Taylor Bays: A laser ray blasts off
Details remain fuzzy, but as outpourings and memories engulf Triad music circles, one thing is clear: Taylor Bays left this world on May 29, 2019, at age 34.
A musician cut from his own cloth, the Greensboro artist spent the last 15 years or so weaving himself throughout the Triad creative community. A wiry, shaggy fellow filled with passion, oddity, and humor sordid enough to lend credence to ideas of his passing as a hoax–few would be surprised if it were a stunt–he could easily be considered Gate City’s own Andy Kaufman. Like Kaufman, Bays’ “song and dance” pursuits ran wild. An adventurer, actor, puppeteer, photographer, promoter, videographer–a man of multifaceted talents–who wielded his camera almost as often as his guitar or microphone.
Bays looked to blast through complacency using any avenue available. Music, however, defined his character–even if his interests varied across the entire sonic spectrum. His last band, Taylor Bays and the Laser Rays ran the edge of rough-psych rock ‘n’ roll led by Bays in a caped, cage-match persona, while the harder-rocking Secret Position existed to riff and offend. Bays’ hip-hop project came complete with a robot MC in Antigravity Animated a few years prior, while music partnerships with folks like Josh Turner and James Marshall Owen flourished countless projects–including a ripping Beatles revue and spot-on Tom Petty cover band.
Taylor Bays took artistry to a different level–a fan of theatrics rooted from lifelong loves of pro-wrestling, GWAR, and Chuck Berry. He likewise counted Wesley Willis and Green Jelly among his favorites–the latter he would end up bringing to Greensboro, twice.
But Bays’ act wasn’t only showmanship–he could shred, too. Primarily a guitarist as far as performance goes, his talents were scattered amongst a seemingly “endless summer” of instruments and creative endeavors.
“Taylor always seemed like the beatnik character from a 1960s T.V. show, in a lovable more industrious kind of way,” said Dave McLean from the Raving Knaves, who ultimately recruited Bays to record a “vital” guitar solo for the Knaves’ track, “This Rock and Roll is Killing Me.”
“I needed something more ‘shreddy’ than I could pull off in Danny’s song,” McLean explained. Bays ended up joining the Knaves on stage, cape and all, during their final show at Urban Grinders in 2015.
As an event organizer, Bays brought acts to Greensboro no one expected.
“I went purely at Taylor’s instigation,” recalled Ben Singer of the first time Bays booked Green Jelly. “It was amazing, true fun,” Singer added, describing the show as “very Taylor” in that it ran “on that dangerous edge of weird.”
Macabre enthusiasm was indeed part of Bays’ charm. Simultaneously spastic and deadly serious, his endeavors were often presented though wide-eyes and wild gestures.
“I loved that he was always himself,” said fellow Grimsley-alumnus, Jonathan Kamoda, guitarist from Schroder, a popular early-’00s Greensboro group who often played with Bays’ band at the time, Sounds Good Station.
Schroder’s drummer, Will Hilliard, who would later join Bays on drums in the Laser Rays, agreed.
“I’m lucky to have shared the stage with Taylor, and more importantly, to have been his friend since we were teenagers,” Hilliard said. “As a musician, he was a wild man with insane levels of creativity and thoughtfulness. As a human, there was no one who cared more about the people around him. He impacted so many of us. We’ll miss him a lot.”
Bays embodied a special sort of fabric from which “Jeansboro” music is woven. From Sounds Good Station to Subterranean Bums; Antigravity Animated, to the Dotmatrix Project and Monkeywhale productions; or the dozens of other projects and bands he sat in with, Bays wasn’t afraid to go all-in, or get way out there.
“He opened himself to any idea, no matter how weird,” said Matt Ledbetter, former bassist in the Laser Rays. “He put so much love and thought into everything he did,” Ledbetter added, “like the show where he sang for Fake Mustache at CFBG. He never came to practice, wrote a whole set of lyrics in a weekend, and killed it–it remains one of my favorites to this day, nearly 10 years later.”
It’s in that era I choose to remember Taylor Bays best: living amongst a cohort of Greensboro creativity, in that kooky little apartment on Summit Avenue with Megan. Jess “Lil P” Pennell and Jerrod Smith from the Blockheads in the unit above. Matty Sheets and the Monkeywhale crew down the street. The comfort of the Flatiron, and its open mic, only a few blocks away. It was a good time in town, it was a good time in Taylor. Friends were close and plentiful.
