Since 2005, we here at Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict have been on a unique mission. That mission is to collect the story of the Hardy Boys. No, not the classic book series by Franklin W. Dixon. Not even the TV series starring Shaun Cassidy and Parker Stevenson. No, I’m talking about the obscure bubblegum pop band that was created in the late 1960′s to be a part of Filmation’s Hardy Boys cartoon series. When I first discovered the Hardy Boys in 2005 there was practically no information on this band at all. This is what prompted me to write my article “The Mystery of the Hardy Boys +3: Oh Boy, Here Comes the Hardys! Oh Boy, We’re Having a Party.“ Then, only weeks later as a result of my personal research, I had the pleasure of interviewing the Hardy Boys saxophone player Nobert “Chubby Morton” Solystiak who let us in on the behind-the-scenes secrets of the band. However, even Norb didn’t know the whereabouts of his old band mates. So I put the plea out to you readers. We wanted you to send us any information you had on the Hardy Boys and, folks, you came through for us in spades. From candid, never before seen photos of the Hardy Boys in concert, to CD recordings of their music, to video clips, and even scans of 8 tracks, the information and material just kept rolling in until Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict became the premier source for Hardy Boys information. Our readers proved that while the Hardy Boys may be an obscure musical oddity, interest in the band still existed and the Hardy Boys still have a fan base out there.
So imagine my surprise and delight when I received an e-mail from Mr. Ken Anderson of Wisconsin, who told me where I could find Hardy Boys front man and lead singer Jeff Taylor. Out of all the Hardys, Jeff was the one I had the least amount of information on because he has such a common name. I mean, Reed Kailing had the most musical success after the Hardy Boys, Devon English was involved with Playboy, Bob Crowder was a session musician, and Norbert Solystiak… well… his name was Norbert Solystiak. Not too many Norbert Solystiaks out there. However, Jeff Taylor, for the most part, was not only a mystery but a bit of an enigma. A quick internet search using the information Ken gave me and I quickly located Jeff at his jewelry shop and art gallery in Wisconsin. A quick phone call later and I was speaking to the mysterious Hardy Boy front man himself.
I introduced myself, told Jeff why I was calling and asked him if he would be willing to talk with us. Jeff laughed and replied, “If you have that much time to waste.” Yet immediately Jeff began to tell me new information about the band that even Norb Solystiak didn’t know. The pieces of the puzzle were fitting together even more, and I didn’t even have a recorder to tape it. We quickly set a time for the following week and I waited in anticipation for the next piece of Hardy Boys history to be revealed.
Jeff Taylor proved to be a friendly and open individual. Through a lot of nostalgia and laughter, he shared with me some of his memories of being a member of the Hardy Boys as well as part of the Messengers, the first white band to be signed by Motown. Come with us as we not only further piece together the puzzle that is the Hardy Boys, and discover more information about Reed Kailing, Bob Crowder, Devon English and Norbert Solystiak, but listen to Jeff’s stories of traveling with the icons of Motown and being a part of the Chicago music scene of the 1960′s as
CONFESSIONS OF A POP CULTURE ADDICT PROUDLY PRESENTS
CRACKING THE MYSTERY OF THE HARDY BOYS:
A CONVERSATION WITH JEFF TAYLOR
I reached Jeff at his office in Fish Creek, Wisconsin in May 2007.
Jeff Taylor: Hello. Jeff Taylor.
Sam Tweedle: Mr. Taylor? This is Sam Tweedle calling from Confessions of a Pop Culture Addict.
Jeff: (Laughs) Hi.
Sam: I want to thank you so much for talking to us today. Do you have much time to talk?
Jeff: Sure. I got some time right now.
Sam: Okay. That’s great! I really am excited to talk to you about your time with the Hardy Boys. We’ve had a lot of readers interested in this band. Now, did you get a chance to look at our site’s coverage of the band yet?
Jeff: Yes we did.
Sam: That’s great. Now it was just this weekend I was able to get the vintage photos of the Hardy Boys in concert on the site. Have you had a chance to see those yet?
Jeff: No. My computer is being worked on right now, but one of our staff went and pasted one of those pictures on the computer and is using it as a screen saver. I’m going to have to take that off. They thought that was pretty hilarious.
