Taylor in 1967
Johnnie Taylor was born in Crawfordsville, Arkansas. He grew up in West Memphis, Arkansas, performing in gospel groups as a youngster. As an adult, he had one release, "Somewhere to Lay My Head", on Chicago's Chance Records label in the 1950s, as part of the gospel group Highway QCs, which had been founded by a young Sam Cooke. His singing then was strikingly close to that of Sam Cooke, and he was hired to take Cooke's place in the latter's gospel group, the Soul Stirrers, in 1957.
A few years later, after Cooke had established his independent SAR Records, Taylor signed on as one of the label's first acts and recorded "Rome Wasn't Built In A Day" in 1962. However, SAR Records quickly became defunct after Cooke's death in 1964.
In 1966, Taylor moved to Stax Records in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was dubbed "The Philosopher of Soul". He recorded with the label's house band, which included Booker T. & the MGs. His hits included "I Had a Dream", "I've Got to Love Somebody's Baby" (both written by the team of Isaac Hayes and David Porter) and most notably "Who's Making Love", which reached No. 5 on the Billboard Hot 100 chart and No. 1 on the R&B chart in 1968. "Who's Making Love" sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc.
During his tenure at Stax, he became an R&B star, with over a dozen chart successes, such as "Jody's Got Your Girl and Gone", which reached No. 23 on the Hot 100 chart, "Cheaper to Keep Her" (Mack Rice) and record producer Don Davis's penned "I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)", which reached No. 11 on the Hot 100 chart. "I Believe in You (You Believe in Me)" also sold in excess of one million copies, and was awarded gold disc status by the R.I.A.A. in October 1973. Taylor, along with Isaac Hayes and The Staple Singers was one of the label's flagship artists. He appeared in the documentary film, Wattstax, which was released in 1973.
After Stax folded in 1975, Taylor switched to Columbia Records, where he recorded his biggest success with Don Davis still in charge of production, "Disco Lady", in 1976. It spent four weeks at number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and six weeks at the top of the R&B chart. It peaked at #25 in the UK Singles Chart in May 1976. "Disco Lady" was the first certified platinum single (two million copies sold) by the RIAA. Taylor recorded several more successful albums and R&B single hits with Davis on Columbia, before Brad Shapiro took over production duties, but sales generally fell away.
After a short stay at a small independent label in Los Angeles, Beverly Glen Records, Taylor signed with Malaco Records after the company's founder Tommy Couch and producing partner Wolf Stephenson heard him sing at blues singer Z. Z. Hill's funeral in the spring of 1984.