He was a contemporary of The Beatles. Along with the band he joined, The Dominoes, Kingsize Taylor And the Dominoes made a name for themselves both in Liverpool and Hamburg. Still performing and recording today, we spoke with Ted "Kingsize" Taylor.
Q - Where did this name "Kingsize" come from? Is it something that came off the top of your head?
A - Well, no, it didn't just come off the top of my head. It actually came from a Huckleberry Hound cartoon that was out in 1958 or 1959. The name Kingsize wasn't used in England at that time. It was an American word that sort of slipped into our language. I was an avid watcher of the Huckleberry Hound Show. In one episode, the uncle of Huckleberry Hound sends him a crate and in the crate was a Kangaroo. He'd never seen a Kangaroo, didn't know what it was. He actually called it a Kingsize mice...a mouse. Brian Kelly, who was a promoter in the North end of Liverpool, who ran Lathom Hall , the Jive Hive and Litherland Hall, he was also a big fan. I went to play a gig on a Thursday night after watching Huckleberry Hound and he greeted me with "Here comes Kingsize Taylor." I started laughing because I watched the show and I knew he'd seen the show. The name sort of kept on as a nickname. The word Kingsize was a brand new name. And so, eventually it stuck with me and then we brought it into the band and the lead singer became Kingsize Taylor And The Dominoes. It's as simple as that. Bobby Thompson, my bass player, was interviewed years later. He said "Oh, I think it was from Kingsize Cigarettes." But Kingsize Cigarettes didn't come out in England until 1959, 1960.
Q - You performed in The Cavern Club with Cilla Black as your lead singer. When I think of The Cavern Club, I think of all guy groups. To have a female lead singer was rather unique at the time, wasn't' it?
A - Well, it was to take her on board as a singer because, don't forget, Cilla Black was working in The Cavern in those days. She used to serve tea and coffee and soft drinks behind the bar there during the lunch break. I think she worked for B.I.C.C., a British cable company or whatever it was. Lunchtime, she used to serve the tea and the coffee. We probably weren't the first band she performed with. I know she got up with some of the bands in the very early days, probably The Beatles were one of the bands she got up with in The Cavern. We were the band that took her on board as a singer. We kept her right until 1962 when we left to go to Hamburg. She was a Feature singer, let's put it that way. We used to bring her on and she'd do five or six numbers, because we were doing music that nobody else was singing in the city. She used to do La Vern Baker stuff and the original "Fever". She was a great Rock singer. We just took her on board. For what we were making in those days, a normal wage would've been seven shillings and six.
Q - What would that have been in dollars?
A - Two dollars maybe...two, three dollars.
Q - Two, three dollars for the entire band?
A - Two, three dollars a head. We used to just split the money. I think there were four of us in those days, and Cilla made five. So we used to get £1.50 and then split it up into the relevant pieces. We'd all finish up with about 7/6, which is two to three dollars. That was quite standard in those days. We were all up and coming musicians, weren't we?
Q - What was the atmosphere in The Cavern like? Was it packed to the rafters? Were people dancing?
A - Well, if you could move, they'd be dancing. Lunch time sessions used to have seating in there. They had fold-up seats and so you could sit down on your lunch break and watch the band who was performing, whether it be Rory Storm And The Hurricanes, The Flamingos, ourselves. And so it was, want for a better word, civilized of a lunch time. Then all the seats would disappear into a side room for evening shows and the place was just solid. You couldn't move in it. It wasn't that big anyway. Even solid, you'd be lucky to pack 250 people in it. It was just a sweaty, smelly hole of a place, but there was no where else to go for these people to get that type of music. It was originally a Jazz cellar, and once Rock 'n' Roll it... I was thrown off there for playing Rock 'n' Roll because we were running under a name up until 1957 of a band called The James Boys. That was a Skiffle band turned to Rock 'n' Roll. But everybody thought, oh, The James Boys...Skiffle. That goes well. We went down to perform with The Merseyssipi Jazz band and of course we opened with a Little Richard number and that was it. We were just thrown out of the place. (laughs) But of course later when Rock 'n' Roll took over, that was the place to go. And of course The Iron Door didn't open until 1962, so The Cavern had a bit of a head start with the Rock scene.
Q - Bands played at The Iron Door?
