First, I want to extend my heartfelt thanks to Todd Alexander and Katy Waugh for reaching out to me and requesting that I write this article for the July 2021 edition of 'Phlockers Magazine.' Ironically, I have wanted to write an article on the friendship I shared with Greg 'Fingers' Taylor for quite some time now, so their kind invitation could not have come at a better time. Greg's Birthday is in June and mine in July. We are both celebrating significant birthdays this year, and I have been doing a tremendous amount of reflecting lately. My article ran a little bit too long, and they had to edit it a wee bit for their publication, so I am posting the unedited version here at JeffPike.com.
If you are a fan of Trop Rock music, Jimmy Buffett, and the tropical lifestyle, I want to encourage you to check out Phlockers Magazine. It is free and published monthly online at - http://phlockersmagazine.com/ - It is full of great information and is your one-stop shop for all things Trop Rock.
GREG 'FINGERS' TAYLOR - AN OLD ROCK N' ROLLER WHO HAD TO BE THERE
I have vivid memories which are dear to my heart of the first time I heard the music of Jimmy Buffett. It was during the summer of 1974, and I was in the 7th grade. Every summer for a few years in Junior High and High School, I worked for my Grandfather in South Carolina as a carpenter's assistant. I spent my days in the heat, caulking, puttying, painting, and sanding. I remember doing so much sanding that I could not even see my fingerprints by the end of the summer. Memories that stand out to me of the summer of '74 revolve around one house in particular that we worked at for several weeks. I worked mainly upstairs with a view that looked out over the next-door neighbor's pool. I would listen to the radio all day while I worked in anticipation of two teenage girls who would come out every day to enjoy a swim. But, being the shy boy I was and being on the clock, I never even considered working up the nerve to walk on over during my lunch break and introducing myself. 'Come Monday' was on the radio a lot that summer, and I fell in love with the song. In fact, every time I hear the original version, my mind goes back to the summer of 1974. Looking back now, it seems ironic that decades before Jimmy Buffett's music would become an enormous part of my life, I was dreaming of swimming pools, girls in bikinis, and getting away to the beach and forgetting about my teenage woes. I feel that, without a doubt, the Parrot Head mindset was hardwired entirely into my brain that summer.
After that summer, Jimmy Buffett's music was absent from my life until 1978, when I was offered two free tickets to see him at The Fox Theater. As fate would have it, it turned out to be a concert that would be recorded and make up half of his next album, 'You Had To Be There,' an album that would make a tremendous impact on me the following year. However, the timing was not perfect, for I had been invited to spend the week with my new girlfriend and her family in Mobile, Alabama, where she lived, at their beach house on Dauphine, Island. How is that for ironic coincidences? I did not even know that Jimmy Buffett was from Mobile at the time. So what does a young boy of 16, who is head over heels in love with music and rock and roll, do under these circumstances? Why he goes with the girl, of course.
Several months later, during my senior year in high school, I was gifted 'You Had To Be There' from my best friend and acoustic duo partner, Ken Mercer. I remember first hearing the album at his house in College Park, Georgia. When he put the needle down on side 1, the wild and most likely alcohol-soaked voice of Greg "Fingers" Taylor roared through the speakers introducing Mr. Jimmy Buffett. No offense to my then-girlfriend, for I had the time of my life in Mobile, but after just one song, I knew I had missed something extraordinary by not going to that show. That album was rarely off my turntable that year, and when it was, it was replaced by Dan Fogelberg. I did love Jimmy Buffett, but the voice and harmonica playing of Greg "Fingers" Taylor intrigued me greatly. I sensed he had soul and could most likely swing hard with the best of them. It was never even a dream, or much less occurred to me that we would one day become good friends and that he would be in my band for a while. You never know where the roads of life will take you.
The fall of 1979 saw me as a college freshman in Rome, Georgia. I spent a lot of time in the student lounge that year, and I remember 'Fins' playing over the music system frequently. I loved the song, but the coolest part of the song to me was the harmonica solo. So I immediately went out and bought 'Volcano.' Many nights of laying on my dorm room floor with my headphones on listening to that album were to follow. After that year, the music of Jimmy Buffett once again drifted out of my life. It wasn't until the release of 'Hot Water' in the summer of 1988 that love for his music would reenter my life, and like the memories of 'Come Monday' forever embedded in my mind, it was there to stay.
