Bobby Taylor & The Vancouvers
New to Hitsville U.S.A. in 1967 are Bobby Taylor (with briefcase) and the Vancouvers: (left to right) Ted Lewis, Wes Henderson, Tommy Chong, Eddie Patterson and Robbie King.
- Bobby Taylor and his group have several claims to fame, including their lyrically controversial first Motown hit, “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” Taylor’s discovery of the Jackson 5, and the post-Vancouvers success of band member Tommy Chong in stoner comedy duo Cheech & Chong. Taylor also had a yen for globetrotting: the Washington, D.C. native played in groups in Texas, San Francisco and Vancouver before moving to Detroit. In the 21st century, he has lived in Beijing and Hong Kong.
- The Vancouvers were signed to Motown Records in 1967, reputedly after opening a show in Vancouver for the Supremes, who encouraged Berry Gordy to fly in and catch the multi-racial band. His enthusiasm was such that he personally produced “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” their debut 45, released on the Gordy label in February 1968. The lyrics suggest a love affair between a black man and a white woman, but the inspiration came from the relationship between guitarist Tommy Chong, who was Chinese-Canadian, and his African-American wife, Maxine. The song was written by Chong and Tom Baird, a Motown musician and arranger who previously knew Bobby Taylor from the latter’s spell in Canada. “Does Your Mama…” reached the Top 5 of the R&B best-sellers and crossed to the Top 30 of the Billboard Hot 100.
- Before their ’68 chart debut, Taylor and the Vancouvers played shows with fellow Motown artists on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. In November 1967, they backed Chris Clark at London’s Saville Theatre, as the opening attraction for Gladys Knight & the Pips. In December, they joined the Motortown Revue Christmas show at Detroit’s Fox Theatre, on a week-long bill with Stevie Wonder, Smokey Robinson & the Miracles, the Marvelettes, the Contours and, once again, Chris Clark. After “Does Your Mama…” was a hit, they performed with the 5th Dimension, Sly & the Family Stone and Carla Thomas, among others. Their follow-up 45, “Malinda,” was co-written and co-produced by Smokey Robinson, while their first album, Bobby Taylor and the Vancouvers, featured songs by Nick Ashford and Valerie Simpson, Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong, and Berry Gordy.
- It was also in 1968 that the Vancouvers shared a bill at Chicago’s Regal Theatre with the Jackson 5. Taylor was sufficiently impressed by the brothers to call Motown and urge the company to sign them, even putting the youngsters up in his Detroit home before their audition that July. After the Jacksons officially joined the Hitsville roster the following year, Taylor produced their first sessions in Detroit; five of those tracks formed part of Diana Ross Presents The Jackson 5, the group’s debut album.
- For his part, Tommy Chong achieved a different kind of post-Motown popularity by meeting Richard “Cheech” Marin and moving to Los Angeles, where the pair teamed up to become one of America’s most successful comedy acts of the 1970s, on disc and on stage. Taylor, meanwhile, got busy on both sides of the Pacific Ocean. In 2014, he helped to support a young featherweight boxer in Hong Kong, Rex Tso Sing-yu (Taylor was an alternate on the U.S. boxing team for the 1960 Rome Olympics). Last year, the musician travelled to Arizona State University to help produce a “Project Humanities” recording of a song written by the late Dick Wagner, onetime leader of Michigan rock bands the Frost and the Bossmen.