Monday, June 01, 2009

Beatle People: Derek Taylor

Derek Taylor (7 May 1932 – 8 September 1997) was a British journalist, best known as the long-serving press agent for the hugely popular rock band, The Beatles. He was a local journalist in Liverpool who worked for the Liverpool Daily Post and Echo, the News Chronicle, the Sunday Dispatch, and the Sunday Daily Express, and was also a regular columnist and theatre critic for the Northern Daily Express.

Early career

Taylor first met the band after reviewing their stage performance. Instead of the anticipated negative review of a rock-n-roll group, Taylor gave their act the highest praises. Invited to become acquainted with the Beatles camp, he soon became a confidant, and gained his share of exclusives on them.

As the Beatles gained national attention in Britain, Taylor's editors conceived of a running column by a Beatle to boost circulation, under their byline but to be ghostwritten by Taylor. George Harrison was the member chosen. Initially given only the right to approve or disapprove of the content, Harrison's dissection of the first draft turned the column into an ongoing collaboration between him and Taylor, with Harrison providing the stories and Taylor giving them polish.

Brian Epstein hired Taylor away from his newspaper job, putting him in charge of Beatles press releases, and playing media liaison to himself and the band. He also became Epstein's personal assistant. In 1964 Taylor co-wrote A Cellarful of Noise, Epstein's autobiography, then departed, moving his growing family to California. In 1965 he started his own public relations company, managing the PR for bands like Paul Revere and the Raiders, The Byrds and The Beach Boys. (Taylor was the first to apply the controversial "genius" label to Beach Boys founder Brian Wilson.) Taylor was a co-creator and producer of the historic Monterey Pop Festival in 1967.

George Harrison's song "Blue Jay Way" was written during his 1967 visit to California, on a foggy night waiting for Taylor and his wife to come visit ("There's a fog upon L.A. / And my friends have lost their way"). Finding a small electric organ in his rented house (on Blue Jay Way), Harrison worked on the song until they arrived.

Taylor was also a catalyst in Harry Nilsson's musical career; hearing Nilsson's song "1941" on a car radio, he bought a case (twenty-five copies) of his album Pandemonium Shadow Show, sending copies to different industry people – including all four Beatles, who soon invited Nilsson to London. Nilsson became longtime collaborators (and lifelong friends) with John Lennon and Ringo Starr.

In 1968, Taylor returned to England to work for the Beatles again, as the press officer for the newly created Apple Corps. As a VIP at Apple, Taylor had a major role in the company's ups and downs, making or enforcing many crucial business and personal decisions, for the Beatles and Apple's staff, and witnessing many key moments in the latter days of both. His role is well-portrayed in The Longest Cocktail Party, a memoir of Apple by former "house hippie" Richard DiLello, and other Beatles biographies.

Taylor gets a name-check in the last verse of "Give Peace a Chance," along with Tommy Smothers, Timothy Leary, and Norman Mailer, who all participated in the recording.

Later career

Taylor provided the liner notes to Harry Nilsson's Aerial Ballet, and some later albums. He also co-produced Nilsson's A Little Touch of Schmilsson in the Night in 1973. A "magic lamp" story written by Taylor's daughter Victoria was printed on the back cover of Nilsson's album Harry. He also worked with British jazz stars George Melly and John Chilton.

1973 also saw the publication by Sphere Books of the first of his Beatle memoirs, As Time Goes By, reprinted by their Abacus imprint the following year.

At this time Taylor was working for Warner Bros, Reprise, Elektra and Atlantic Records (later WEA) as their Director of Special Projects; while here he was instrumental in signing seminal Liverpool Art School rock band Deaf School. He moved on to become closely involved with George Harrison at Handmade Films before returning to base at Apple's Soho headquarters in London's West End.

In 1980, Taylor collaborated again with George Harrison, helping to complete I Me Mine, Harrison's autobiography. Taylor followed with one of his own, Fifty Years Adrift (In An Open Necked Shirt), (nicknamed "The Big Leather Job" or "The Fat Book") published in December 1983 by Genesis Publications. Harrison returned the favor by providing a glowing introduction to the signed, limited edition volume. Only 2,000 were ever printed, and the book quickly became a collectors' item.

Five years later, in 1987, It Was Twenty Years Ago Today (Fireside for Simon & Schuster), celebrated the 1967 release of Sgt. Pepper's Lonely Hearts Club Band, providing a detailed documentary of the people and events that shaped the album and the wider events of the Summer Of Love counterculture. The book includes archive interviews and photographs as well as extensive transcripts from a Granada TV documentary also titled It Was Twenty Years Ago Today.

As Time Goes by: Living in the Sixties (Rock and Roll Remembrances Series No. 3) (Popular Culture Ink) was published in June 1990 in the USA, while in the UK Bois Books published What You Cannot Finish and Take A Sad Song in 1995, coinciding with the release of the Beatles Anthology. Posthumous volumes include Beatles (Ebury Press 1999). In addition, an audio CD, Here, There and Everywhere: Derek Taylor Interviews The Beatles, was released on the Thunderbolt label in 2001.

Derek Taylor died of cancer on 8 September 1997. At the time of his death he was still working for Apple.


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