Gene Taylor: The unheard music of ‘King King’

This post is one in a series marking the 30th anniversary of the release of “King King” in 1992. See more at #KingKingXXX

It was his most audible note.

At 4 minutes and 37 seconds of the last cut, with all other instruments fading, he plunks one white key.

It’s a reminder that Gene Taylor Was Here.

“Cut That Out” was the song that featured what could winkingly be called Gene’s only solo on “King King,” but it also reflected producer Rick Rubin’s mixing philosophy when it came to Taylor’s piano parts on the record.

Better cut those out.

Or bury them deep, deep underground.

But Taylor’s work survives in your earbuds, a sometimes subliminal presence that weaves in and out of the right and left channels, at strategic moments in time, making sure that the record sounds like the blues, though you can’t quite figure out why.

This is a reminder that “King King” was a six-man endeavor.

Compare two shuffles on the album: “Automatic” and “Mr. Highway Man.” On “Automatic,” Taylor’s playing is pushing the song forward, in a give-and-take with longtime co-conspirator Bill Bateman, who is dragging ever so subtly on the drums. This is how a shuffle should sound; Taylor orients the turnarounds and changes with finesse. Rubin uses Taylor’s entire performance track as his own instrument, adding and subtracting by feel.

“Highway Man,” which sports no audible Taylor, is leaner and meaner with only space between guitarists Paul Size and Dave Lee Bartel.

That’s the Taylor difference.

Check out what Taylor does on the chorus of “She’s Dangerous.” His triplets are clear as crystal, reinforcing the song’s shuffling groove. These are lines pulled from the thick, funky tar of Early Modern Blues, dusted off and presented yet again, making a new song sound classic.

Where he is unanticipated is on the signature “Devil Woman.” At 4:57, as Lester Butler starts his harp solo, Taylor answers back with runs that would be at home in a western saloon, before offering heady R&B on the change.

What would that song be like without it?

Outtakes from the “King King” live recording sessions show that, on the cuts that included piano, Taylor was plenty audible. While not as egregious as wiping all of the bass off of a Metallica record, it’s still a production disservice to a talented musician who held up his end of the bargain.

Gene Taylor, 1952-2021

We remember Gene Taylor, whose fiery boogie woogie and classic blues piano graced decades worth of classic albums and stages around the world.

That was sort of the paradox of The Red Devils, though. They did what a lot of blues bands do: They asked their buddy to play on the record. Label head Rubin, meanwhile, wanted the band to look, sound and feel like a fully realized gang. A piano wasn’t part of his image of a grunge-blues band.

At the end of the day, it’s like Brooklyn-style pie vs. Chicago deep dish. No one is complaining that there is too much or not enough piano on “King King.” Some songs are thick, some slimmer.

But if that piano wasn’t in there, you’d know something wasn’t right.

But it was there, and it was good.

Gene Taylor Was There.

A forgotten dance hall piano. Photo by Tina Hanagan for NoFightin.com

Published by J.J.

Drums and barbecue ribs. Blues music.

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