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Tommy Chong Remembers Former Bandmate and Motown Singer Bobby Taylor

Official Motown photo of the Vancouvers, circa 1968: Bobby Taylor (center), Tommy Chong (left) and Wes Henderson (right).

Before he became a famous comedian, Tommy Chong played guitar in bands in Western Cannada, where he grew up. He moved to Vancouver and eventually teamed up with singer Bobby Taylor to form the Vancouvers. Chong wrote the lyrics for their 1968 hit song, "Does Your Mama Know About Me," which rose to No. 29 on the pop charts.

Taylor passed away from cancer on July 22. He was 83 and living in Hong Kong. Chong reminisces about his old bandmate, as told to Steve Bloom:

I met Bobby at Big Al's in San Francisco. I was in the States with Little Daddy & the Bachelors. We heard Bobby sing threre. He was a great singer and really friendly. We stayed around and played at the club for a while. Those were tough gigs, five sets a night. Bobby would sit in on drums with us. We eventually went back to Vancouver, to my club, the Elegant Parlor. 

When our drunmer Floyd Sneed got an offer to join Three Dog Night, I called Bobby and he came up to Vancouver and took the gig. But he just played drums one night.

Everybody wanted to hear Bobby sing. He was the best singer I ever heard.

Diana Ross and the Supremes did a show at The Cave. She came over to the Parlor, which was an after-hours club. That's when she discovered Bobby Taylor. She called [Motown head and her boyfriend at the time] Berry Gordy. He flew in the next day and signed Bobby. Suddenly, we were on Motown.

However, Berry had a short attention span. We had the hit with "Does Your Mama Know About Me" and then Bobby became a solo artist. Berry would take a lead singer and make him a solo.

The problem with Bobby was he could sing, but wasn't a songwriter like Marvin Gaye, Stevie Wonder and Smokey Robinson.

You're only as good as your next hit record. After the Vancouvers broke up, Bobby replaced David Ruffin in the Temptations.

Years passed before we played together again. Cheech [Marin] and I had split up. I had a trio gig at Cine Grill in L.A. around 1986. Bobby showed up and took over the gig. We put the Vancouvers back together for a minute. We played a few gigs at Oil Can Harry's in Vancouver. A lot of musicians would sit in with us. But it wasn't my thing anymore, playing backup guitar in a band. It just didn't feel right for me.

Bobby got a gig with a Motown Revue in China. He ended up living there. The last time I sang with him was in 1993. He'd phone once in a while. My daughter Precious interviewed him a few months ago for a documentary she's working on about my life. That's the last time I spoke to him.

He sounded great, he never changed. He never missed a gig. But he was a journeyman, like so many great jazz musicians who die in obscurity.

You need talent, brains and good timing to make it. It has to be your time.

Bobby taught me how to sing. I was intimidated because I'm not a natural singer. He inspired me to write "Does Your Mama Know About Me" because of all the relationships he had with a lot of girlfriends.

He thought nothing of walking up to Berry Gordy or Muhammad Ali and talking to them like he was their equal. 

He also gave me confidence to be a comedian, because you can get out of everything with comedy. Thanks, Bobby."

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Tommy Chong

Tommy Chong

Along with Cheech Marin, he formed one of the greatest comedy teams of all time, Cheech & Chong.