Sam: Is it one of you in the red pants or the white shirt?
Jeff: (Laughs) I forget what one it was.
Sam: Well, on our side it was a thrill to get those photos after they had been sitting in some guy’s photo album for forty years.
Jeff. Oh gosh. Has it been that long?
Sam: Pretty close. Not quite.
Jeff: Oh man.
Sam: Now, when I was talking to you the other day you seemed a bit hesitant and embarrassed about the Hardy Boys.
Jeff: Well, it’s just that something that I don’t think about too much anymore and a lot of people know about it so they kind of put me on the spot.
Sam: So it’s one of these things that just keeps coming up and taunting you?
Jeff: Yeah. Even my daughter, she’s thirty, is always telling everybody that her father used to be a famous cartoon.
Sam: So you were originally from Wisconsin, but the Hardy Boys came out of the Chicago music scene. What originally brought you from Wisconsin to Chicago?
Jeff: I was in between music jobs, and Reed Kailing and I used to have a high school band and we were kind of a popular band in the area. We were always having “battle of the bands” and we knew each other pretty well.
Sam: So you and Reed knew each other before the Hardy Boys.
Jeff: Yeah. We were in a group called the Messengers, which was the first white rock group that was signed to Motown on the Rare Earth label. So after I did that I went into art therapy for a few years as a teacher, and Reed called me up one day and said, “Hey, my agent in Chicago is putting this group together. You thinking about playing again?” And I said, “sure, hey, why not.” So we just happened to be the group that got picked. We looked most like the cartoon or something. It was interesting, and of course only Reed and I knew each other. We all got to be really good friends though. The whole group got to be really good friends.
Sam: You really meshed well with the rest of the gang?
Jeff: Yeah. We had a good time. When we were on the road we always had fun.
Sam: What can you tell us about some of the other band members? Your memories of them, or whatever happened to them? Because when I first started researching the Hardy Boys in 2005 I pretty much read that there was no information on you guys and nobody knew what happened to you. That’s where we were at in 2005. Now what can you tell us about Reed, Devon, Norb, and Bob?
Jeff: Well, like I said, Reed and I knew each other for quite a while. We had played in the same local area outside of Milwaukee. Obviously I didn’t know Devon or Norb… we called Norbert “Nibs.” That was his nickname. And Bob Crowder I had never met. He was a session drummer for the most part. He also did a lot of work for entertainers that came from out of town and needed a percussionist, so he worked in Chicago for a long time. I didn’t know anything about Nibs except that he played the saxophone. Other than that, you know. And Devon I didn’t know at all, but I knew that she had been classily trained as a pianist and a jazz singer. She was mentored by Vic Damone.
Jeff: Yeah, ‘cause she was a Playboy Bunny at the time and she lived at the mansion, and Vic Damone visited the mansion a lot. She really had a fantastic voice! We never really used her voice like it should have been used because we didn’t do any jazz. But she was kind of a torch singer, and the fact that she played classical piano was even better, but she was under-utilized.
Sam: She kind of got the token girl/sex symbol thing stuck on her…
Jeff: Yeah, and that was kind of the way that Filmation wanted it. They were pretty tough on us as far as our role play.
Sam: Really? How was that?
Jeff: Well, Reed and I had been playing for a while, Devon was schooled differently, and Bob was a great percussionist, but they really didn’t want us to break out too much. They wanted us to keep in the fun little bubblegum mold. But we did a lot of things on the side during that time. We did a lot of commercials and voice-overs, and a lot of work with the American Breed, and put out tons of little bubblegum records so we were really busy all the time.
Sam: So how many years did the Hardy Boys last?
Jeff: You know, that’s a good question. I’m going to say three. I’m going to say there was mainly two full years, and then we had a break, and then we went back on a summer tour for four or five months.
Sam: And for the most part, what did touring consist of?
Jeff: We did the State Fair circuit. We did lots of special events like Ms. Teenage America. We did some of the big clubs. We did do the opening party for the soap opera Dark Shadows. That was wild. We lost one of our back up musicians that night.
Sam: Really. How?
