Bentley's Bandstand: Dennis Taylor, Steppin' Up

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Dennis Taylor, Steppin’ Up, Kizybosh Records

Saxophone players are often like a football team’s lonesome end. They are slightly outside the inner circle of guitarists, rhythm section and singer, but expected to jump into the fire at a moment’s notice to turn up the heat with searing solos–and then step back out of the spotlight. A great horn player can make a band burn. Look at Bobby Keys in the Rolling Stones. He doesn’t get that many star turns, but when he does it’s all over but the shouting. Dennis Taylor blew his heart out for any number of groups, and likely knew exactly how to make the most of his time out front: that horn spoke to the heavens.

Born in New England, Taylor worked his way south in 1980, moving to New Orleans to soak up the best of that town’s sounds. The Crescent City is saxophone mecca, going back to Fats Domino and Little Richard’s first recordings where Lee Allen turned his tenor into a near-nuclear weapon. It’s no accident the first song on Steppin’ Up is titled “Lee’s Lick,” and features a funky down yonder beat to go along with all the other struttin’.

This whole album, produced by Hammond organ whiz Kevin McKendree, is a lesson in the ultimate groove. Whether’s it’s Isaac Hayes’ “Cafe Regio’s,” Dr. John’s “Walk on Gilded Splinters” or Ray Charles’ “Hallelujah I Love Her So,” the organ trio takes their playing all the way home. Dennis Taylor’s three decades of working with Mighty Sam McClain, Gatemouth Brown, Buckwheat Zydeco, Duke Robillard and, the past two years, in Delbert McClinton’s outfit, are proof of a sweet inner spirit, and very few can say they contributed more than Taylor. He earned his saxophone stripes and then some. McClinton’s vocal on “Since I Fell for You” says it all: this is a sound born of hurt but turned into joy, something that can change the world from dark to light.

Dennis Taylor wrote six of the 14 songs on Steppin’ Up, and surely must have been proud having his own music sit so strongly next to such classics. When Taylor died last October, just a few months short of his debut album’s release, hopefully it was knowing he’d made his permanent mark, and was no longer a lonesome end but a lifetime member of the inner soul club of musicians who have bottled magic. It doesn’t get any better than that.

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.