The history and story of how I started A1A-The Official and Original Jimmy Buffett Tribute Show with Scott Nickerson are well documented, so I will not go into that long history lesson here. So instead, let's jump into the way back time machine and go back to New Orleans sometime in the early 1990s. A1A performed at every Meeting Of The Minds Convention for, I believe, the first 12 or 13 years of its existence. During one of the very early shows in New Orleans, there was a rumor that Greg 'Fingers' Taylor was in town and that he may want to play. Naturally, I was instantly excited and nervous. After almost 30 years of Parrot Head madness, music, and mayhem, I have forgotten some of the details on how it came to be, but it was finally arranged that Greg would join us for one song.
The song chosen was 'Some White People Can Dance.' Like the rebel and wandering soul that he was during those years, he came at it like Chuck Berry. There would be no rehearsal. He would enter the building when it was time, jump onstage, make his mark, and quickly exit - and that is just what happened. I was very nervous and could not wait to have him join us. Luckily, the song was a staple in the A1A set at the time, and I had spent a lot of time perfecting the backing track we would be performing with. So I was confident. I still remember him making his way through the crowd and bouncing up onstage in his blue jeans and black tank tops. There was a quick introduction, and then we were off to the races. The sound was excellent, and the monitors were rocking, so everyone felt at ease. I remember my mind quickly time-traveled back to the fall of 1978 when I first heard 'You Had To Be There', and I could not believe where I was. I suppose you could say I was lost in a daydream while I was soaking in the moment. All was dreamy until it came time for his solo - holy cow - I had never heard anyone play harmonica like that in my life. Hearing Greg play on record and then standing beside him while he wails are two completely different experiences. I highly recommend the latter. I played a little harmonica in my youth, mostly Bob Dylan and Neil Young kind of stuff, but I never pursued it any further than that. Fingers totally floored me. His sound was huge. His tone was fat, warm, soothing, brutal, exciting, and comforting, all at the same time. He had complete control over his instrument, the crowd, and the stage. I was mesmerized and starstruck. Then as quickly as it began, it was over. Greg said thank you, bounced off the stage, and disappeared into the crowd in search of what a true bluesman loves the most, a drink and a pretty girl. I am quite confident he found them.
Over the next few years, A1A's star continued to rise as The Parrot Head Club movement grew rapidly. However, I did not see Greg again until I performed with Jimmy Buffett and The Coral Reefer band onstage at Lakewood Amphitheater in Atlanta, Georgia, in the summer of 1995. Unfortunately, we did not have a lot of time to reconnect, but he did compliment the success of A1A and my performance with Jimmy and the band. I was beaming. We had a short chat together, and he seemed to be in good spirits.
In 1997, Scott and I decided it was time to make our first CD, and naturally, we wanted it to be a live CD. We talked about having a special guest on the CD, and Greg 'Fingers' Taylor quickly came to mind. As luck would have it, he would be performing on the bill with A1A at the New England Parrot Head Convention in the fall of 1997. We took immediate advantage of this and asked him to join us for a few songs. He quickly and excitedly agreed. I was over the moon.
I have to mention here for those who may not know or did not have the opportunity to see A1A back when we were just a duo, but we played with very elaborate and energetic backing tracks, which were all programmed, recorded, and mixed by me—all those years as a keyboard player and tech nerd in the 80's finally paid off. Very few people were doing that back then, and it became a substantial part of our success for quite a while. Greg, however, was an authentic and down-to-earth blues musician. He was the real deal. Greg walked the walk, talked the talk, and could seriously back it up. He hated technology, and he hated drum machines and backing tracks. But he liked and respected me and A1A, so he agreed to play with us. Just like before, there would be no rehearsal, we would learn the songs, and I would program them and put the backing tracks together, sticking strictly to the arrangements on his albums. The songs he recorded with us were two of his songs, 'Drop Down Mama' and 'The Hammer,' and 'Steamer' by Jimmy Buffett. He sang lead and played harp on his two songs and just played harmonica on 'Steamer.' I remember vividly the time we spent alone in the dressing room before the show.