A - Of course. It was just unbelievable, the atmosphere in there. I mean, it wasn't particularly nice to play because there was no air down there. It was just an old fruit cellar that still sort of stank of fruit. All they'd done was scrub the walls down and painted them black. The walls used to sweat. The sweat off the people used to run down the walls so you didn't lean on it in a nice pale blue suit because it would just be black. It was just a damp, underground, smelly hole, but it was very exciting. It was a great place to go on and play because it was always packed. Every venue was packed to the doors.
Q - Did you have a side door to get your equipment in at these places?
A - No, no. You had to go in the same way as the public. At The Cavern, it was the doorman, Paddy Delaney I think his name was, and he'd just get all the crowds to step back and give you a hand to get the stuff down into the cellar. There was no other door except one door. No door out. Total fire hazard. (laughs) But there weren't many venues in those days that had a side door to take your equipment in.
Q - Skiffle really inspired your group, didn't it?
A - Skiffle inspired a whole generation of people. Television was just out, so you could see Lonnie Donegan or all the other people who came on playing. It put music into the hands of total novices. There was nothing hard about playing Skiffle. Anybody could sit on their doorstep and work out three chords which would fit and it was always C, G and D, wasn't it? In those days, if you knew those three chords you could play everything Lonnie Donegan played. It really was a revolutionary music which took over, not just Liverpool, but most of the country and put music into the hands of the man on the street, particularly the youngsters of the street. I used to sit on my front doorstep, playing the guitar because my mother used to play guitar in her day. So, I had her old guitar and I'd sit on the front step practicing the chords and different songs. And then you'd get the young kid up the road who wants to learn it and all of a sudden he turns up with a five shilling guitar that he's got from Hessy's and you teach him how to play it. In 1958, I think you got 400 bands, not working bands, but semi-professional bands. Music has always been a big thing in Liverpool.
Q - I was told that only after The Beatles hit in a big way did Liverpool see hundreds of bands.
A - Rubbish. I used to have my band play on the back of a horse drawn wagon and so did The Beatles in the day. There's a very prominent photograph of The Beatles, stood on the back of a coal wagon, playing. Without this being opened up to the man in the streets...don't forget that right up 'til 1960, The Beatles were playing Skiffle, no matter what anybody says. Their repertoire was Skiffle anyway. They were a strumming band. That was right up 'til 1960. When they came over to Germany of course, they had the advantage of playing twelve hours a night, or through twelve hours a night maybe. They came back to England and of course they were better. If they hadn't been better, then they wouldn't have been worth a salt anyway, would they? It's like me, I gave up my butchery business, went over to Germany with a good band and came back with the best band in Liverpool. You had to work so much, you had time to rehearse. It was wide open to get new music from America through the people who were coming from America to play in The Star Club. This was a great thing about The Star Club. We owe everything really to Hamburg, not to Liverpool. We went from Liverpool as unpolished diamonds and came back polished. Hamburg didn't need us, we needed Hamburg. That's why there was this glut of Liverpool bands who went over to Germany. It wasn't that Germany particularly wanted them. They used to offer to go to Germany. The Beatles, OK, they were looked out for because basically they were working through Allan Williams. First of all, let's send Derry Wilkie And The Seniors to Hamburg and later Howie Casey And The Seniors. (Bruno) Koschmider said "We could do with another band. Do you know one?" So, Howie rings up Allan Williams and says "We need some more Liverpool bands over here, but don't send that crap band The Beatles." (laughs) And that's Howie Casey's exact words. And he did and they thought they were gonna be playing a better club than they actually played in, which still exists by the way, The Indra. It's actually better now than it was then. They thought they would come over here as stars and at the end of the day they were playing in between strippers in The Indra and sleeping at the end of the stage. It wasn't that Hamburg needed them. They needed to be there.
Q - Are they still running bands at the Indra Club?
A - Yeah. It's not a big club actually, but it's nice inside now.
Q - What was it like for a British Rock 'n' Roll band to be playing in Hamburg, Germany in the early 1960s? And how did you get that gig?
A - Really through the fact that bands had to been to Hamburg before us, through Allan Williams. The first band to have a go from Liverpool was a fella called Lord Woodbine, who only played Calypso music, because Jazz was big in Hamburg in those days. 1959 I think it was. Through Lord Woodbine, they sent via Allan Williams, Derry And The Seniors, who were playing Rock 'n' Roll per se right the way through. Of course, once they heard that, they wanted more of it. So, Manfred Weissleder and Horst Fascher flew to Liverpool because that's the only bands they ever heard. They didn't know that they existed all over the country.