Jeff: I don’t know. He just disappeared. I don’t know if the Plaster Casters got him or the groupies. We were going to California after that and we didn’t see him for a week!
Sam: Now Norb mentioned the Dark Shadows party but he couldn’t remember much of it. Was the series on at the time or…
Jeff: It was the premiere party for the series, and I can’t remember what club it was. It was a famous club, and I wish I could remember which one it was, because it was the spot to be.
Sam: Well, I just find it such an odd combination. The Hardy Boys and Dark Shadows. It just doesn’t make any sense to me!
Jeff: There were a lot of things that didn’t make sense back then. (Laughs)
Sam: Now, you mentioned groupies. Were there a lot of groupies?
Jeff: Oh god. Yeah. Crazy. There was a lot.
Sam: Do you have a lot of wild stories on the road of girls trying to break into your hotel room?
Jeff: Ummmm… I’d really rather not say.
Sam: That’s totally fair.
Jeff: Although I will make you a copy of an album that was put out by the New York and LA groupies and it tells crazy stuff. It’s right up your alley.
Sam: I’d really like that a lot.
Jeff: It’s a funny thing and I will try to get that burned for you. It’s a real trip, and lord knows after forty years I still manage to have it, but I got a pretty big vinyl collection I’ve managed to keep together.
Sam: Now Norb was telling me, you guys met a lot of people on the road who became very iconic. Now for you, who was the person who blew your mind the most? Who was the most exciting individual you ever met?
Jeff: Probably Stevie Wonder. But that wasn’t when I was with the Hardy Boys, but probably Stevie Wonder. When I was with the Messengers we did back up for the Supremes on several tours. The Supremes, Martha and the Vandellas, the Temptations, and the Four Tops. That was probably the most exciting.
Sam: All those Motown groups.
Jeff: Yeah. That was really fun. Stevie Wonder used to do some of our sessions and stuff. That was pretty neat.
Sam: What years would have that been?
Jeff: I was just out of high school so I would have to say it was about ’66 or ’67. That was when the Motown recording studio was still in a three-story house so that was really fun.
Sam: Now I’m going to ask you a question and if you don’t want to go down that road that’s fine but Norb mentioned… uh… that you and Devon English had a bit of a… “thing.”
Jeff: (Laughs) My wife knows about that. Yeah. We did.
Sam: Okay. Well he said he thought the two of you got married or something.
Jeff: We lived together for quite awhile and we moved to Colorado and built a house. We were together about four or five years after the Hardy Boys. So we were sort of together during the band, but we had a moral clause so nobody knew that. Eventually she moved out to California and I moved back to the Midwest.
Sam: When was the last time that you heard from your former Hardy Boys band mates?
Jeff: I haven’t heard from Nibs or Bob. I lost track of Devon when she moved to California. Reed, well, our daughters both ride in he same venue in Milwaukee for horseback riding, and I saw him at one of the award banquets about four or five years ago, but I haven’t seen him since.
Sam: Now how did the whole Hardy Boys thing come to an end?
Jeff: I think it was a combination of management problems and the fact that the show wasn’t that big as a success, as far as I recall.
Sam: It only lasted a season and while I haven’t seen the show, according to everything I’ve read it was pretty awful.
Jeff: I found an old poster the other day and whole bunch of scripts from the show and it seems like, well, it was so long ago that it’s hard to relate to it anymore. But I think it ran a short little course, and we had other things to do musically, so when the group split up we didn’t have the same musical tastes.
Sam: Well, it seems that the music is remembered and appreciated much more then the show itself. The cartoon is obscure and obsolete and you’re never going to see it on DVD, but I know for a fact that a Milwaukee club DJ who frequents our site plays Sink or Swim in clubs.
Jeff: Oh no…
Sam: But you know, sure, it may be bubblegum music, but for the most part it’s really well done. I mean, it’s written better than the average Bobby Sherman track.
Jeff: Well… thank you. We did have… well… in Chicago at that point the music business was really booming and there were a lot of great people there that did sessions. Y’know, we went a little overboard on the strings sometimes but the RCA recording studio was state of the art at the time. Now I don’t even know if it exists [now] but that was really the place to record. But I mean, we played with a lot of musicians and did a lot of things. Commercials, and voice-overs, and that kind of thing, so everybody aside from doing their own band gig was always working together during the day to make ends meet, so a lot of players helped us out. I was never a good player. I was always just a lead singer, so I was sort of the weak link as a player.
