The soul master turns in a powerhouse performance with the help of The M.G.’s.

Whorf was mostly an art director and graphic designer. This was the only album cover illustration he ever did. His album design work is varied and plentiful. You’ve definitely seen much of it before — Double Fantasy by John Lennon & Yoko Ono, the Lennon signature box, Isaac Hayes’ Hot Buttered Soul, and Funkadelic’s The Clones of Dr. Funkenstein.

Apart from the artwork, the other reason I bought this was the fact that it was a 1969 release on Stax Records, with no listed musicians. Right away, that told me Booker T. & The M.G.’s were probably the backing band. Stax simply didn’t release anything but excellent records during this period. Seemed like a no-brainer. And it was.

But I’d never heard of Taylor before. The more I read, the more it really seems as though I should have. Taylor was a protege of Sam Cooke, and became his replacement in the gospel group The Soul Stirrers in 1957. When Cooke started his own label in 1962, Taylor was among the first artists to be signed. The fairy tale didn’t last. The label went under after Cooke was killed in 1964. That’s when Taylor got signed by Stax — and made eight albums there until that label shut down. He, Booker T. & The M.G.’s, Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers were the only thing paying the bills on McLemore Avenue after Otis Redding died in 1967.

Columbia snapped Taylor up when Stax folded in 1975. His first album there was the amazingly titled Eargasm. The record contained a historic single — Taylor’s Disco Lady ended up being his biggest hit, and the first single to be certified platinum by the RIAA in 1976.

But we’ll walk it back to this album, which gets its title from Taylor’s Stax nickname — The Philosopher of Soul. It does indeed boast The M.G.’s — Al Jackson Jr. on drums, Donald “Duck” Dunn on bass and Steve Cropper on guitar — as the backing band. Booker T. is MIA; instead, Marvell Thomas is on keys. The album is produced by early Motown legend and Stax mainstay Don Davis.

The album opens with a banger co-written by Taylor and George Clinton. That means Testify (I Wanna) would have been recorded around the same time as Clinton was doing the first Funkadelic album. It’s the toughest track on the album and a perfect example of the kind of stuff I just love from this era. The two Booker T. / M.G.’s albums that followed this record (McLemore Avenue and Melting Pot) are two of my all-time favourites.

If Testify is the toughest track, Separation Line is the most affecting. This is a perfect soul ballad — up there with I’ve Been Loving You Too Long by Otis Redding. But this wasn’t written by Redding and Jerry Butler — it’s one of several on the album credited to We Three, the affectionate name given to the trio of Stax songwriters Bettye Crutcher, Raymond Jackson and Homer Banks. They penned Taylor’s 1968 hit Who’s Making Love, which is an all-timer.

Love Bones is next — pretty similar in structure to Time Is Tight by Booker T. & The M.G.’s, except with lyrics — and with a sexier pace.

I really prefer tracks like Separation Line to ballads like Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing. This one is more like some of the material Taylor would do later in the ’70s — with its strings, for example. The rhythm section is still tight, though. Much better is the second of three We Three tracks, I Had A Fight With Love, which drops the strings for a pair of soul-accent trumpets — the kind Phil Collins had a love affair with in the ’80s. it’s a great tune, but not a standout like the first two on the side. The chorus is a play on the song I Fought The Law, except here it’s love that won, not the law.

Flip the record over and we’re treated to the third We Three composition — I Could Never Be President. It’s fantastic, especially because of the performance of Dunn. Holy smokes, is Taylor’s voice ever suddenly drenched in reverb. It sounds like he’s in a parking garage stairwell. Nice backing vocals in this. By whom? Gawd only knows.

Another of my favourites is next — It’s Amazing. This one is raunchy and cool, with a main hook similar to the riff in Frank Zappa’s Willie The Pimp. It was written by album producer Don Davis, Gene Current and Kent Barker — one of their best-known songs. In fact, there’s a version by Ben E. King from the years before, which isn’t as groovy. The main riff isn’t as cool, either. Little Milton also cut a version in 1973 — which is funkier, but has too many horn and string overdubs. Taylor had a big hit out of another Barker-Davis song, 1970’s Jody’s Got Your Girl And Gone. It’s badass.

Next up is Who Can I Turn To? — another syrupy ballad like Love Is A Hurtin’ Thing. It’s loungey, with loads of strings. Not my bag.

Then we have Games People Play, a Joe South hit from 1968. It’s a racial intolerance song, written by a white man, so it works really well by Taylor. South’s version — with its distinctive electric sitar intro — was a No. 1 hit in South Africa, got to No. 7 in Canada and No. 12 on the U.S. Billboard chart. I prefer Taylor’s interpretation, which is better all around. That said, if I were Creedence Clearwater Revival’s producer, I would have pitched this as a potential cover. John Fogerty would have sung the hell out of it.

The 35-minute album wraps with another cover — The Isley Brothers’ It’s Your Thing. This one is even more recent than Games People Play. The Isleys’ big hit came out earlier in 1969 — written after they decided to leave the controlling Berry Gordy’s Motown label. It was a No. 1 hit in 1969 and won the Isleys a Grammy.

The Philosopher of Soul was a bit of a ladies man. When he died of a heart attack in May 2000 — it came out that he had six “accepted” children and three others with confirmed paternity. I believe I saw it described as a “highly complex personal life.” His heirs have had a miserable time trying to sort out royalties they’re owed — mostly from Sony. Now I feel bad that this excellent album only cost me $15. And while we’re on the subject of price, I’ll tell you to be careful out there. I found one copy of the album for sale — used — on Amazon for more than $300.

Area Resident is an Ottawa-based journalist, recording artist, music collector and re-seller. Hear (and buy) his music on Bandcamp, email him HERE, follow him on Instagram and check him out on Discogs.

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