Andy Taylor is best known as Duran Duran’s guitarist but he's a rocker at heart (2024)

By Jerry Ewing

( Classic Rock )

published

Andy Taylor looks back on his early days with AC/DC's Brian Johnson, life as a guitar-wielding pop star, forming the Power Station and discovering Thunder

Andy Taylor is best known as Duran Duran’s guitarist but he's a rocker at heart (1)

“Nice shirt!”

Andy Taylor greets Classic Rock with a cheery grin and a nod at this writer’s AC/DC t-shirt. He’s not just an avid AC/DC fan, he’s been friends with Brian Johnson for more than 40 years. Taylor might have a CV that reads like a Hollywood A-lister, but as a young kid from the windswept North Eastern coastal town of Cullercoats, playing the Working Men’s Clubs of Newcastle, their paths crossed frequently. Not only was Taylor in the room when Johnson broke the news to Geordie, the band he fronted, that he was leaving to join AC/DC, but it seems Johnson was also indirectly responsible for Taylor joining Duran Duran.

“He and I left Newcastle around the same time,” Taylor recalls. “Within weeks. And one of the last gigs he did in Newcastle, the band I was playing with was on the bill with him, and he had to borrow my PA because Geordie’s PA broke down. Whenever I see him he’s like: “Oh, bloody hell, remember leaving?” And I’m like: “Yeah, I remember you leaving”. And maybe that played a big part in me going and looking in the Melody Maker [musician ads]. It was only a few weeks after that I went to Birmingham to audition for Duran. I’m sure that had a lot to do with it.”

It’s a summer’s day, and we’re sitting in the blazing sunshine in the garden of Taylor’s rented accommodation deep in the heart of the Cotswolds countryside. The engaging Taylor is wearing ever-present shades, shorts and bucket hat. He’s 62 and terrific company, full of stories and bonhomie. In fact the only downside is the fact that he was diagnosed with stage 4 metastatic prostate cancer in 2019, made public at Duran Duran’s Rock And Roll Hall Of Fame induction in 2022. Taylor is currently in the UK (home is in Ibiza) while he undergoes a new radiation treatment, Lutetium 177, which is known to extend the length and quality of life of patients with advanced prostate cancer.

Mention of his illness is not off the table, and Taylor occasionally refers to it, but the reality is that you would never know he’s ill. He’s off to rehearse in his own West County studio later, for upcoming live shows with his son, and we’re here to talk about, among other things, Man’s A Wolf To A Man, his latest solo album on BMG Records. It’s Taylor’s third solo release, following 1987’s rocking debut Thunder and a 1990’s Dangerous.

“I didn’t necessarily have plans,” he says of the new album. “But I got a call from Hartwig [Masuch, CEO of BMG] in 2016. He asked if I wanted to make an album. I asked what kind of album. He said whatever, maybe a Power Station album? I’m like, that’s a tough one. But I did talk to John [Taylor, Duran/Power Station bassist] about it, and then it didn’t happen. I thought I’d make a solo album, see if they go for that. And they did.”

Man’s A Wolf To A Man centres Taylor in his preferred and natural environment as a rocker. Tracks like Gettin’ It Home, This Will be Ours and the rousing title track are imbued with hints of T.Rex, David Bowie at his glam-rock height, and of course Taylor’s beloved AC/DC. The album shimmers with a youthful exuberance; doom and impending gloom this is not.

“It’s funny you should say that, because I kept reminding myself: how would you do things when you were younger, and where that spirit went,” Taylor says, smiling. “And because I had a bit of a clean slate to start again over the past eight months, I did remind myself ofthat spirit. And also Mark, my engineer, he’s a generation younger than me. He’s been working with James Bay and Sam Fender. So he’s keen. Alot of the lads I work with are younger – I’ve got to be the oldest guy in the room. But I did kind of reflect on that, sort of remember the spirit from when you were young – don’t let go if you’re loving it. And I think the influence has really come through on this record.

“It’s the nearest thing to being born again. I dodged a massive bullet, and I do feel the joys of spring and everything’s changed shade, if you know what I mean,” he adds, referring to the impact of his new treatment. “I think that’s definitely an up-spirited record. In a strange way I made it my first record. I can right several wrongs, not everything. Be abetter man.”

