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Remembering DC Star vocalist Ken Taylor

Updated: Oct 23, 2020

Kenny Taylor May 28, 1957 – May 21, 2011


Kenneth Russell Taylor, charismatic lead singer for popular ‘80’s band DC Star passed away May 21st of 2011 after a long battle with Lymphoma.

He had one of the best voices that ever graced the stage, although neither he nor the group ever got the recognition they deserved.

Here a fine article written by Dickson Mercer of “The Southern Maryland News”.

Kenny Taylor ... R.I.P.

DC Star frontman dead of cancer at 53

By DICKSON MERCER – Staff writer

Published: Friday, June 10, 2011

Kenny Taylor, known in Southern Maryland and beyond for the soaring vocals he used to front DC Star, a legendary rock band founded in Clinton in 1977, died May 21 at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 53.

For nearly a decade, Taylor had battled a rare form of lymphoma through a combination of alternative and traditional medical treatments. His partner Patty O’Neill said "His fighting spirit came from Cherokee Indian roots and spiritual beliefs".

Although DC Star broke up in 1987, fans of the band demanded reunions for decades afterward. The group last reunited in June 2002 at the former Thunder Dome, a short-lived heavy metal club in Baltimore, the city that some members of the Southern Maryland band had relocated to in the early 1980s. Four months after that show Ken Taylor was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In 2008, another diagnosis revealed the lymphoma.

Taylor’s life dedicated to music began early. His first break, in fact, came at 6, when he landed a solo in his elementary school’s Christmas concert. In high school, Taylor studied classical music, and participated in a madrigal group that won two state titles.

After school, Taylor turned to rock, joining his first band in his teens. He was a junior at Friendly High School when he responded to Dave Simmons’ advertisement for a singer in The Washington Post.

Dave Simmons was then a senior at Surrattsville High School. He got plenty of responses to the ad, he recalled, but most of the musicians were older. Taylor, on the other hand, was almost 16, and reminded Simmons of Mick Jagger.

Taylor, Simmons and Jeff Avery formed the band Medusa. A year later they regrouped as Starz, a name that ultimately morphed into DC Star.

DC Star’s best-known lineup consisted of Taylor, David Simmons (guitars), Jeff Avery (guitars, keyboards), Henry Farmer (bass) and Glenn Jones (drums).

Unable to land a recording contract, the band self-financed its early efforts, which included an album and an EP picture disk that sold more than 10,000 copies. The picture disk included the classic track “Is It You?,” which got steady airplay on Baltimore radio stations.

DC Star’s second album, 1984’s “Livin’ in a Rock & Roll Whirl,” garnered interest from Atlantic Records. The band was signed to one of Atlantic’s subsidiaries, which essentially re-released “Livin’ In a Rock & Roll Whirl” while renaming it “Rockin’ in the Classroom.” The company also financed a video for “I Wanna Rock Tonight,” which, like other tunes from the band’s heyday, can be found on YouTube.

DC Star recorded several popular Miller Brewing Co. radio commercials, including 1984’s banner ad “Made the American Way.”

“It was that whole era, the hair band era Motley Crue, Poison,” Taylor told the Maryland Independent in 2007. “We were playing so much. … We toured almost incessantly.”

DC Star never got the national recognition that Motley Crue or Poison did. Even so, there are few bands through which the classic rock sounds of the 1960s and ’70s turning over into those of the fist-pumping ’80s are so cleanly distilled.

The band played frequently in New York, New England, the Mid-Atlantic all the way through the Carolinas. Venues such as the Stardust Inn and Rebs Fireplace in Waldorf and the Club Sunrise and Tall Timbers Tavern were popular spots for the group locally.

In the ’80s, the band also established itself in the northeastern club scene, grabbing opening gigs for Twisted Sister, Blue Oyster Cult, Zebra, Blackfoot and Molly Hatchet.

In 1985, Taylor was temporarily replaced in DC Star after suffering serious injuries in a car accident. He returned to the band but left shortly thereafter. DC Star broke up in 1987, and he and Simmons’ relationship was often difficult.

“Our friendship was kind of unreconciled, but I love him,” Simmons said.

After leaving DC Star, Taylor lived in Connecticut, transitioning from professional frontman to professional teacher. He studied vocals and taught lessons at Katie Agresta Studios in New York City. The studio cites Jon Bon Jovi, Dave Matthews and countless other big-name artists among its students.

In Waldorf, one of Taylor’s students was Sam Grow, whose band plays every weekend in Southern Maryland. Grow, 24, of Swan Point sought out Taylor around 2009, not long after playing out became Grow’s full-time job. After playing several nights worth of gigs in a row, the singer’s voice was fading, he explained. Taylor taught Grow what to do before and after a show to maintain his voice; Grow said he has been following the advice ever since.

Taylor also encouraged Grow not to sign a record contract just for the sake of signing one.

“He would say always, ‘If you can do it by yourself, it’s the best way to do it,’” said Grow, who now prides himself on being an independent musician.

Meanwhile, when reporters would ask Taylor what moment represented the peak of DC Star, the unreformed rocker would not so much as pause: 1983, the Capital Centre in Landover, opening two sold-out shows for Journey.

“Nineteen thousand people, dude,” Taylor said in 2009 during his last interview with the Maryland Independent. “You can only see the first five rows, but you know the rest of the people are out there.”

Meeting that day with a reporter in his backyard, Taylor revealed tattoos on each of his forearms. One said, “Live to play.” The other said, “Play to live.”

Taylor himself said, “My spirit is really intact. My spirit is what keeps me going, and music.”

He added, “I got a lot of noise I still want to make.” 
To that end, Taylor had formed a local band called Z.S.T., which he said stood for “Zekiah Swamp Thang.” In years prior, he had formed local groups called Mach 1 and Mach 2, names that referenced his passion for muscle cars.

On March 29, 2009, Z.S.T. headlined a benefit concert held in Taylor’s honor. The concert at Waldorf’s My Brother’s Place featured local musicians Eric Scott, Austin Cody and Grow.

Taylor’s father had died in 2001 and his brother, David Taylor, died in 1989. He is survived by his mother, Joyce Taylor, and relatives in Troy Michigan. .

Kenn Taylor taught vocal lessons in New York and locally, at Hot Licks Guitar Shop and his own private studio. Outside of playing music, Taylor was a hunting enthusiast and an avid reader. He had a great sense of humor and an appreciation for the water, and liked to care for his pets. Taylor did not want a funeral. He chose to have his body cremated.

Taylor’s final project was a five-song album called “Never Surrender.” He worked on it for six years at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church, Va.

© 2011 Post-Newsweek Media, Inc./ Reprinted with permission.

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