George Harrison - Looking back on 33 1/3 with his friend; Alvin Taylor
Famed Drummer Shares Memories of Working with George Harrison
It's been nearly 2 decades since the younger Beatles passed away. For myself, I’ve been a fan of The Beatles since I was 3 years old and that was a long time ago! I’ve also been a fan of them as individual artists. When John Lennon was tragically killed in 1980, I was devastated. Then to find out that George Harrison would later pass away from Cancer on this day; in 2001, cut me deep. Of course I never had the privilege of meeting any of these wonderful men, but I know someone who has. My friend; famed drummer, Alvin Taylor.
Alvin's skills as a drummer can be heard on one of my personal favorite LP’s. George Harrison's 1976 release of 33 1/ॐ which included, Billy Preston, David Foster, Emil Richards, Gary Wright, Richard Tee, Tom Scott and Willie Weeks.
The feedback on 33 1/ॐ was incredible with reviews better than George's "All Things Must Pass" in 1970 with Billboard magazine saying that 33 1/ॐ was "a sunny, upbeat album of love songs and cheerful jokes that is his happiest and most commercial package, with least high-flown postures, for perhaps his entire solo career."
To this day, I still own the 45 releases of 33 1/ॐ I bought back when I was a teenager. I had no idea that fellow Palm Springs resident; Alvin Taylor who at 14 years of age in 1967, ran off with Little Richard and began his career of one of the most well known recorded and touring drummers in music was on this iconic album. Listening over and over, wearing out these 45's only to find years later that one of our Desert's own was driving the beats and rhythms.
This being the anniversary of George’s untimely passing, I am reliving an interview I did with Alvin in 2013.ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ
Loretta: Alvin, you are such an amazing drummer! You’ve been on so many wonderful and historical recordings. Would you mind sharing with our listeners at Vinyl Radio what you remember about THE making of 33 1/3? But before you do, how about some background on your career. You started as a touring drummer for Little Richard when you were 15?
Alvin Taylor: Actually I was discovered by Little Richard and started working with him at the age of fourteen. Little Richard, Frank Sinatra, Sammy Davis Jr. and Billy Preston came into the Biltmore Hotel together and secured a table. I was working there as a busboy. I also doubled as a drummer with a band called, The Soul Patrol. I’d sit in when the drummer got too inebriated to perform. On this certain night, Richard came back into the kitchen after one of my performances and told me that he wanted me to be in his band. I ended up in Las Vegas Nevada opening the show for Elvis Presley. Jimmy James AKA Jimi Hendrix was playing guitar in our eighteen-piece orchestra and Billy Preston was our organist. That was the beginning of my career in the music industry.
Loretta: Wow!! What an amazing story!
Being that you and I were both raised in Palm Springs, is that the Biltmore in Palm Springs?
Alvin: Yes the Biltmore in Palm Springs.
Loretta: During those early years in the industry, you recorded with so many great artists. I’m sure the Vinyl Radio listeners would be in awe just who you recorded with.
Alvin: I have played on many albums with various artist. I don’t really like to talk about it much because I don’t want people to think that I’m boasting. But I have played drums on 57 gold records and 26 Platinum. You have heard my work on Elton John’s albums, George Harrison, Leo Sayer. Natalie Cole, Bill Withers, Bob Welch, Cher, Eric Burdon, Barry White, Stevie Wonder, Billy Preston and so many others.
Loretta: I appreciate your honesty. But as an amateur musicologist, who is behind the great records is what drives me to do interviews like this.
So can we talk about George Harrison?
How did you meet?
Alvin: I met George Harrison during one of his visits with his friend, Billy Preston. I was rehearsing with the band. The Stairsteps. At one time they were called, The Five Stairsteps. We were at Billy Preston’s ranch rehearsing songs for their new album titled, Second Resurrection. He had a studio at his ranch which we used. Stevie Wonder’s producer, Robert Margouleff and Billy Preston were producing the album. George was interested in signing the band to his record label called, Dark Horse Records. So he popped his head in to listen and liked what he heard. He was so impressed with my drumming that he offered me a invitation to play on his next album which was the, Thirty Three and a Third album.