Andy Taylor is best known as Duran Duran’s guitarist but he's a rocker at heart (2)

Andy Taylor’s appearance in the pages of Classic Rock might raise an eyebrow from those who only know him as the guitarist with Duran Duran. While they were viewed very much as a pop band in the UK, in the US, where their record label initially had no idea what New Romantic, the movement the band were initially aligned with in the UK, was, they got producer David Kershenbaum to remix several tracks from the band’s second breakthrough album, Rio, including Hungry Like The Wolf, with the intention of making them “sound like Van Halen on an American pick-up truck radio”.

While that might raise more than a chuckle from most people reading this, Duran’s flirtation with a slightly heavier sound did actually see the band featured in Kerrang! around the time of their leather-clad The Wild Boys phase.

“We were the biggest pop band with a guitar,” Taylor states. “So it still showed the appetite for a band with a guitarist.”

Regardless of how you feel about Duran, there’s no denying that within a short space of time – two years on from their self-titled debut album – they were one of the biggest bands on the planet.

“It was mental,” Taylor says, laughing. “There’s no handbook. We lived in a very different world there. There would be lines of co*ke everywhere and no one would give a sh*t. And you just had to deal with it. You’re in this other country and all the hotels get better. Tons of security everywhere. What else could a young man do but party and drink and enjoy it? Everyone would say to me: ‘How mad was it?’ I made ten albums in ten years. At that point of your life, in your twenties, you can work and f*cking play as hard as you want.”

Even being plastered across the front pages of the tabloids with stories about said drugs didn’t derail Duran’s seemingly unstoppable rise.

“Yes, an ex-security guy thought he’d make himself a few grand,” Taylor recalls, chuckling at the memory. “There’s some things in your life you just remember. That day I got the eight-thirty a.m. knock: Ugh. What now? Who’s jumped off the roof? Is someone in jail? ‘They said you better look at this, boss’ – ‘Cocaine crazy Duran Duran’. Okay, well I already knew that! And actually, to be fair, it wasn’t all the band. Nick [Rhodes] didn’t really, and Roger [Taylor]. Not so much Simon [Le Bon]. So that just gets down to me and John. But it had been around us. It was everywhere.

“Anyway, I had to phone my dad, him being a Sun reader. I know he’s walked down to the newsagents and he’s picked it up and looked at it and everyone in the newsagents is looking at him. But he was just like: ‘Do you think I’m stupid? I remember finding the hash in your pocket when you were fourteen!’”

The rock’n’roll high life aside, Duran’s meteoric rise also led to the next step in Andy Taylor’s musical evolution – one that would enhance his rock credentials. The Power Station was a supergroup that comprised both Andy and John Taylor from Duran Duran, former Vinegar Joe singer and solo artist Robert Palmer, and drummer Tony Thompson and guitarist Bernard Edwards from disco kings Chic.

“We were at a David Bowie concert at the Sydney Cricket Ground,” Taylor recalls. “I knew quite a few of the band, and I ended up at the afterparty in some hotel suite. I went into the loo and I bumped into Tony and we just started talking – not doing anything naughty, although I was a bit drunk. ‘I f*cking love your playing,’ all that. And at some point John got involved in the conversation. I got up the next morning and I’m like: ‘Did we really form a band?’”

The initial idea of The Power Station was to get a group of mates to record a backing track for model and singer Bebe Buell (then partner to John Taylor, she was also one-time beau to Steven Tyler and Todd Rundgren, and is the mother of actress Liv Tyler) for T.Rex’s Get It On. That inspired the two Taylors, eager to branch out from Duran’s pop sound and inject a bit of Zeppelin-esque authenticity into their careers, to think about a band with a revolving set of singers – Mick Jagger, Billy Idol and The Psychedelic Furs’ Richard Butler were all considered. But when Robert Palmer, who had been asked to contribute vocals to the track Communication, heard the band had covered Get It On, he asked if he could have a go at singing that too. When the Taylors and Thompson heard what he did, they decided to move forward with just him.

