Mr. TaylorMade and the TaylorMade Band
article by Vanelis Rivera / photography by Andrew Bailey
The list of Louisiana music artists who played or sang in church before topping the charts is quite substantial. But the house of prayer that Mark Taylor Jr. frequented as a child in Rayville, Louisiana did not allow music. If it wasn’t for his granddad, Delta blues legend Henry Dorsey, best known by his stage name Po’ Henry, Mark would probably have never picked up an instrument. “He had a big influence on me,” he stresses. Although he never attended any of his grandfather’s shows, which took the form of a traditional old-style Delta blues duo known as Po’ Henry and Tookie, whenever his grandfather visited, which sometimes was all through the week, Mark remembers music. When the jam sessions would happen, Mark recalls rushing for his “little” keyboard so they could play the boogie together. “I actually have some videos.” Even when Henry had to be placed in eldercare, Mark would stop over to play tunes on his piano while his grandfather danced. He has footage of that too. “Kind of tears me up every time I watch it,” he admits, adding, “I just love seeing him dance.”
It wasn’t until his family moved to Oak Ridge that Mark found himself in a family church that was down with musical praise. His cousin played keys, and her keen two-finger playing wholly intrigued him. “I kind of picked up what she was doing,” he says, following with, “Yeah, that was my first inspiration.” There, he began developing his skills on the keyboard, and thanks to his attentive parents, he received his first professional instrument, a Yamaha MO6 Keyboard Synthesizer. With his skills ramping up, he started to get noticed by the right kind of people. One night, at a church concert in Bastrop, probably because he was playing bass and keys at the same time, he caught the eye of The Hawkins Family band. “They were kind of amazed by that so they ended up hitting me up after the concert.” He began to play with the Hawkins family, commuting between Oak Ridge and Bastrop. During the same time, Mark teamed up with Earl Duke Jr., son of legend Earl Duke, and intuitively began soaking up a lot of his style. “He kind of taught me how to blend in a band. Just play my part. And, you know, be dynamic and come on when I need to come up, stay under the singers, you know. They helped cultivate me as a musician,” he explains. After that, Mark’s notoriety increased. He started to get noticed and asked to play with other bands. He also picked up the guitar after Chris Hawkins played the Emaj7 chord, which prompted him to take that guitar home to start playing. Currently, Mark can play anything with a keyboard, laughing that he can probably play the accordion. He also plays talk box, drums, bass guitar, and vocals.
Early in his music career, he hadn’t dabbled in secular music, considering it “the Devil’s music.” But as a free-thinker, Mark began diving into what was being played on the radio and started forming his own ideas about all the good music that had been missing from his life. During this drastic shift in music taste, Mark accepted a touring gig with a local musician who suddenly and unexpectedly ended up firing him and his band. “And that kind of just lit a fire within me,” he recalls. A month later he released his first single. Currently, the members of his band are people he has been playing with for his whole life: bass player Kendrick Smith, drummer Sirnayland Hawkins, keyboardist Quantavious Hawkins, and the vocal ladies Ruth God, Lakenya Addison, Lanila Madison, and De’Antwonique Jackson. Emboldened by the originality of his sound, Mark decided to do a riff on his own name and christened the group Mr Taylormade and The Taylormade Band. “I believe it’s personal. You know, you feel like our sound is tailor-made, like a tailor-made suit.”
Still in the process of discovering music that he missed, Mark has continued to find artists that have allowed him to substantially extend his own sound. “Prince, man. I’m a huge fan of Prince,” he says, revealing that some people compare him to His Royal Badness because they both are known for playing multiple instruments. His dedication to The Purple One has taken the form of deep immersion into his discography. Though some of his favorites include mainstream hits like “Purple Rain,” Taylor finds that to really know an artist means finding the songs that never hit the charts. For him, two of those songs are “Crazy You,” which he enthuses that he is “crazy” about, and “The Most Beautiful Girl In The World.” Another band on his late discovery list was Earth, Wind & Fire. “They just took my breath away,” he says, considering their sound way ahead of their time.
Jazz also became an immense phase of his stylistic development. Appreciating the jazz greats of old while simultaneously navigating the current musical landscape, however, has often made him feel like he was born in the wrong era. He remembers when he first found the music of Art Tatum and Oscar Peterson: “About a year straight, it really influenced my style. I’m just in love with the sound. I missed out on so much. When I heard it, I understood. It’s like a language,” he says. The genre of improvisation became deeply embedded in his psyche. “It became a part of my vocabulary,” he adds, commenting on the freedom that jazz allows, which resonates with his personality. “I don’t like to be bound…When it comes to music, I’m especially open-minded.” He understands that when he plays, it’s all about the destination, and when it comes to jazz, there are so many routes you can go. “That’s what I love about it. It makes it so much more fun because you don’t have to just go from point A to Point B.”
With a more seasoned ear, the songs forming in his imagination now are varied. As a “real positive person,” he has been drawn to writing mostly love songs, a form of rebuttal to mainstream songs aimed to sexualize and demean women. “All In Ya Love,” his first single, is one of those songs: “A woman like you is hard to find / I’m so glad that you’re all mine / You give me sunshine in the midst of all the rain / You give me joy, in the midst of all of my pain.” Some of his newer originals have roots in recent experiences, particularly “Don’t Stop The Music,” which is his version of a battle cry and expresses where his thoughts turned during the pandemic: “You can take whatever you want, just don’t take my music.” Ultimately, Taylor strives to experiment with his sound dabbling in funk, jazz, and R&B, and encourages his fellow musicians to do the same, emphasizing the journey of the music versus the orchestration of it. “We’ve been playing so long, we fill each other out,” he says about the composition of his songs alongside his bandmates.
Though already filling his repertoire with impressive accolades such as performing for the Louisiana Grammy Association as representative of North Louisiana, Taylor does not consider himself having nearly reached his prime. “I guess I’m just focusing on trying to find a way to express myself where people really feel the fullness of me as a musician.” A tour of his music videos on YouTube quickly reveals his verisimilitude. In an attempt to widen his reach, he created TaylorMade Thursday, a platform where music artists can have a space to get an on-stage experience with a full band. “I’m trying to build a music scene around here,” he says, explaining the deficiency in venues that cater to soul and R&B music and musicians. “Music is not just a hobby.” He asserts, “I know this is my lifeline. I take it more serious than I can even express in words.” That’s why he is so adamant about live performances and the importance of attending music concerts. “Music is meant to be felt by all your senses,” he says, adding, “You need to see it, you need to feel it, you need to hear it.”
Taylor’s heart for music is really an extension of his heart for other people and he plans to utilize his artistry to uplift. In the process, he hopes to get all that he can get from his talent and desire to take his music to higher levels. “I’m coming forward. I’m not holding back anymore. I believe in myself.” His music is specially fitted with a care and style that, undeniably, is TaylorMade.
Follow Mr TaylorMade And The TaylorMade Band on Facebook, and check out their YouTube page Mr TaylorMade for an enjoyable listen to some of their tunes.