, myself, Andy Corwin and Mack Bailey. We are making such good music.”
The Limeliters’ founding members were Lou Gottlieb, Alex Hassilev, and Glenn Yarborough. The trio, named after a Colorado bar called The Limelite, met with immediate success after performing at the Hungry i, a San Francisco hotspot that launched the popularity of many up-and-coming folk acts in its day.
About five years ago, The Limeliters was booked to play on a cruise headed for the Caribbean when Alex Hassilev, the last original member, had something come up and could not go. Out of the blue, Taylor said, he got a call asking if he felt like heading for the tropics.
“And I thought, geez, you can twist my arm to do that!” he said. In the span of several weeks Taylor learned the vocal parts to about 30 songs, despite not having read sheet music since high school. The pressure was especially intense considering the group’s popularity. But despite feeling half seasick Taylor held his own, and when Hassilev recently announced his retirement, he was on the shortlist of potential replacements and flew to Los Angeles to audition.
“We also had two other great musicians to audition,” said Mack Bailey, another Limeliters member. “But when Andy, Gaylan and I sang in Alex’s house for the first time, it was magical. The blend was such that you could not distinguish who was singing which part. I was sold immediately.”
The appeal of these three voices seems to be the general consensus too—even Wikipedia bills the new line-up’s vocal harmony as “close to the original as any over the years.”
Taylor said it was an honor to even be considered, let alone selected.
A local Phoenix boy who grew up singing in the Boys’ Choir and playing the accordion and trumpet, Taylor knew at an early age that he wanted to pursue music. At 14 he decided to take up the guitar, but his parents, fed up with his fickle infatuations with various instruments, said he would have to teach himself. That might have been a stumbling block for some, but for Taylor, the guitar seemed easy and he astounded adults with his aptitude.
“Being a child of the 60s, the Beatles were a huge influence—all of that British Invasion stuff,” he said. The budding folk scene was influential too, as was Harvey K. Smith, then the artistic director of the Phoenix Boys Choir, who taught him “a lot about hard work, discipline and paying attention to detail.”
Like any musician’s, Taylor’s career has had its highs and lows. He started performing professionally in high school and, aside from a brief period of retirement, he’s worked steadily as a musician in various groups, including The New Christy Minstrels and Igor’s Jazz Cowboys. He’s performed in venues ranging from county fairs to Las Vegas stages, on the radio and on television. Today he’s also celebrating the release of his first solo CD in nearly 20 years, Taylor Made.
But despite his musical talents, Taylor said there was a defining “a-ha” moment when he realized that to be a successful musician, he had to be an entertainer too. That moment came during a USO tour in Vietman with The Win’Jammers, a nine-member folk and variety group that he was asked to join as a high school student.
The Win’Jammers played one show on a huge carrier ship in front of thousands of sailors, and the 30-piece Navy band opened up.
“They were dynamite,” Taylor said, “but the sailors were ho-hum.” Then The Win’Jammers female vocalist—who happened to be blond and blue-eyed—walked on stage, and the crowd went nuts for nearly 10 minutes. Taylor concluded: “People listen with their eyes.”
That lesson, learned at a young age, served him well. Said Taylor of his career: “It’s really been a pretty good run, huh?”