“We only spent twenty-seven days total working on it,” Taylor says. “And he nailed it and we loved it. We were working nights. Studios would work on a twenty-four-hour roll, so ten a.m. or ten p.m, so obviously we would start late. And that night time sort of thing, because then people come and hang out at two a.m. the Power Station [studio in New York City] became a bit of a club, a hangout. The other thing was, all the session guys then – I say ‘session guys’, guys like [saxophonist] Lenny Pickett, and Curtis King who sings with Bruce Springsteen – they worked on pagers. You’d page them and ask them to come do a session, and they’d turn up in an hour. Late at night. They were always ready.”

The Power Station was released in March 1985 and was a worldwide success, marrying sophisticated funk with hard-rock bombast. Despite its commercial success, however, the media, especially in the UK, found it difficult to equate the musicians with the music – the ‘too heavy for pop fans, too pop for rock fans’ way of thinking. Yet we’re talking about Tony Thompson, the drummer the surviving members of Led Zeppelin chose to play with them at the Philadelphia leg of Live Aid that year – following which rehearsals were actually undertaken for a proposed Zeppelin reunion, but that was scuppered when Thompson was injured in a car accident.

The Zeppelin angle doesn’t end there. This writer interviewed both Thompson and Edwards in the early 90s when they were members of hard rockers Distance alongside UK rock singer Robert Hart (that band almost a variant of The Power Station), and asked them where this evident fondness for rocking out came from, given that most people knew them for their 70s disco vibes.

“We grew up with Zeppelin,” Edwards told me. “In fact, Chic, or what became Chic, started out playing Zeppelin covers. But in the early seventies no one was interested in a bunch of black dudes playing hard rock.”

“I knew that about Tony,” Taylor says. “He grew up playing along to Zeppelin records on cardboard boxes in the projects. How great is that?”

Within a year of the release of The Power Station, Andy Taylor had left Duran Duran. If you saw Duran’s appearance at 1985’s Live Aid, you’d have seen in him a musician totally at odds with the rest of the band; flowing long, shaggy rock-star locks was not the Duran style, but did point the direction that Taylor was headed. He hooked up again with Robert Palmer, whose career had been rejuvenated by The Power Station, working on the singer’s Riptide album, playing guitar on his massive hit Addicted To Love.“

Like any Northern man, he had a great set of pipes and a great set of liver,” Taylor says of Palmer, chuckling. “He did enjoy a drink, Robert. To be fair, I don’t think he’d ever disagree with that. But he was measured when he worked. Again, it’s like, yeah I’ll do what I got to do and then I’ll go and do the rest. He never got it the wrong way round. That was the thing that some of our American friends couldn’t get over: when Robert and I went out one morning and it’s two a.m. and we’re ten drinks in and they’d be all over the place. I’d say honestly, it’s DNA. We’ve been practising this a long time and it goes back a long way. He had that capacity.”

Taylor also co-produced Rod Stewart’s 1988 album Out Of Order, and co-wrote the hit single Lost In You with Stewart. It was Stewart’s biggest-selling album of the 80s.

“Ah, Sir Roderick Of Stewartland,” he says, laughing. “He was difficult to avoid in those days. A man-child in some ways. But ultimately someone like Rod has got seriously amazing musical instincts. When he writes, he writes amazing, he doesn’t write all the time. He booked this rehearsal studio in the Valley that was right next to a strip bar – how typical Rod! I’m like: ‘Why can’t we work at your gaff, it’s bloody big enough!’ But he drags us off to this rehearsal studio, we have a jam, and – bang – write three songs that ended up on the album. And then he dragged us off to the bar!”

Asked how Stewart compared with Palmer, Taylor thinks for a while. “Robert was much more creative and inquiring; Rod is the life of the party. Robert would be in the back with a martini, holding court; Rod would be dancing.”

In the middle of all that, Taylor released his first solo album, 1987’s Thunder. It was preceded by a US hit single, the raunchy Take It Easy, which had been on the soundtrack for the 1986 film American Anthem. (Some of Taylor’s music also appeared in the hit 80s TV show Miami Vice.) As hair-metal began to gain traction, this was timely melodic hard rock, boosted by guitars from former Sex Pistols-turned-fellow long-haired LA rocker Steve Jones. Taylor toured the US and Japan as a solo artist, but his homeland remained resistant to his hard-rock charms.

