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The Resurrection of Sam Taylor

After years of laying low, a Houston music guru has come back for more

The grim hearsay surrounding Sam Taylor took to the air sometime last year, swirling its way like a tiny, gossip-fueled twister around the city. The rumor mill came to a head last fall when an anonymous caller telephoned the Press to report that, among other things, Taylor, once the management brains and one-man artistic support team behind the nationally recognized Houston acts King's X and Galactic Cowboys, was on his deathbed with an inoperable brain tumor. Others doubted the story, but no one seemed to know for sure one way or the other -- and for a while, the subject of these suppositions was doing nothing to clear them up.

Until recently, Taylor was a man with two area codes, a pager and a home that alternated between here and Dallas. Before that, after pulling up stakes at his Houston-based Wilde Silas MusicWorks and quietly dropping out of sight, he'd spent time laying low at his former residence in Katy. It was during this time -- as Taylor tried to sell his house and finalize his divorce -- that the theories about his health and whereabouts multiplied.

Many around town were prepared to write Taylor off as another music industry casualty. This March, however, the mystery man finally surfaced to argue that point, opening an unexpected phone conversation simply and cheerfully with, "Hey, man, this is Sam Taylor. I'm still alive."

It may come as a surprise to some, but Taylor claims to be healthier and more full of life than ever. Sitting down to lunch a few weeks into April at a noisy Houston restaurant, Taylor looks a bit worn, but far from beaten. The pronounced lines around his eyes give away his worrisome nature, while his weathered features and thinning hair make him appear somewhat older than his 43 years. The once elusive Taylor talks a lot more freely these days. Even in a crowded eatery, he's more than willing to open up about his life.

"I didn't like baby-sitting bands. I didn't like somebody's wife calling me at 11 o'clock at night saying, 'They just cut my electricity off; I need $250,' " he laments. "But I was always the sucker who would not only write the check, but drive it over there."

Taylor was never much for parenting, but he tried his best anyway, shouldering the worries of his dependents and taking on enough responsibility for ten men. None of the dependents in question were Taylor's own flesh and blood, but they might as well have been. In his line of work, Taylor always had plenty of unruly youngsters to keep him busy. So it shouldn't come as a shock that through the 17 years of his now-ended marriage, the musical jack-of-all-trades held off having any kids -- or any sort of a life -- of his own. In the end, that almost destroyed him.

A native of Waxahachie, Sam Taylor grew up in a household saturated in music of all kinds.

"I used to think it was very strange to go over to a friend's house and not see a piano," he remembers. "Every Sunday night, we'd gather around a piano and sing. My father gave my mother a steel guitar as a wedding present; my older brother was in a rock and roll band because he loved Buddy Holly. He dragged me to see the Beatles when I was 12. That's just the way I was raised."

After college and a rough tenure as a songwriter and studio musician in Nashville, Taylor was brought to Houston by Bill Ham, who hired him to help run the ZZ Top empire. The career change couldn't have come at a better time. Top was just beginning to undergo their multiplatinum metamorphosis from down-home blues-rock bumpkins to video savvy superstars.

"In 1982, MTV was in its infancy, and I sort of prodded the organization to do music videos," says Taylor, who adds that he was in charge of everything from marketing to legal affairs at Ham's enterprise. "I also ended up being the video coordinator for the Eliminator album."

With the help of the cool car, the girls and a streamlined sound, Eliminator went on to sell millions, and for a while, Taylor thought he had found his calling. But by 1985, he'd become bored with the business side of his job and left the Top fold to search for his own pool of talent. At first, he tried it completely on his own, taking his life savings and sinking it into a pair of no-name songwriters from Dallas. That project floundered, and Taylor turned to record label consulting. Eventually, the consulting led him to King's X, a Houston group that came to be known as much for its strong religious ties as for its harmony rich, metallic-Beatles sound.

Taylor tries to be forthright about his own spirituality, as well as his affiliations with bands whose Christianity is a primary rallying -- if not necessarily selling -- point. But getting a handle on just where his faith falls in the religious continuum is another issue altogether. Taylor's open-ended approach to worship, it seems, is all his own.

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