A Life Lived: Edwin Taylor was a local music legend

Published 10:09 am Wednesday, April 3, 2019

Edwin Taylor was a local music legend.

He not only had played with the best in the music business, but was one of the best.

Taylor, who died March 20 at the age of 85, had spent most of his life in the music business, playing the piano, autoharp, bass fiddle, and rhythm and lead guitar. “He loved music, especially that of the 1950s, ’60s, ’70s and ’80s era,” said his brother-in-law, Ron Dykes.

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“He began his professional career with the Country Tune Twisters in the 1950s. They were a local group, and Edwin played the piano as well as lead and rhythm guitar with them. Buddy Rose was leader of the group and played banjo,” Dykes said.

Later, Taylor spent over 20 years with Bonnie Lou and Buster, the popular husband-and-wife duo of the Tri-Cities. When the couple began the Smoky Mountain Hayride, a nightly live show that played during the tourist season at the Coliseum at Pigeon Forge, Taylor worked the early shift at the VA at Mountain Home. When he finished his shift, he would head out to Pigeon Forge, where he played with Bonnie Lou and Buster every night from 8 to 10 during the months of May through October. “Although he had a demanding schedule, Edwin often said those were the happiest days of his life,” said Dykes.

The music was top-notched and featured not only Taylor, but David West on banjo, Little Roy Wiggins on pedal steel guitar, and a teenager, Ava Barbara, who went on to become a featured singer on “The Lawrence Welk Show.”

“Edwin did take some piano lessons when he was growing up, and he learned to play the autoharp from Mother Maybelle Carter. However, he picked up playing the stringed instruments on his own. He was very talented and gifted, but spent many hours practicing his music. He could play with the best,” Dykes said of Taylor.

For a time Taylor played piano for the Songmasters, who were featured each Sunday morning on a gospel music show on WJHL-TV, sponsored by J. Norton Arney, a Johnson City car dealer. Other members of the group included Jim Lacy, Bob Lewis, and Guy Hoilman. “He played for them four or five years,” Dykes shared.

Taylor also during his music career played backup for a number of well-known musicians. Among them were Bill Monroe, the Carter Family, Johnny Cash, the Statler Brothers, Carl Storey and the Rambling Mountaineers, just to name a few.

“He recorded an album of religious music at Sun Studio with Carl Storey and the Rambling Mountaineers,” Dykes was quick to add. He also noted that Taylor had donated a lot of his recordings to the Appalachian Archives at ETSU.

Taylor had a dry sense of humor, often saying, “You know you are old when you recorded on 78 RPMs.”

Music brought Taylor into our living rooms on Sunday mornings and at community events such as the Bonnie Lou and Buster shows, and often he was called on to play at funerals. But for over 70 years Taylor was pianist at his home church of Poplar Grove Baptist Church on Stoney Creek. A couple of years ago the church honored him and established Edwin Taylor Day, to be celebrated each March 26, his birthday, or the Sunday closest to the day. “Edwin was a very humble man. He always wanted to remain in the background, and never sought any recognition for himself,” said his pastor, the Rev. Eric Wright.

“It was quite an honor for him. Edwin said it was the greatest honor ever accorded him,” said his brother-in-law.

In addition to his music, Taylor was a great cook. “He could make the best sauerkraut I ever eat,” said Wright.

“He enjoyed cooking country dishes like fried chicken, mashed potatoes, beans, cornbread and the like, and he enjoyed sharing his dishes with others. He was a mountain chef, who made foods that clogged the arteries,” quipped Dykes.

Just as much as Taylor was known for his music, he was known for his compassion and his ministry to the sick and shut-ins, especially in the Stoney Creek community. “He took people to the doctor, visited so many, and would often take them a dish of food when he went to visit. Edwin loved people and ministering to them. He had a big heart,” said Dykes.

Someone has said: “Life is like a piano. What you get out of it depends on how you play it.”

Edwin Taylor gave his all to music, and, it, in turn opened up a whole new world for him, that extended far beyond his beloved Stoney Creek home. Now, that his music has been stilled on earth, one can only believe that he is making beautiful music in Heaven. He has just changed venues.