“That was where the UK was different to anywhere else in the world, really,” he says. “In America you were seen more as a rock star than a pop star, especially being in The Power Station and being a guitarist. I think that’s why being able to work in America in the way we did gave you a chance to kind of define your own identity a little more, gave you a lot more freedom.”

The UK finally took real notice of Taylor’s rock credentials in the 90s, however, when he produced Thunder’s critically acclaimed 1990 debut album Backstreet Symphony, and also 1991 follow-up Laughing On Judgement Day. He also produced The Almighty’s 1991 album Soul Destruction. Later he worked with surf rockers Reef. His own 1990 solo album, Dangerous, consisted entirely of cover versions, though, and stalled his musical momentum.

“Thunder I discovered playing in the Marquee,” he remembers. “I’m looking at Luke [Morley] and Danny [Bowes], and I’m thinking that f*cking guy can’t half sing. And Luke’s a f*cking great player. Really, really good guitar player. It’s not often you meet two like that and one of them writes. It’s classic blues rock. There was so little of that about. Luke’s a guitarist-writer, and that’s rare. And they’re both sane-ish. Like to drink. And Harry [James], he was the right drummer. All I did was make sense of it. And then them and The Quireboys and The Almighty, along with Guns N’ Roses and Aerosmith, they caught that wave within months and they were top billing.”

Does Taylor think Thunder should have been bigger than they were?

“I know why they’re not, and I’ll leave it at that,” he replies, refusing to be drawn any further.

The Power Station re-formed in 1996 to record a new album, the even heavier Living In Fear, but the reunion was beset with problems. John Taylor had to go into rehab, so producer Bernard Edwards played bass on the record. Edwards was preparing for the upcoming tour when he tragically died of pneumonia in Japan. Andy Taylor, Palmer and Thompson went ahead as a trio, augmented by Guy Pratt on bass and Luke Morley on second guitar, and played their only UK show, at London’s Hanover Grand in September 1996.

“I was standing on stage and could see Jimmy Page in the crowd,” Taylor recalls. “And then we went and had a good after-party at a certain hotel in Marylebone that shall remain nameless. I think so much had changed by then. Robert had lost his shine a little bit. But the record company was like, here’s a stupid amount of money to do it. And whatever age you’re at, you’re like, yeah, let’s do it.”

Robert Palmer and Tony Thompson both died in 2003. Andy Taylor rejoined Duran Duran in 2001 and was with them for five years. Until he did a live show at London’s 100 Club in 2019, he’d largely withdrawn from the spotlight, but more recently he reconnected with Duran, playing on their latest album Danse Macabre.

“I suppose it’s having your cake and eating it, isn’t it?” he replies, when asked if he thinks his solo career was overshadowed by all his other musical endeavours. “And I think I was more drawn towards doing production. Solo work is quite lonely, in one sense, particularly when you come from a band.”

Any other regrets?

“None.”

He smiles the same cheery smile he greeted me with, preparing to head off to those rehearsals for possible live shows.

“I never had the weird, pervy, f*cked-up experiences that a lot of people talk about,” he says. “The worst sh*t was Vince Neil trying to fight me, and my bodyguards having to sort him out. He turned up with some f*cking biker dudes, so they beat the sh*t out of them as well, ha ha ha!”

Andy Taylor is best known as Duran Duran’s guitarist but he's a rocker at heart (3)

Jerry Ewing

Writer and broadcaster Jerry Ewing is the Editor of Prog Magazine whichhe founded for Future Publishing in 2009. He grew up in Sydney and began his writing career in London for Metal Forces magazine in 1989. He has since written for Metal Hammer, Maxim, Vox, Stuff and Bizarre magazines, among others. He created and edited Classic Rock Magazine for Dennis Publishing in 1998 and is the author of a variety of books on both music and sport, including WonderousStories; A Journey Through The Landscape Of Progressive Rock.

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