Chip Taylor: One Swift Taylor

In 1965, James Wesley “Chip” Voight — later to be known as “Chip Taylor” –gave a gift to fledgling guitarists everywhere with his iconic song, “Wild Thing” (made a huge hit in 1966 by The Troggs). But at some point, he wished he’d never written it.

Voight, the brother of volcanologist Barry  (who predicted the 1980 eruption of Mt. St. Helens) and actor Jon, was a bit embarrassed at how his hit song was being treated. After seeing Jimi Hendrix hump his Stratocaster in the film version of the Monterey Pop Music Festival, he recalled “sliding down the[movie] theater’s cushions, out of sight.”

But that short-lived discomfort still brought him and the song’s publisher plenty of riches. Chip noted, “I gave 50 percent of my royalties for ‘Wild Thing to a great publisher and they have definitely worked their asses off for that 50 percent.”

The gritty guitar classic has been covered by 139 artists, including the Troggs’ definitive #1 version which took the group about ten minutes to record. Chip himself recalled: “The song was written in a few minutes. I was just trying something new. It was kind of raw and like nothing I’d done before. All of a sudden I became total anarchy.”

Chip wrote another standard in “Angel of the Morning,” borrowing from himself to create his second worldwide hit. In 2008, he recalled to Mojo magazine: “I heard some guy playing ‘Wild Thing’ real slow on a guitar. It sounded nice. So I did the same, lifting one of my fingers off a chord to create a suspension. Then the words ‘There’ll be no strings to bind your hands, not if my love can’t bind your heart’ came out. It was as beautiful a love connection as I could ever feel.”

Chip played a demo of the song to singer Merrilee Rush who was not impressed with the songwriter’s warbling; remarking:  “Chip Taylor had never been a great singer.” But she heard the same chord progressions as “Louie, Louie” and a melody that Chip admitted he pinched from the Stones’ “Ruby Tuesday.”  Rush’s version went to #7 in the charts in 1968 while in 1981, Juice Newton’s take soared to #4.

In the 1980s, Chip, who got his nickname from his style of playing golf, stopped composing hits to visit Atlantic City casinos, only for them to ban him for counting cards.  While some were surprised that the songwriter made major money from gambling, Chip was not so impressed with his own acumen: “I liked math in school. My teachers wouldn’t have been surprised to learn I got good at cards.”

He’d developed a taste for the sporting life around the same time he was plying his songwriting craft: New York City in the 1960s.  “I hung my hat at 1650 Broadway where [songwriters] Gerry Goffin and Carole King were based. I fell in love with Carole in the elevator! On my way to Broadway, I’d place my bets on horses and then collect my winnings on the way home. With one bookie I won 53 out of 56 weeks, and he kept sending me good whiskey on my birthday and Christmas. I asked why he sent gifts when I was beating him and he said, ‘My boss saw you were winning so we started going to other bookies and betting ten times the same amount you placed with us. You’re our favorite customer!’”

Chip gave a nod to his rambling gambling ways by composing “Son of a Rotten Gambler.”  Anne Murray recorded it in 1974 and it went to #1 on Billboard’s American Adult Contemporary charts.

Chip, who is now 83 and fighting throat cancer, had one of his tunes reach a much younger generation.  In 2012, F**k All Those Perfect People,” was streamed over a million times on Spotify after fans of the Netflix British comedy/drama series Sex Education heard Chip and his band, the New Ukrainians, sing it during the first season.

A version of the song sung by Johnny Cash can be found on YouTube and is scarily great. Johnny nails the eye-rolling, head-shaking sentiments of one who’s had their fill of emotionally empty humans. But at least in between feeling “empty,” Chip Taylor gifted music with some enduring songs.

-Mark Daponte

Photo: Chip Taylor, 2012 (Sachyn Mital via Wikimedia Commons)

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Mark Daponte is a copy/blog writer for an advertising company and has published/sold four short stories, three full length screenplays, nine short screenplays (including two animation scripts) and punches up screenplays—because they don’t punch back. He has had six short comedic plays performed by various theater companies, including one in Los Angeles, (Sacred Fools) and Sacramento, CA (Sacramento Actors Theater Company). When he isn’t sinking down to a thirteen-year-old’s level to make his teenaged sons laugh, he can be found seeking signs of intelligent life in his hometown of Brooklyn, NY.

3 comments on “Chip Taylor: One Swift Taylor

  1. Gary Theroux ("The History of Rock 'n' Roll")

    How much money did the very talented Merilee Rush make off her recording of “Angel of The Morning”? Not a dime. Her version was cut for a one-time low session fee as a demo — and then released commercially. It became a Top 10 pop hit in 1968 and eventually a timeless oldie but Merilee never collected a penny from the massive sales of what wound up as her only sizable hit. I got to interview Ms. Rush in her hotel room in 1977 and she was every bit as charming as one could hope for.

  2. John Smistad

    With this guy’s remarkably varied life experiences, Taylor strikes as a kind of “real-life” Forrest Gump, yeah?

    And God Bless Merilee Rush, man. It’s absolutely unconscionable that she wasn’t justly compensated for power singing “Angel of The Morning” up the pop music charts. As fellow residents of the fabulous Puget Sound area alongside her, we have an innate affinity for “one of our own”.

  3. Sorry, from my perspective ‘a kind reply’ is Not going to be possible. To think that Ms. Rush DID NOT make any substantial remuneration from her outstanding Talent; Recorded & Displayed for all The World to Hear … I am in complete agreement with Mr. Theroux & Mr. Smistad…. It is Not Only TRAGIC, but I believe also CRIMINAL, as well !

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