He signed up virtually every Liverpool band to go and play The Star Club. That's how we got the gig and that's how Rory Storm got the gig. Everybody got the gigs through the impression that the earlier bands had given. By this time Tony Sheridan moved in. I think he came from Norwich or some place like that. He then was playing Bluesy type, mediocre Rock and then sort of progressed into the Rock 'n' Roll. He was there on virtually a permanent basis. So, that was a kick-start for Rock 'n' Roll in Hamburg as well. They came to England from the club and they just booked the bands on the spot. Three months later I was getting my notice and I just went over there thinking it was only for a month and finished up there nearly four years or something.
Q - In these Hamburg clubs, they would have four bands and rotate the bands? One band would come on, play a hour set and the next band would come on.
A - Yeah, that's right. That's exactly how it happened. Don't forget The Star Club was open through the week for ten hours. So, on a rotor system you might only play twice in a night.
Q - What would you do between sets?
A - Most of the time we just spent the whole time in The Star Club or in the bar next door, which later John Franklin from band christened The Beer Shop. That's where we used to go.
Q - That must have been one big stage. Where did all the equipment from the bands go?
A - There was one back line. Every band used the same back line that went on. It had the best back line. You couldn't even afford the equipment that was on that stage. It was all top Fenders on the stage. The best drum kit. Hammond organ. Steinway piano. What more could you ask for? To take equipment to Germany would cost you a fortune in those days. I was actually given a complete back line and P.A. system from Vox, put it in the car. We got stopped at Customs and they wanted £2,000 and that was in 1962, which was a lot of money, as surety against picking it up at the border again; as surety that I still had the equipment when I got to the border of Germany, then I received my £2,000 back. But who had £2,000? So, I just left it at the Customs office and picked it up on the way home. We thought we needed it 'cause we were going to Frankfurt for The Star Club on that one. There was another band. We used their equipment. But The Star Club had its own equipment. Always did.
Q - You were on the same bill at The Star Club with Jerry Lee Lewis and Joey Dee?
A - You could just go on: Ray Charles, Gene Vincent, Fats Domino, Sam The Sham, Johnny Kidd, Tommy Roe, Everly Brothers. On the same bill as them, yeah.
Q - They must've drawn large crowds?
A - Yeah, of course. The place was full. It was expensive as well. To get Ray Charles over in 1963, he flew in with his own plane, a jet black Boeing 707 it was, with Ray Charles painted down the side in white. He lands with forty-four people as an entourage. He had The Raylettes and this huge band with him and his five personal doctors. In those days if you were a drug addict, you had to take five working, practicing doctors with you on tour. That's a bit of information you probably didn't know.
Q - I did not know that.
A - You can check up on it. To leave America and go on tour in those days, if you were a registered drug addict, you had to have five doctors with you.
Q - What were people coming into the Hamburg clubs looking for?
A - They were just out to have a good time. The Star Club was a good atmosphere. It was a real family oriented atmosphere. Everybody that came into the club was virtually protected from everything around it via Weisslader, who not only owned a lot of the vice in Hamburg, but if you were a customer of his or a band particularly, you were totally protected from everything. No other club would lay hands on you. There was no aggression as long as you worked within the rules. I don't know anybody who had trouble in The Star Club. I was treated like royalty the whole time I was there. What more do you want from life? I'm still here now. I have a great life here (Germany). It suits me down the ground.
Q - You almost had Ringo in your group. How do you think that would've affected your group's success and how do you think it would've affected The Beatles?
