DJ BOBBY TAYLOR
(The Silver Shadow)
BOBBY TAYLOR aka The Silver Shadow is a Roxbury-based DJ, singer, historian, inventor and enthusiastic cheerleader for the town he has called home since the 1930s.
In the late 1950s he was in a vocal Doo Wop group called The Valineers and by 1964 he put out his first and only recording, “You Are My Heart” with “Pretty Baby,” as a solo artist on the Barbara Records label. He gigged regionally in support of the song, and would also DJ parties for friends and small local gatherings in the mid-1960s.
By the ‘70s he was drawn into the 9-to-5 world, and remained there for years to come. Among the jobs he had during that time was being the lead bus driver to South Boston High School in the busing years (he worked for the Boston school system for four decades).
In the early 1980s, Bobby decided to get back into the music game as a DJ, and in 1983 he started and produced the event for which he is perhaps best known: the yearly Madison Park / Sugar Hill Reunion. It would take place in late May, near Mother’s Day, for almost two decades to come.
He DJed much more frequently during the ‘80s and ‘90s, specializing in his trademark “Oldies” mix, and was still going strong through early 2020, before Covid threw salt on his (and all of our!) activities. But he is itching to get back to what he loves most: DJing for people and making them smile.
We will be adding more images and information to this page in the future, but for now we hope you enjoy what Bobby has shared with us in the past couple months.
NOTE: The images and videos below are just a fraction of the amazing items that we have scanned from Bobby's archives!
This interview was conducted in late October of 2020 by Brian Coleman outside Bobby’s home on Shawmut Ave in Roxbury, where he has lived since 1974. He loves the fact that it’s just a stone’s throw away from where he grew up in the Whittier Street Projects.
HOW DID YOU START DJING?
I started that when I was married in the ‘60s. 1963, 1964.
People always said "You oughta be a DJ," and I said "Yeah, maybe so." So, I started fooling around with it in my hallway, with the kids. I DJed at this club called The Snooty Foxes, where they had high-falutin' type females. [Laughs]. They had me do a Cocktail Sip and that was the beginning. Word got around. The Elks in Cambridge started hiring me.
YOU WERE ALSO PERFORMING AS A VOCALIST THEN, TOO
I would go out now and then, nothing on a steady basis.
HOW DID YOUR SINGLE DO [“You Are My Heart” / “Pretty Baby” on Barbara Records?
My single came out at the wrong time. There was a big payola shakeup at Brunswick (Records). I was supposed to come out on there, and the payola situation and some other things blocked that. This was in the 60s.
The single came out somewhere around '63, '64. People at the label who were connected with the scandal must have gotten fired, and the new people were overly cautious. My song just didn't do that well, nationally.
WHAT ABOUT LOCALLY?
I got some gigs out of it around here. Personal appearances on radio stations.
TELL ME ABOUT YOU AND THE G-CLEFS [BOSTON’S BEST-KNOWN SINGING GROUP OF THAT ERA].
We were actually kind of rival groups. We all sang at record hops for Symphony Sid and Wildman Steve. We didn’t make no money but we had some gigs. It was all good.
With the G-Clefs, we were just on different trails. They made their first recording earlier than me [Interviewer’s note: The G-Clefs had several singles out by 1963, starting in 1956]. I never made a recording with my vocal group, The Valineers.
YOU'D MAKE MORE MONEY PERFORMING THAN WITH RECORD ROYALTIES, I ASSUME?
Yeah, that was the only way. There were no big royalty checks coming down the pike.
Nobody made no money, even the big stars. I didn't know [that big stars] were only getting 2-cents and 3-cents per record. Sinatra was the highest paid, and Nat King Cole.
DID YOU HAVE A MANAGER IN YOUR SINGING DAYS?
My vocal group had one. Actually, two. One was Jackie Lebeaux and the other was Robert Trainor [Interviewer’s note: not sure about the spelling on these last names]. And the guy who got me going was Mike Pettengill, for my (solo) record. The guys who backed me on my record were the Bi Counts from Worcester [Interviewer’s note: I’m not sure about the spelling of this group]. I don't know if those guys are even still alive.
The Bi Counts were just a studio group. I never had a band on my own, I would just work with pick-up groups.
LET'S GET BACK TO YOUR DJING
I took off from DJing until the 80s. I'm not sure why I didn't DJ in the 70s. I had a death in the family that was ... overwhelming for me. A lot of things stopped. I stopped singing and everything.
WHAT WAS KEEPING YOU BUSY IN THE 70s?
I had a day job. I worked with a company... matter of fact, I just went out there recently and gave them some stuff for their archives. Siemens Engineering, they're in Braintree. They appreciated it, they gave me a t-shirt. Wish they gave me some money! [Smiles]. I worked there from 1952 until 1964.
Eventually, in the ‘90s, I came back with a group called the New Satellites. They were already going, I joined them. It seemed like they always needed a first tenor. It was a fun thing.
WHERE DID YOU GROW UP IN ROXBURY?
I grew up right over there, Ruggles Street Projects [points, he can see it from where we are]. Ruggles Street, Whittier Street.
We used to hang out at the Cooper Community Center, it was right over there [points about a block or two away from where we are standing] and there was also the Shaw House. They were well-known places.
YOU CAN THROW A ROCK AND HIT THOSE PLACES FROM HERE
Yeah! I was born in North Carolina. We came to Boston in the 1930s. There was a hurricane, we called it “The Great Hurricane of 1938.” One of the worst that Boston ever experienced, they brought out the National Guard.