Loretta: To work with Billy Preston had to have been incredible. I still have his music. From the time I was 9, I would babysit just to buy his 45’s as well as others. And then The Stairsteps! Wow!! Then to meet George Harrison! How did you feel when you first met him and then when he invited you to play on his album?
Alvin: I was Honored. George presented himself as a very humbled and Down to earth person. He never wavered from maintaining those characteristics as long as I knew him right up to his death. I love Billy Preston. He was an awesome talent to work with. The album that I did with The Stairsteps is the most favorite album that I have ever played on. In fact it was George’s favorite album. That’s how I got the gig. The lead singer for, The Stairsteps, Clarence Burke passed away just a few months ago. He is the voice that you hear on the song, Ooh Child.
Loretta: Yes, I remember when Clarence passed. So sad. He was dearly loved. That is so cool that George loved that album. I will make sure that Vinyl Radio features ”Second Resurrection” on their LP night. : )
Since today is the anniversary of George’s death, I know fans all over are mostly focusing on songs George wrote while with The Beatles. But you know me, I’m a rebel!! HA!! Gotta go against the grain. I want to focus on his solo work and one of my favorite albums! What would you like to share about the making of Thirty Three and a Third?
Alvin: Working with George was an amazing experience. I learned so much from him about being a musician. Working on an album with George is like working on a movie project with, Steven Spielberg. Each musician has a script that they must follow while adding their own personality with it. George was very specific about what he wanted and the people that he choose to achieve if with. We never took over two takes on any given song and everything that we played was live. No computer or digital stuff used – all natural and raw. George would explain the story behind each song and he would convey what the point was that he wanted to get across on each song. Totally amazing. Unheard of in the music business. Working with George was absolutely amazing.
Loretta: That is incredible. With George practicing guitar to the point of his fingers bleeding when he was teenager, I can see that he would have a strong work ethic. Alvin, tell me how working with George Harrison has influenced the way you work with music today.
Alvin: George and I became very good friends in the end. I will truly miss him. I’m in tears just thinking about how special and important he is to me. I learned so much from him. I learned how to produce records by being around him. I use the same techniques that he taught me. I approach making a record like I would if I were a movie director. First of all there has to be a good storyline. The storyline is the song. Then it’s important to match the cast of actor/players up with the point that you’re trying to get across. It’s very difficult to talk about this at length. This is the basic idea. But compared to in depth details, what I’m saying is only surface and idle chit chat. There is so much more to explain but I think you get the idea.
Loretta: What would you say are your favorite tracks off this album?
Alvin: That’s a very hard question to ask. I like Crackerbox Palace, This Song, What You Value, Pure Smokey and True Love. True Love is an old Cole Porter song that we did a remake of. The songs that I’ve shared with you are not necessarily in that order, they are just the songs that come to mind when I think of some of my favorite songs that I recorded with George.
For the recording of the official video; "This Song," George wanted to share his comedic skills with this tongue in cheek tune. Being a fan of comedian Flip Wilson, if I remember correctly, I believe George wanted Alvin to play judge. But Alvin had left on tour with Leo Sayer and wasn't able to film the video. So Alvin Taylor suggested friend and fellow drummer; Jim Keltner to play the judge. And the rest is history. This is one of my favorite videos.
Loretta: Alvin, I want to thank you so much for taking time out of your day to talk about the beloved George Harrison and the making of this great album. I am sorry for your loss. Sounds like he was good friend and fellow musician as well as a wonderful human being. Vinyl Radio is going to honor him today by playing his music throughout the day as well as a 3 song set.
Alvin: Thank you for the opportunity to share in this interview. I love you with all of my heart. This is a very difficult day for me. With the help of God and awesome friends like you, I seem to be getting through it okay.
ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ ॐ
It was great sharing this memory with you. Be sure to check out the links below to learn more about this iconic drummer.
Check out Alvin’s credentials on Discogs