A - I'll do a short version of what the long version should be. Drummers were a rare commodity in Liverpool. I took a drummer to Hamburg in '62 and played The Star Club who was total rubbish. We got through a month and then I decided as soon as we get back to Liverpool we would look for a new drummer. Now, at that time, Bobby Thompson he was my bass player, but playing with Rory Storm 'cause he'd been contracted to play. They had a drummer. Bobby wanted to come back with me when he finished with Rory Storm and said "well, if you need another drummer, I'll ask Ringo." And of course as soon as Bobby said to Ringo "Do you fancy coming back with Ted to Germany as part of The Dominoes?", he said "yeah, great!" He didn't even ask about money. And then Bobby rings me up and says "Yeah, Ringo will come back with us." The funny thing is, Ringo wasn't a good drummer either. But he had charisma. Let's put it that way. Bobby had been playin' with him so he knew his capabilities. Funny enough, Ringo had had an argument with Rory and was thinking of leaving him anyway. He was a bit upset with something he'd said. And then of course what happens is they change their drummer and Pete (Best) goes down 'cause he was too good looking and I think that's the heart of it and Mo Best ran The Beatles and Epstein didn't like that end of it. So, they get rid of Pete and of course the only available drummer who's worth his salt is Ringo. So, they approached Ringo and ask him how much Ted's getting. Bobby said oh, I think it's gonna be whatever and they offered him 10 shilling more a week or whatever. So, they didn't pinch him off me. I was glad that Ringo didn't come with us to be quite honest. So Ringo decided to go with The Beatles, which was great for me because just after that, later on in that year, Rory got Gibson Kemp, who was then sixteen years old, to play drums for him. We were both playing on the same venue in Liverpool and I said to Bobby "There's the fella to take back to Hamburg," and that was Gibson Kemp, who became my drummer and stayed with me until we packed up. Now he was a motor maniac. He was a great drummer. Now in my case, between Noddy Redman and Ringo, it was like getting rid of one bad drummer and picking up another bad drummer who had bigger charisma. There was no difference in the quality of their drumming 'cause Ringo still can't drum to this day. But he wasn't a good drummer.
Q - When you say "charisma", what do you mean by that?
A - Well, it was his attitude to music that was great. It was bit like my own, and like my own band's attitude to music. Music is there to have fun from. The minute you start looking for money from music is the way you fall down. If it doesn't give you satisfaction, then how can you enjoy doing it? It's like being the last guy at the end of the production line at Ford. Nobody gives a toss whether you're there or not. Music is the same. If you come off the stage and you're not satisfied, your type of music deteriorates because you just pack it up. I've always said the day I come off stage and I haven't enjoyed it, is the day I will pack up, and I enjoy every single performance I do. I don't care if it's for mega bucks or peanuts. I go and do charity shows just because I love playin' 'em. Ringo had this attitude. He was never a money mad person. If you said to him "We're doing a gig down the road. You fancy playin' it?", he say "yeah, no problem." He didn't ask "how much." That was the only advantage of having Ringo. He was good fun, great charisma onstage 'cause he enjoyed what he was playin' and he would have fitted into our band as a person. It didn't happen, but luckily, and lucky for me, we found Gibson Kemp, who was the answer to our problem.
Q - Adrian Barber recorded The Beatles at The Star Club, yet you were the one to take the recordings and release them as a 'live' album. Does that mean you had to cut Adrian in on the deal?
A - Not at all. It wasn't actually Adrian that recorded it. It was everybody that passed the tape machine. Don't forget, this wasn't a commercial thing. Everybody seems to think these recordings were commercial product. They weren't commercial product at all. The machine was set up at the side of the stage really to listen to your show. That was '62. We'd been playing in Berlin. I'd been to the Berlin Radio Exhibition and I bought a tape recorder, which was two speed, four track. Portable as well, by the way. We just set it up by the side of the stage. We listened to our own things. We checked it. We used it for sound levels. It was taped with one microphone that was suspended in the center of The Star Club, plugged straight into the four track, Phillips four track. What used to happen, most bands who went onstage wanted to hear it, so they would walk past it and just switch it on. And sometimes it'd be left on all night. If you wanted to listen to a new member, you'd try it out. You'd just run it back and turn the tape over and over and over. So, it wasn't done as a commercial thing to do The Beatles because, who were The Beatles? They didn't even have as good a band as mine. So why should I bother to try and record them? I certainly couldn't see The Beatles going anywhere at the time, and nobody around them could see them going anywhere or any further than anybody else. What happened is, Adrian Barber was in charge of where the equipment was and suspending the microphone. So, it was not having to cut anybody in on a deal. There was no question about "Oh, I'm taking the tape home now." and he says "Well, it's my tape." Nothing like that what-so-ever. There was only ever one tape used. When I got home, it lay at home while I came back to Germany. Then, when The Beatles made it, of course I offered it to Epstein, who then gave me back and said "I'll give you twenty quid for your trouble." Apparently in the court case in America, under the terms, the judge said "Anybody who can give away the history of a band that they've just promoted to stardom, must be sort of out of their head." They hung around in the cellar. I had to go and break into the place actually, funny enough a couple of doors down...well, a couple of streets down from one of the clubs, just throw them into a cardboard box in 1972. I happened to mention to Allan Williams that I had them...where, I don't know. They deteriorated quite a lot and we decided to put them out. We offered The Beatles 50% of the profits. They didn't really give us any indication they were gonna stop us. Then when we brought it out of course we got kicked in the ass. That's the story of that one really.