This was the first time I had ever had one-on-one time with Greg, and I intended to take advantage of it. We had some time to kill, so we got to know each other better. After some time (and a few shots) went by, I finally worked up the nerve to ask him if he would share some old stories with me about all of his time with 'Buffett.' I say that because he never called him Jimmy. He always referred to him as Buffett. Lucky for me, he was in a great mood and very willing to talk. I think back now and would have given anything to have had any kind of pocket recorder with me so that I could have recorded all of the insane stories he told me for posterity. This was long before iPhones, kiddies. Unfortunately, the stories I do remember him telling me I am unable to include for you here. I will say, however, that if even only half of the stories he told me are true, and I believe that they are, then all of the wild stories about booze, drugs, women, and insanity about The Coral Reefer Band's behavior in the 1970s, and the 1980s that you may have heard were highly understated. As the years moved on and Greg and I spent more time together, he would share other stories with me. Over time, I would begin to see, experience, feel, and understand firsthand the realities, temptations, and effects of the demons that lurk in the shadows, backstage, hotels, buses, bars, and the deep dark areas of some musician's souls.
Storytime comes to an end, and it is time for A1A to take the stage. The convention is in full swing, the place is packed, and there is massive excitement about A1A and Greg 'Fingers' Taylor performing together. The A1A set is flawless, and when we introduced Greg, the place erupted. This was going to be good. We went directly into 'Drop Down Mama' and then proceeded into 'The Hammer' and 'Some White People Can Dance.' Greg looked great, sounded amazing, and was running on all cylinders. After he closed his part of the show, we did 'Steamer,' and much to our delight, he stayed on stage and did a few more numbers with us. After the show, Greg told me how much fun he had and how great we sounded. Then he gave me a compliment he had never given anyone before. He said that all my programmed backing tracks sounded great and that they did indeed have a swing. I was floored and very flattered. After that evening, our friendship and mutual respect for each other deepened. It was certainly a pleasure and a hell of an evening, but there was much more to come. You can hear these recordings on the album, 'A1A Live', which is still available. Click on the link below to order your copy.
Over the next several years and through much of the 2000s, Greg would join A1A on many public and private gigs. He was even an official band member for a while, and he and I became tighter as friends. Over the years, I came to know what it must have felt like to be Jimmy Buffett way back in the day when it was just him and Fingers playing side by side together. I feel deeply blessed that I had the opportunity to hear him play all of the classic solos he recorded for Jimmy Buffett with me as his accompaniment on many occasions. No matter how he was feeling, physically, psychologically, or emotionally, at any given time, his playing never faltered. Once he was on stage, he was always magic, and I can honestly say that every time he played, I gave him my full attention and reveled in the moment. I have still yet to hear anyone play blues harmonica as he does, and he will always remain the best for my money.
Life as a career musician is a dangerous and slippery slope on which to travel. Chasing fame, fortune, and happiness by hitting the long open road and singing your songs is an age-old story. If you choose to take this journey, then be sure and take a close look off the side of the road occasionally for perspective. As you cruise alone through the night, you may find the ghosts of countless bodies, broken hearts, destroyed dreams, tragedies, addictions, and endless sad stories. That is not to say that you should not follow your dreams and believe that all stories end this way, for that is far from the truth. There are many success stories. But keep in mind that fame, fortune, and happiness rarely exist together.
The friendship Greg and I shared was held together by mutual respect for our individual musicianship, lifelong dedication to music, tendencies to buck authority, live on the edge, and the fact that we both partied hard. Greg had some severe demons that haunted his soul, and he was his own worst enemy in many ways. I can say the same thing about myself for much of my early career. But even at my worst, I was still not in Greg's league - and that frightened me. After a few drinks at the bar, he would often strongly suggest that he and I "chunk all this parrot head shit," put together a blues-rock band, and hit the road. Twice I almost gave in. But something told me that if I did, I might never come home. The last time I saw Greg was when we played in Chattanooga, Tennessee, together some years ago. He did not look well, and I was saddened and worried about him. Unfortunately, our paths kind of drifted apart after that. He would call me from time to time, and we would catch up, but eventually, we lost touch. I regret that, but then again, I have, like many people in my line of work, a road of regret that runs far into the distance.
Greg was a helluva guy, a tremendous musician, and a good friend while he was passing through my life. He is definitely someone I will never forget. I miss him. Trust me when I say, "you had to be there." Greg, I wish you a very Happy Birthday and safe travels to wherever your next road takes you.
With the spirit of the blues,
"Ramblings From Jeff" - is a dedicated personal blog page within JeffPike.com written and posted by Jeff Pike.