Charles Tao’ Taylor (1947-2019)
A prolific musician who set the tempo for one of the island’s hottest acts from the 1970s and 1980s, Burning Ice, has died at 71.
A memorial jam session for drummer and singer Charles “Tao” Taylor, who died in June in Toronto, Canada, was held at the Leopards Club, on Saturday.
Mr Taylor played with a host of bands in the prime of Bermuda’s entertainment scene, but was best known locally for Burning Ice.
He also backed several famous visiting artists including Diana Ross and the Supremes, the Temptations and Marvin Gaye.
Pat O’Connor, his sister, recalled growing up as one of six siblings in a vibrant musical household on Parsons Road in Pembroke. Their parents, Robert and Gwendolyn Taylor, were both artists.
“Everybody used to come, and rehearse at our house. We grew up around music,” she said. “Music was passed through the family.
“Charlie had his drum set and I grew up singing. Most drummers are not singing people, but my brother could do both.”
She described her brother, who called her “Earth Angel”, as “outgoing, outspoken, sometimes hardheaded”.
Ms O’Connor added: “The way he played was awesome.”
She said she had been “blown away” to hear strangers recognise her brother’s style in the drumming of her son, Tajai O’Connor, who plays in the Royal Bermuda Regiment Band.
Mr Taylor’s niece, Patrina O’Connor-Paynter, known professionally as Powergirl Trina, said her uncle’s career took flight with the musician and band leader Michael “Curtis” Clarke.
She said: “He was a drummer for many years with Gene Steede. I remember growing up, going to all the different hotels where people performed, and being so proud. That was his life, his bread and butter. He would sleep during the day and at nights, he would perform. It was a time when the entertainment industry was booming.”
A consummate joker who could improvise songs for fun, Mr Taylor “loved to pull pranks on people, especially his wife, Stephanie”, Ms O’Connor-Paynter added.
His obituary at the memorial celebration listed local bands including the Cortinas, Six Love and Three Plus Three Explosion.
John Burch, a guitarist with Mr Taylor in the 1960s group Green Forest, said the band’s name came from a picture hanging on Mr Taylor’s bedroom wall. Mr Burch said: “He was a Motown type of guy and sang nice. Charlie was funny, always speaking with folks. We’d play weddings at places like Castle Harbour and Elbow Beach.”
With the 1970s, Burning Ice grew into a top act.
Along with Mr Taylor, it comprised Colin Lee, Jeffrey Marshall, Basil Burns, Danny Rowling, Gregory Seymour, Wendell Darrell and Antonio Dill.
Mr Marshall said: “It wasn’t very often you would see Charlie in a down mood. He kept a positive attitude about everything.”
He added: “Charlie was a phenomenal singer and an amazing drummer. Nothing flashy. He didn’t aspire to a lot of chops.
“What he played was massive, massive grooves. You could not sit still.”
June Caisey, a singer and contemporary, traced Mr Taylor’s career back to “Curtis” Clarke in the late 1950s.
She said: “He was part of my life more than 60 years. Charlie was philosophical and loved everyone unconditionally. Burning Ice saw the future — they were visionaries.”
Cleveland “Outta Sight” Simmons said he helped promote the band for its Canada tour in the late 1970s. Mr Simmons said: “Those guys stayed out there for ten years. To start with, they didn’t have permits. They used to work non-union places.
“They used to go to this club on Yonge Street for jam sessions every Saturday afternoon when Prince was the main feature. That was the same year Prince recorded the song Purple Rain.”
Dale Butler, the music historian and former MP, wrote in his book, Music on the Rock: “The ‘Ice’ placed profound emphasis on originality — and an all-out effort to overcome their audience.”
Mr Butler added: “Charles was an exceptionally talented drummer, who I first got to see when I was a teenager, when he rehearsed with Charles Michael Clarke, in Curtis Clarke and the Cortinas on Angle Street.
“He was a much sought-after drummer, who could play anything. He was a major icon in Bermuda music, when we transitioned from mainly calypso and began to explore a variety of music.”
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