( Picture courtesy Ken Shalliker)
Q - Why is it that no one saw the potential of The Beatles in those days? What happened to The Beatles that made them into The Beatles?
A - The Beatles, as a commodity, in those days, I don't think anybody really thought of them as the mega stars that they were made into. Don't forget that from the minute Epstein got hold of them and turned them into a commercial proposition, nobody ever saw The Beatles as they were. That was the only piece of history of The Beatles as they were, on that tape. Epstein had a grudge against it. He didn't want to know about it. Later on, that was passed on to Apple in general, where it was a total vendetta against these tapes. This tape is exactly what The Beatles were like. And of course once they were washed up, better manners, thrown onstage, they were a commercial proposition. What Epstein had to do was destroy every other band around them because every other band in Liverpool was better than them. Epstein was the cause of the downfall of Merseybeat.
Q - I've never heard that said before.
A - He destroyed every competitive band. He came up to sign me up in December, 1962. I was in a club with The Big Three, Gene Vincent and myself. And who walks down the stairs into the club - Brian Epstein. Of all people, Johnny Gosser is a real docker of a man, a real hard case; (He) jumps up and introduces Brian Epstein to me. He says "Mr. Epstein, this is Kingsize Taylor. Ted, this is Brian Epstein." I'd had a few scoops, you know, a few drinks. I said to him "Well, who is he?" He didn't like that. He went out of the club fuming. We just sat there and got legless in the club. Of course when I came home in January, unbeknownst to me, I had a two month tour to do. He bought the tour out and put me out of work because he didn't like my attitude. He systematically destroyed every good band in Liverpool or took them over. That's how Merseyside lost all their bands. He destroyed the whole scene. Every band around, The Undertakers would knock spots off them...The Big Three, sold down the river. Changed it 'round so much it was no longer The Big Three. Billy J. Kramer band, he changed 'round and pinched people off from every band in Liverpool. They were all destroyed. That's the real story about Merseybeat. He was an evil, selfish man. He destroyed everything around him. ( Picture courtesy Ken Shalliker)
Q - I've never heard that said about Brian Epstein before.
A - He was systematically destroying every group. I mean, if he couldn't get his way with the people he fancied, a band like The Big Three, you've got a big hairy docker of a man as the drummer. You've got Adrian Barber, who's a junkie, who was he original Beatle cook by the way, and you've got a good looking Spanish fellow like Johnny Gustafson. And the only reason Eppy wants The Big Three is for Johnny Gustafson. And so much so that Johnny Hutch dragged Epstein over to his table and wanted to take him between the eyes because he'd made approaches on Johnny Gus.
Q - There were no other managers around at the time?
A - Yeah. There were loads of managers. But none of the bands worked for managers. We could find our own work. I never had a manager in me life. I got my own work. I made my own deals. If I did any work in Germany, I always did it through Weisleder because I was contracted to him, but not as a manager. But, he used to get me a good deal. He made sure I'd get my money and that's all I was interested in. But managers, at that time, who wanted them anyway? For instance, Allan Williams had given them (The Beatles) away, hadn't he? Why did Allan Williams give them away? He saw no potential in them.
Q - You still have a band that you perform with these days?
A - Yeah. I can still put together a 1963 line-up. In fact, they're coming over for my 70th birthday in November. We're performing here in Germany. All still alive. All still kickin'. All rockin' like a bastard! (laughs)
Kingsize is once again living in Germany and performs regularly with his band the Brotherhood of Soul. Kingsize recently returned to Liverpool to play the Jive Hive now called the Crosby Comrades club.
Interview originally appeared in:- Classic Bands