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Remembering DC Star vocalist Ken Taylor

Updated: Mar 28, 2020


May 28, 1957 – May 21, 2011

Kenneth Russell Taylor the charismatic lead singer for popular ‘80’s band DC Star passed away May 21st 2011 after a long battle with Lymphoma. He had one of the best voices that ever graced the stage, although neither he nor DC Star got the recognition they deserved.

In lieu of an obituary, here is an edited, objective article written by Dickson Mercer of “The Southern Maryland News” that still serves as an honorable memorial tribute to the man.

Kenny Taylor R.I.P. – David Simmons / D&G Music

DC Star Front man dead of cancer at 53 By DICKSON MERCER – The Southern Maryland News Originally 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 Maryland in 1977, died May 21 at Georgetown University Hospital in Washington, D.C. He was 53. For nearly a decade he battled a rare form of lymphoma through a combination of alternative and traditional medical treatments. “His incredible fighting spirit came from his Cherokee Indian roots and spiritual beliefs", claimed his girlfriend Patty O’Neill.

Although DC Star stopped playing full time in 1988, fans of the band demanded reunions for many years afterward. The group last reunited in June 2002 at the Thunder Dome in Baltimore, the city that the southern Maryland band members relocated to in 1980. Four months after that reunion, Taylor was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia. In 2008, another diagnosis revealed the lymphoma.

Kenny 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. 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 David Simmons’ advertisement seeking a singer in The Washington Post. 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. Ken, on the other hand, was 16, and reminded Simmons of Mick Jagger. Taylor, Simmons and Jeff Avery formed their first band Medusa. Later they became Starz, a name that ultimately morphed into DC Star.

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

Unable to land a recording contract until the mid-80’s, the band self-financed its early efforts, which included a single, full-length 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. DC Star’s second album, 1984’s “Livin’ in a Rock & Roll Whirl,” garnered interest from Atlantic Records. The band was signed with Atlantic’s subsidiary Mirage, who re-released “Livin’ In a Rock & Roll Whirl” while renaming it “Rockin’ in the Classroom.”

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 toured 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 Baltimore and locally, too: Waldorf venues such as the former Stardust Inn and Reb's Fireplace were popular spots for the group. 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 Ken suffered injuries in a car accident and was temporarily replaced by Shawn Crosby. Ken rejoined the band but left one year later and was replaced by John Frederick who fronted the band until DC Star finally broke up in 1988.

After leaving DC Star, Taylor lived in Connecticut, transitioning from professional front man to professional teacher. He studied vocals and taught lessons at Katie Agresta Studios in New York City. The studio cites Jon Bonjiovi (Bonjovi), Cindy Lauper, Dave Matthews, Roger Daltry 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 ‘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.

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 MD, 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 sets by local musicians Eric Scott, Austin Cody and Grow.

Taylor hooked up with girlfriend Patty O’Neill shortly after he returned to Accokeek Md. to help care for his father, Edward Lee Taylor, who was suffering from Alzheimer’s. They first met in high school said O’Neill, who described herself as a DC Star groupie. “Someone took me to a DC Star concert, and from that point on I knew Ken Taylor was an extraordinary singer.”

Taylor’s father Ed passed away in 2001. His brother David Taylor, an early soundman for the band, had died in 1989. Ken is survived by his mother Joyce Taylor and relatives in Tennessee. Ken taught vocal lessons in New York, locally at Hot Licks Guitar Shop and his own private studio. “He loved his students,” O’Neill said.

Outside of playing music, Taylor was a hunting enthusiast and an avid reader. He had a great sense of humor, an appreciation for the water and liked to care for his pets. Kenny did not want a funeral. He chose to have his body cremated and committed to the water near where he lived.

Ken Taylor’s final project was an album called “Never Surrender.” He worked on it for six years and completed it in 2010 at Cue Recording Studios in Falls Church, VA.

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

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