Shooby Taylor

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William "Shooby" Taylor
Born(1929-09-19)September 19, 1929
Indiana Township, Pennsylvania, U.S.
DiedJune 4, 2003(2003-06-04) (aged 73)
East Orange, New Jersey
GenresScat, outsider music, jazz
Years activec. 1975 – c. 1984

William "Shooby" Taylor (September 19, 1929 – June 4, 2003[1]) was an American jazz vocalist famous for scat singing over various records, including those of the Ink Spots, the Harmonicats, Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Mozart, and Cristy Lane, in a baritone voice. Nicknamed "The Human Horn", he is noted for his highly idiosyncratic scat style, using sounds and syllables quite unlike those used by other scat singers.[2] Writing in the New York Times, Marc Ferris noted that "those who seek out music that swims against the mainstream have been entranced by [Taylor's] originality."[3] Music historian Irwin Chusid described Taylor as "the world's weirdest scat singer," "100 percent uninhibited and soulful, in a lovably demented way," and stated that "a joyousness permeates [his] performances, a celebratory quality that serves as an analgesic for temporary relief from existential pain."[4]


Shooby Taylor was born in Indiana Township, Pennsylvania and, at an early age, moved with his family to Harlem, where he spent the majority of his life.[1] He entered the army in 1953 and began working for the U.S. Post Office following his discharge in 1955.[5] A long-time jazz fan, he claimed he heard sounds in his head and felt the need to express them. After attempting to learn the saxophone, he realized he could instead employ his voice as an instrument, declaring "I am the horn!"[5] He began studying at the Hartnett Music School in New York under the GI Bill, and performed at Harlem clubs and in Greenwich Village jam sessions, emulating the vocal style of Babs Gonzales.[1] He claimed to have gotten permission from Dizzy Gillespie to use the nickname "Shooby,"[5] and adopted the moniker "Shooby Taylor, The Human Horn."[6]

After retiring from the Post Office in the early 1970s, Taylor devoted his time to music, making numerous home recordings.[1] In 1983, Taylor briefly appeared on the show Amateur Night at the Apollo, but was booed off the stage after roughly twenty seconds.[1][5] At around that time, he paid multiple visits to Angel Sound Studios in New York, where he recorded a number of tracks, and where he came to the attention of studio engineer Craig Bradley, who recalled "I was attuned to the unusual... Shooby was an exciting character, someone you were drawn to right away."[7] Bradley later transferred the tracks to cassette and sent copies to WFMU manager Ken Freedman, who, with Irwin Chusid, began broadcasting and circulating them, leading to a growing cult following for Taylor and "generating a frothing fan base".[8] Taylor, however, was unaware of the publicity, and his fans were unaware of his whereabouts.[1] In 1992, Shooby moved to a senior complex in Newark, New Jersey, and in 1994, he experienced a stroke that crippled his scat skill, stopping him from recording and performing.[3]

In 2000, two of Taylor's songs, covers of "Stout-Hearted Men" and "Lift Every Voice and Sing", was released as part of the outsider music compilation albums Songs in the Key of Z, leading to further recognition.

In July 2002, Elektra Records executive and Taylor fan Rick Goetz managed to track Taylor down by cold calling every person named William Taylor in the New York area.[3] On August 28, 2002, Shooby appeared for a radio interview on WFMU, leading to further publicity.[9] Following the broadcast, Goetz and Chusid transferred a number of Taylor's home recordings to CD-R to preserve some of his legacy.[1] In September of that year, WFMU staff delivered birthday greetings to Taylor from fans around the world.[3]

Taylor died on June 4, 2003 at the VA Hospital in East Orange, New Jersey.[1][5]

In 2017, a posthumous compilation of Taylor's work, entitled The Human Horn, was digitally released under the Songs in the Key of Z label. The label also distributes the Songs in the Key of Z compilation records.

Style and reception[edit]