“Taylor opened my heart to ‘Maggot Brain’ by Funkadelic and it changed my whole perspective,” said former Burlap Sax bandmate Kasey Horton. “I’m glad we got to embrace and hear it together when George Clinton played Greensboro last summer, nearly 15 years after Taylor first played me that song.”
As the 2010s rolled on, Bays himself rolled from downtown to Glenwood with the Dogwood beer-parties, Glenwood Coffee and Books shows, and ultimately his own house and creative space next door. Well, not technically “his” space–Bays and the other residents spent the better part of a year essentially squatting–he wasn’t interested in the trappings of capitalism.
“He was one of the most creative and thoughtful people I’ve ever known. I’m proud to have shared a stage and home with him,” said Justin Kopp, Glenwood roommate and drummer in Bays’ Tom Petty cover band.
Not one to shy from intensities, Bays would flip the bird with whimsy and could string together obscenities that’d make a sailor blush. He wasn’t afraid to cause a scene in the face of mistreatment. Or lend an idea to support his friends and bands.
“Back in the early days of DOG [Dildo Of God] we worried about problems we might face with having such an extreme band name,” explained bandmate Matthew Goshow, “Taylor came up with our G-rated version: “Doers Of Good,” because I didn’t want to tell my born-again dad our name.”
Bays fought with an eerie fire, both fragile and aggressive, at the same time.
“Fuck you Taylor Bays,” said Laila Nur (from the Muslims,) in a brashly appropriate Facebook tribute, “….for being such a difficult, smart ass,” Nur clarified, “a controversial hot mess of a person, dude. For living and thriving in such beautiful contradiction.”
Despite Bays’ best intentions to wring creative juice from his twisted insides, good health eluded him–and fueled a vicious temper. Though known for his supportive nature, Bays could be equally combative, resulting in justified grudges held by several folks. But now is no time to dwell on demons.
“It’s not easy being healthy but I’m getting close,” Bays would sing sardonically on his 2014 release, You.
“He didn’t take no shit,” said Mike Nardone from Dumpster. ”Not mine, not yours, or his own,” Nardone continued. “Music was his life. And he was the only person to ever feed me fruit while I played–once he split a raw green pepper with me at a separate show.”
Bays often seemed obsessed with direct-action and essential nutrients, only to be robbed of both by degenerative conditions.
“We went through tons of similar surgeries,” Pennell said. “We both suffered publicly but, even publically, it can feel isolating,” she added, “we’d talk about the hardships. He was a rock for me during those times.”
Bays held “a lot of love, some derision, and some love-voiced-as-derision,” explained musician Mike O’Malley, “he was an emblem of Greensboro: always at the beginning of a new, sometimes doomed, project–abidingly interested in the family that was the music of the town–reaching to one edge of it and then the next, available to play whichever instrument in whichever new band. Messy, hubristic, continuously self-reinventing.”
It’s impossible to picture Greensboro music without Taylor Bays or imagine its future. Regardless, the future–though unwritten–is now.
“The world is changing,” Atiba Berkley said in a Facebook tribute. “Taylor did things his way, and I learned a lot from that. He was a true artist with a heart for a city. His deteriorating health profoundly stole his joy, which was music. We communed on the holy ground that is the Greensboro indie music scene, and he stood proud and tall in it.”
“May your Laser Rays continue to shoot to other galaxies dude,” Berkley continued.
Praise the lasting power of records. Bays will appear on Matty Sheets’ release from Lazy Dog Records, coming in August. “I pulled him in to do stuff on my latest recording at Lazy Dog. He played synth and sang backup on a couple songs,” Sheets said, “I’m still waiting for him to pop out of a closet and say ‘gotcha!'”
Though his time on earth is over, Taylor Bays lives on through music and memories–in the infinite creative–blasting out through space, forever.
Pardon the Cobain-cliche, (Taylor and I met wearing the same Nirvana shirt in ninth grade,) but while I don’t know if it’s better to burn out than to fade away, I do know the Triad burns less bright without Taylor Bays.
Details on arrangements are pending.