Sam: Well, you know, Jim Morrison couldn’t play any instruments either.
Jeff: Well, I eventually got good, after the Hardy Boys.
Sam: So you were the lead singer primarily?
Jeff: Reed and I.
Sam: By the way, according to a girl I know, you were the “cute” one.
Jeff: (Laughs) Well, thank you! Reed was the Paul McCartney one. I mean, he played Paul McCartney in Beatlemania. He was great at it and he did look like him.
Sam: Well, we have a picture that was sent in by RC McWilliams were Reed is doing a Paul face.
Jeff: Oh yeah. Yeah. Well, we were roommates and it used to drive me crazy. But it was fun and, y’know, when you live with a Paul McCartney look-alike it can help when you’re out in a club as well. I mean, we lived in a building that was half flight attendants and half crazy people and we had a club right down below us.
Sam: Okay. Now that’s cool man. That, to me, is better then Sunset Strip man. You add a few go-go dancers in that mix and it’s my version of Shangri-La.
Jeff Well yeah, in the club there was go-go dancers.
Sam: Oh man!
Jeff: And it was a party constantly because new stewardesses were coming in every day. Every day someone was coming or going so for somebody in their twenties it was pretty wild. We were right in Chicago’s music district on Rush and Oak Street. That was a pretty good time to be there.
Sam: How about other merchandise? I remember when I was working in a collectables shop in university that we used to have a Hardy Boys comic book that hung behind the counter. Now, because I didn’t really care enough to take a good look, I thought that it was the old TV show and that you were actually Shaun Cassidy and Reed was Parker Stevenson. I mean, you sort of resembled Shaun Cassidy!
Jeff: Yeah, I did.
Sam: You’re a much better singer then Shaun Cassidy though.
Jeff: Thanks, yeah, but people did ask me that a lot.
Sam: But I am serious. I have Shaun Cassidy’s album, man. I bought it at a flea market for a dollar or something and it’s really bad stuff.
Sam: I mean in a Battle of the Bands the Hardy Boys kicks Shaun Cassidy’s ass. Alright. But I guess what I’m trying to ask you is what was it like for you to see your image on stuff that was marketed like that. Was that surreal?
Jeff: It was, but I never thought about it much. In a lot of ways the Hardy Boys was just another gig, and the way it was constructed was that it was an all-manufactured thing. We just didn’t have a whole lot of input in it. They dressed us. They told us what to play and how to act in front of the Dallas Woman’s Alliance Against Drugs. So in our off space we were listening to Jimi Hendrix. We weren’t listening much to bubblegum. So it was surreal because on tour we were one thing, but in our private lives we were another. I mean, we didn’t try to get too outrageous in our private lives. We were busy and we didn’t have a lot of time to create tabloid material. You know, seeing my image on Teen Beat Magazine was pretty scary.
Sam: Did you guys get much Teen Beat and 16 Magazine coverage?
Jeff: Yeah. Maybe it was Tiger Beat.
Sam: When was the last time you were interviewed about your days in the Hardy Boys?
Sam: So this is the first exclusive Hardy Boy interview with Jeff Taylor!
Jeff: Well… yeah.
Jeff: And it was kind of interesting because my daughter pulled up the other site… the little site that other guy does, and he just had a little bit about Reed, but had nothing about Nibs, and it just said Jeff Taylor was never heard from again. I mean, I’ve been playing constantly since then!
Sam: When I was researching the Hardy Boys in 2005 I must admit that I could find hardly anything on you either because Jeff Taylor is such a common name. I mean, it’s not like Norbert Solystiak or something.
Jeff: (Laughs) Yeah.
Sam: How I got in touch with you was a reader named Ken Anderson, who was in a band called Plum Loco with you, tipped me off to where I could reach you.
Jeff: Yeah. Ken. He called me the other day. Yeah, he and I played together for a long, long time.
Sam: So after the Hardy Boys wrapped up, where did you go musically?