WERE YOUR PARENTS MUSICAL?
No, they were everyday people. My sister was a cosmetologist. My mother worked in the furniture business.
My mother knew I liked to sing. Her thing was that she always wanted me to sing gospel. She said, "Anyone who ever got anywhere, sang gospel at one point in time."
DID YOU SING IN CHURCH?
No. [Smiles]. No. I went to church, but I wasn't in the choir. That was never my thing, because I hadn't had that much exposure (to singing). When we were in the South I had more exposure in church, singing and praying.
Up here I didn't like to go to church that much, it was so long! [Smiles]
HOW DID YOU START SINGING, THEN?
Back then in the '50s, that was the Doo Wop era. And you sang in the hallway, you sang on the street corners, you know? I started on the corner, not even in school or church. People heard about you and asked you to sing with them. We used to rehearse in the hallway over there. It was a fun time. And there was a "Battle of the Groups," all the DJs were making money off people.
... PART 2 OF INTERVIEW CONTINUES AFTER FIRST SLIDESHOW ...
... BOBBY TAYLOR INTERVIEW PART 2 ...
SKIPPING AHEAD TO THE ‘80S, THE MADISON PARK / SUGAR HILL EVENTS WERE WHAT BROUGHT YOU BACK AS A DJ, RIGHT?
Yes, pretty much. I wasn't going to hire someone else to do it, no one else could do it.
It started because I got tired of going to wakes. We had more wakes than we had social events. So I said, "We need to have something where everybody can get together and laugh and joke instead of crying." That was the start and it was every Mother's Day. Prince Hall, Grove Hall. Boston Park Plaza, Cyclorama, Reed Auditorium. Most of the time it was at Prince Hall.
The first one was at Skycap Plaza. I have a video of it. It went really well, it went for 17 years.
DID YOU EVER SEE DJING AS A CAREER? AS YOUR MAIN GIG?
In the ‘70s, I tried to get a Small Business Admin loan, I was one of Boston's first mobile DJs, I designed speaker systems and other things. But I couldn't get financed. This guy didn't help me get it. So I couldn't do as much as I wanted to.
When I did gigs, I advertised. I would get letters from around the country, because the industry hadn't really tooled up with mixers and all that. I had the edge but I didn't have the money.
AFTER THE MADISON PARK GIGS IT SEEMS LIKE YOU GOT PRETTY BUSY?
Yeah, I did a lot of stuff. The Cambridge Elks hired me, I DJed over there for 6-7 years.
I wasn't really making a living from DJing. It was just $40 here and there, that kind of thing. Nobody was paying good money.
WHEN DID YOU START USING "THE SILVER SHADOW" AS YOUR DJ NAME?
When my hair turned grey [laughs]. I liked the song by Atlantic Starr and I looked in the mirror and I said, "Yeah, why not?" I had a bunch of names: The Biggest Voice Off Radio.
DID YOU HAVE A LOT OF COMPETITION IN THE 80S?
Some people started moving up on me, but they weren't better than me.
WITH DJING, IT'S ABOUT TECHNICAL SKILL BUT ALSO ABOUT KNOWLEDGE.
I had both. I had been around a long time and I had the experience, more than anyone trying to compete with me. I was really good at mixing, knowing what to play after what. You have to keep the dancefloor going. I'm very good at mixing and matching, keeping at the level and then knowing when to break it down.
DID YOU EVER DO RADIO?
I started to get my radio DJ license but I never actually went through with it. I knew radio guys, but I just never really wanted to do that.
WHEN YOU LOOK BACK AT SOME OF YOUR FLYERS, WHAT ARE YOUR BEST MEMORIES OF DJING?
I miss seeing people, getting them together. The best thing for me was just making people happy. Making them feel good. They could come out and they'd go away laughing and smiling.
BEYOND DJING, ONE THING I HAVE NOTICED IN OUR CONVERSATIONS IS HOW IMPORTANT “WHERE YOU’RE FROM” IS TO YOU. WHY IS GEOGRAPHY AND HISTORY SO IMPORTANT TO YOU?
All of that is intertwined, because that's where people lived. And at one time or another, there was a part on one of those streets. Especially Symphony Road. It was a family, everybody knew where everybody lived. It wasn't no secret. "You're from the Hill? Oh, you're on Humboldt." We were connected, geographically.
HAVE PEOPLE FORGOTTEN ABOUT THAT KIND OF CONNECTION?
People will say, “I'm from Roxbury.” But I always want to know where, what street. We were always associated with where we were from.
I think people do care. I think they care even more than ever, now. It's "checking out" time for some of us. Sometimes you can get lost in melancholy.
Roxbury is home, but this little part of it is home to me. If I had money to live in a mansion, Whittier Street Projects, Ruggles Street will always be home. That and Hollander Street, Upper Roxbury. Those are the only two homes I will ever acknowledge. The happiest days of my life were spent there.
This here is my second home, but those are #1. I have been here since 1974.
I haven't lost touch with my old days. I have tentacles that reach from here to there [points towards Whittier Street]. I never wanted to live no where else but here [Roxbury]. I think what it meant to me, why I never left home, I wanted to be connected.
When people used to say, "Don't you forget where you came from," I would say, "I can't forget, I can see it out my window!" I can see it. I have only moved 4-6 times in my life.
When I was first married I lived on Castle Gate Road. Then 38 Hollander Street.
I never left there [Whittier Street], I'm still there.