Marc Ferris wrote that Taylor's music can be "difficult to digest. As he tries to approximate the sound of a saxophone solo with his voice, he hits sour notes. He spits out nonsense syllables like a machine gun, communicating in a private language nearly impossible to imitate. And he rarely meshes with his background music."[3] Allmusic reviewer Jason Ankeny described his music as "singular and eccentric... equal parts nonsense words, off-tempo vocalese, and saxophone-inspired squawks."[1] Irwin Chusid wrote that Taylor's scatting "echoes Mother Goose nonsense simmering in a rich Afro-Yiddish stew."[10] According to Chusid, "Shooby's vocabulary is a whole 'nuther language. Some of his favorite scat syllables are 'Raw-shaw,' 'poppy-poppy,' and 'splaw,' sputtered in a virile baritone vaguely reminiscent of Dudley Do-Right, the chaos-prone Canadian Mountie," and "his lung capacity is staggering; he never pauses long enough to inhale as he spews out astonishing high-octane vocal runs."[4] Singer Joe Henry described Taylor's singing as "a cross between scat singing and speaking in tongues," stating that it was "unlike anything I've ever heard in my life. A lot of people who hear it think of it like a novelty, but I hear it as a man who's completely come out of a vacuum and developed an approach to music that's as unique as Charlie Parker... I can't stop listening to it. It's so full of a kind of passion that I can't even begin to describe."[11]

While scatting, Taylor would frequently mime playing an "air" saxophone.[10] Craig Bradley recalled that all of Taylor's recordings were first takes: "I think he was just winging it, improvising. So even if we did a second take, it wouldn't be to fix mistakes, it would just be a different version. But he was happy with his performance every time."[10]


The Adam and Joe Show, a UK TV series from the 1990s, used the first 4 seconds of Taylor's version of "Lift Every Voice and Sing", at the start of their theme tune.[7]

In the 2000 song "Walk & Chew Gum" by the band Optiganally Yours, there is a mention of "Shooby Taylor" in the last line of their scat-like bridge.[12]

In 2005, Taylor made a posthumous appearance on a split 7-inch EP by Xiu Xiu and The Dead Science.[13]

In the 2016 Illumination Entertainment animated film Sing, a recording of Taylor's rendition of "Stout Hearted Man" is used for one of the auditions.[14][15]

In 2019, Taylor was the subject of a BBC Radio 4 broadcast by Adam Buxton.[16]

Musicians Tom Waits and Marshall Crenshaw are fans of Taylor's music, with Crenshaw proclaiming Taylor "The King of Farfisa-Wielding, Outer-Space, Lunatic-Fringe Scat Singers."[7]


  • Ink Spots - You Were Only Foolin' / Miles Davis - The Theme / Wolfgang Mozart - Rondeau, Allegretto (cassette)
  • Blowing My Mind (1970, Shooby Records, 45 RPM vinyl)[17]
  • Expressing Myself (parts 1 & 2) as "Shooby Taylor the Human Instrument" (January 1971, Shooby Records)
  • The Human Horn (and then some) - Dexter Gordon / Coltrane / Elvis (1980s, cassette)
  • The Human Horn (and then some) - Johnny Cash (1980s, cassette)
  • The Human Horn (and then some) - Country & Jazz (1980s, cassette)
  • The Human Horn (2001, WFMU, cassette/MP3)[18]
  • The Human Horn (Side One) (2017, Apple Music)[19]
  • The Human Horn (Side Two) (2017, Apple Music)[20]


  1. ^ a b c d e f g h i Ankeny, Jason. "Shooby Taylor: Biography". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  2. ^ Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. pp. 141–146.
  3. ^ a b c d e Ferris, Marc (November 10, 2002). "The Travels of Shooby Taylor". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  4. ^ a b Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. p. 141.
  5. ^ a b c d e Chusid, Irwin. "Shooby Taylor: The Human Horn: Meetings with the Legendary Scatman". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  6. ^ Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. p. 142.
  7. ^ a b c Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. p. 144.
  8. ^ Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. pp. 141–142.
  9. ^ Freedman, Ken (August 28, 2002). "WFMU Playlist for 28 August 2002: Gathering Allies and Meeting Shooby Taylor". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  10. ^ a b c Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. p. 145.
  11. ^ Chusid, Irwin (2000). Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. A Cappella. pp. 142–144.
  12. ^ "Walk & Chew Gum: Optiganally Yours". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  13. ^ "Xiu Xiu Featuring Eugene Robinson / Dead Science With Shooby Taylor – Juarez / The Human Horn". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  14. ^ O'Sullivan, Michael (December 20, 2016). "As crooning animals, Hollywood heavyweights give 'Sing' the boost it needs". The Washington Post. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  15. ^ "Sing (2016): Soundtrack Credits". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  16. ^ "Adam Buxton And The Human Horn". November 25, 2019. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  17. ^ "Shooby Taylor – Blowing My Mind". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  18. ^ "Shooby Taylor – The Human Horn". Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  19. ^ "Shooby Taylor, The Human Horn (Side One)". 2017. Retrieved August 5, 2020.
  20. ^ "Shooby Taylor, The Human Horn (Side Two)". 2017. Retrieved August 5, 2020.

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