Jeff: I think the first group that I actually got into, well, when I was living in Boulder, Colorado there was a big music scene there and there were musicians from everywhere, and so I really played all the time and it was crazy. But I started a power trio with two guys from California and we did some unbelievable stuff. It was pretty crazy. The big stacks of Marshall amps and crazy stereo stuff. They were pretty crazy back then, but they are pretty commonplace now. So I did that for a while, but then they wanted to move to California and I didn’t want to leave Colorado, so I found some other musicians and we played in kind of a country/rock and original stuff for quite a while. Then I moved back to the Midwest and we played there for quite a while, and then I started a country band with a couple of my friends and a guy from Arizona when country, at that point, was really hot. So we played, and did some recording, and toured with bigger bands like Willie Nelson, and did a lot of back up for people. The guy who was the lead singer in that group was really good. I think he’s still playing but he’s back in Arizona, and then that group dissolved and then Ken Anderson and I started up a band. A friend of ours was getting married and he didn’t have any music, so Ken played and I went to school with his brother, and we both got invited to the wedding so we just decided that we’d be a band. So it was just he and I and we got some other players who were friends of ours and we just ended up staying together. I don’t know how long we stayed together, but then I moved out of the area about six or seven years ago, and I’ve just been playing with friends in this area now but I don’t really do any paid jobs. I built a little studio in my house and I do a little messing around but I’m thinking pretty seriously about starting to play again.
Jeff: There’s a lot of musicians in this area. It’s a big tourist area, and a lot of people move here to get out of the city and have a little more excitement in their life, so we have some pretty good quality musicians up here.
Sam: Now Norb was telling me that you guys toured with Johnny Cash.
Sam: What was Johnny Cash like?
Jeff: He was amazing! The first night that I saw him walk off the bus I nearly fell on the floor. I mean he was the Man in Black but he was so nice and so nice to us. That’s one of the things I do remember. He was a real gentleman and made us feel real comfortable.
Sam: Did you guys get to spend much time with him?
Jeff: No. Not much. He was a pretty busy guy. I don’t recall spending much time with him but I just recall him being such a great person.
Sam: I mean, it always amazes me when I talk to guys like you is that you guys have walked amongst my icons.
Jeff: Yeah. It is pretty amazing. I mean I got to play with the Beach Boys, and the Young Rascals, and all the Motown people when I was with the Messengers. The Motown people, once again, was real interesting because it was all family. When people weren’t out on tour they were at the studio, and every time a group came off tour there would be a big party at this one restaurant… that I can’t remember the name of. But everybody would get back in the loop so it was a real family thing. And we traveled on the bus with the Motown mini-orchestra, which was quite interesting because we were just Midwestern, suburban white kids, and here we were with some quite well-seasoned orchestra players so just being with them, because when we toured the south with Diana Ross, we went places that they knew about that we probably should never had gone, so we got to get a taste of the south that we didn’t even know existed.
Sam: Really. Can you divulge into that?
Jeff: Well as far as the food and the culture. I mean, we were kind of alien. I mean, we walked off the bus with the mini-orchestra people and people didn’t know what we were up to. I mean, here were these little white kids and, I mean, I didn’t know you could eat ox tail soup, possum bully, and stuff. It was pretty weird. But they were really great guys. I mean, they didn’t know what to think of us when we first started touring with them, and finally they just took us under their wing and thought we were just kind of a little novelty and that we were just their little players.
Sam: So this was in the mid 1960′s. Were there still a lot of racial tensions going on in the south?
Jeff: Yeah. There was even with the Hardy Boys. Yeah, we had some run-ins a couple of times with them not wanting to serve Bob Crowder. Not wanting him to stay in the same area of the hotel. We had a few ugly experiences that way in the South, and in Texas.
Sam: So what did you guys do when that happened?
Jeff: Well we just got right on the phone to whoever was in charge of picking us up and sponsoring the event, and we just sort of threatened him and said you can’t treat us like this. I mean, one time some cocky DJ from Dallas expected Bob to hold the limousine door for him, so that wasn’t very much fun, but it was only a little bit in the South. It was never a constant thing.
