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Blues

Gene Taylor and Mike Finnigan

Black and white photo of five men, two holding guitars. One man wears a black hat with a brim.
gene-taylor.com
Gene Taylor, wearing hat, in a promotional photo for the Fabulous Thunderbirds.

As we pay tribute to musicians we’ve lost this past year, we want to salute some perhaps lesser-known players who made important contributions to music we love. Nick Morrison tells us about two of them: organist and singer Mike Finnigan and boogie-woogie pianist Gene Taylor.

Gene Taylor played rockin’ boogie-woogie piano from his teenage years in Los Angeles until he died in February at age 68.

He died in his bed at home in Austin, Texas, trying to keep himself warm during that fatal failure of the Texas power grid, that needlessly took a lot of good people. And when it took Gene, it also took a master of boogie-woogie piano playing.

Taylor first popped up in my life sometime around 1980 as the pianist with The Blasters, formed by Dave and Phil Alvin. You remember them: They were at the forefront of a musical genre that came to be known as Americana — a blend of rock, country, blues, R&B and rockabilly. And Gene Taylor right in the thick of it, pushing the band as only a boogie piano can.

Taylor also played with The Fabulous Thunderbirds. I only saw him perform live twice — both times with The T-Birds, led by vocalist and blues harp maestro Kim Wilson.

Gene Taylor spent a lifetime perfecting and playing boogie-woogie piano, a style of music that’s basically an expression of near-unbridled joy. He was one of the best and — though I kind of hate to think this way — maybe one of the last.

Mike Finnigan passed away in August at age 76. From the time he set foot in LA in 1970 until his passing, he basically played and sang with everybody.

If you heard Taj Mahal backed up by The Phantom Blues Band, that was Mike Finnigan. If you’re a Bonnie Raitt fan, you’ve probably heard him on some of her recordings and maybe even seen him perform with her. When Finnigan died, Raitt wrote, “Mike was one of the most powerful, virtuosic soul/jazz/blues singers and Hammond B3 players you’ll ever be blessed to hear.”

Once again, Raitt is right. Mike Finnigan could play AND sing with the best of ‘em. In fact, he also spent a substantial amount of time touring and recording with R&B queen Etta James as keyboardist and vocalist.

And if you didn’t hear Mike with Etta or Bonnie or Taj, maybe you heard him with Jimi Hendrix on "Electric Ladyland," or with Crosby, Stills Nash and Young or Janis Joplin or Buddy Guy or Tracy Chapman.

Or, or, or … My point is, he got around. He made a lot of great musicians up their game when he was in the studio or on the stage with them, which, in turn, made a lot of music lovers very happy.

And, man did he ever have fun doing it.