It’s a story that’s been told many times in interviews and reviews: on the night they first hung out, the Books, Nick Zammuto and Paul De Jong—who met each other in their shared apartment building—sat around and listened to a bunch of weird records. The record that made them realize they both had a taste for the weird, and listened to music differently than other people, was a record by an enigmatic scat artist who was often called “The Human Horn.” His name is Shooby Taylor, and this is his story.
Shooby Taylor spent most of his life in Harlem, where he worked as postal worker. At various points in his life, he brushed with something resembling fame. He recorded a single in the early ‘70s, but it never went anywhere. And then, in the early ‘80s, he started going to Angel Sound Studios in NYC to record some songs. He recorded 14, and then more or less disappeared following a disastrous appearance on Showtime at the Apollo, which is now on YouTube:
Shooby’s music became a cult fascination for a lot of fans of outsider music, thanks to his tape of 14 tracks being played on WFMU. It’s likely that that’s how De Jong and Zammuto first heard Shooby’s music.
Shooby himself remained an enigma, as he had been in a senior facility in New York since the early ‘90s, as the cult of his recording grew to the point where they were included in Irwin Chusid’s seminal book (and Books Book Club entry) Songs in the Key of Z: The Curious Universe of Outsider Music. By the time Shooby was moderately famous, he could no longer scat due to a stroke he had in the mid-90s.
Shooby died in 2003, coincidentally, the same year Lemon of Pinkwas released. As Chusid says in the video above, Shooby’s music makes you want to laugh the first time you hear it, but then you realize that the guy is making noises and combinations of noises that you could never accomplish and make sound vaguely musical. He really was the Human Horn. It’s easy to see why he inspired the Books to work together; he’s a unique blend of virtuosity, found sound, and unappreciated to make him a touchstone of their work.
Our Album of the Month is The Lemon of Pink, by the Books. You can receive it by signing up for the club here.