Sam: Now it’s kind of alien to me to imagine the Hardy Boys having a giant mob of groupies swarming you guys or anything, although Norb did tell us a story where he got mobbed once. But do you have any totally outrageous or wild stories that happened on the road that you can share with us? I mean with the Hardy Boys or the Messengers?
Jeff: There are so many, and I’d get in so much trouble with my wife if I told. She’s pretty gracious about it. At the time I met her I had just come back from Colorado, and I was just playing with friends in their kitchens, but when I started playing seriously again it freaked her out because she didn’t know half that stuff had happened and I really was a rocker. I had an art gallery at the time, and she just thought that was a side of me, but she got used to it.
Sam: So you got out of the music scene and what do you do now?
Jeff: I’m a jewelry designer. I’ve designed jewelry for a long time. I mean, since you play music at night… well, I’ve always been an artist. My father was an artist, and I have a degree in sculpture and painting, and I took up jewelry because it was really easy to transport so I could pack up a trunk of jewelry-making tools and take them anywhere I went. I’ve been doing that since I was a kid. So I have a jewelry store and an art gallery, and we have been doing this for as long as I’ve been married.
Sam: You’ve had a lot of success with that then.
Jeff: Oh yes. We’ve done quite well. We’re thinking about retiring.
Sam: Oh really!
Jeff: Yeah. After thirty-two years of doing this. I’ll probably still be in the art field doing jewelry but I do other things. I do sculpture and painting and stuff, but it’s time for my wife to play with her horses a little bit more so it’s been a great life. It’s sure different then life on the road but it’s been a good life between life on the road.
Sam: Okay. Well one last question.
Sam: Well, we’ll make it a two part question. Well, do you ever get recognized as being Joe Hardy or get stopped by people on the street?
Sam: So it’s just so far forgotten?
Jeff: Those people are dead.
Sam: Well, I hardly doubt that or they wouldn’t be sending me stuff. Well, then, if you still have any fans out there is there anything you want to say to them?
Jeff: Well, I was just really appreciative that the fans supported us and it was a really fun gig. It really was, and it really had some interesting aspects to it. I’m glad I did it and I’d do it again, all things considered. It was a slice of life that people don’t get to see very often, and I was fortunate enough to get to see it. Life in Hollywood was wild. Touring across the country was great, and meeting all sorts of interesting people, and I think most people would say this who play music or entertain or all. It really is all about the fans. That’s what it really boils down to. Performing is something that is extremely rewarding, and that’s why I am seriously thinking about playing again, although I’m not sure if anyone really wants to see a sixty year old man or not.
Sam: Well, let me tell you something. Whatever you do with your music career you let us know and we’ll back you up and promote what you’re doing the best that we can. I’m serious. It’s all part of the pop culture journey, and one way you can look at it is that you may not be the Beatles, but you still have a part in this collective pop culture journey.
Jeff: Well, it was an interesting time period for music. It really was. I wouldn’t have wanted to be in any other time period in music that I can think of, except for maybe the beginnings with Bill Haley and the Comets or Elvis. But there was a lot going on in music and lot of new directions, and I think that a lot of the best music in the world came out of that twenty or twenty five year period, and I have a problem with a lot of the music styles now just like my Dad had a problem with the Beatles. So what comes around goes around.
My interview with Jeff Taylor suddenly stops here, as Jeff and I began to discuss strange albums that we own in our record collections and, eventually, the tape ran out. However, the tape ran out far too soon, because for about another hour Jeff told me even more wild stories of living in the Chicago music scene in the 1960′s, and stories of encounters with famous folks and groupies and the kind of stuff you can tell when the tape is no longer running. Pity for us that these stories don’t exist for posterity. However, thankfully for us I was able to capture the very first interview with Jeff Taylor. He may be always remembered as the lead singer of an obscure bubblegum band, or known as a master jeweler in a small Wisconsin town, but his stories only proves that extraordinary things happen in the lives of seemingly ordinary people, and we are all players in the pop culture journey. We wish Jeff Taylor the best of luck with retirement and we hope that we will be hearing more of Jeff musically in the future. And Jeff, if you do more music, let us know so we can let our readers know because, obviously, the Hardy Boys fans may be far and in-between, but they exist and now that we have finally found you, we can’t wait to hear more.