Bio/History

Taylor Sappe - Instructor, Recording engineer, Producer, Studio musician

(Updated 2/11/17)

First encounter with a musical instrument

Back when he was 5 years old, while visiting his sister, Julie Ann, in Baltimore, Taylor learned to play London Bridge on Piano. His sister had taught him the melody by numbers. Once he figured out that the keys to the right go up in pitch and the keys to the left go down in pitch, he began to figure out other melodies of popular songs and learned to play by ear. Any melody he would hear, he could figure out on the piano keyboard.

One day, still at age 5, he was in the American Auto store in Hazleton with his aunt Julia. They saw a small Eminee organ there and he played a few melodies. People began to gather around to see this 5 year old child playing the keyboard and were amazed.  One lady commented, "How is it possible for a child so young to play so well?" His aunt bought the organ for him.

Childhood musical training

After he learned to play well, his grandfather, who was also his adopted father, bought him a Silvertone chord organ from Sears. This was a single keyboard with a chord pad on the left side that you pressed with your left hand while you played melodies with your right hand.  His uncle Joe Marinko, who was a musician, showed him how to use the chord pad. In addition to playing the organ, Joe also played the guitar and had a beautiful F-hole guitar hanging on the wall at his house that Taylor admired. Joe would occasionally play the guitar for the kids and they enjoyed listening to him because he played mainly silly songs that children enjoyed. Joe would also let Taylor play with his guitar and showed him a few simple chords on the guitar fretboard.

Taylor's Aunt Stella in Baltimore, owned a beautiful dual keyboard organ, and was about to buy a new one, so she gave her old one to Taylor.  His uncle Joe showed him how to make chords with the keys on the lower keyboard while playing melodies with the keys on the upper keyboard. This organ also had bass pedals, a volume pedal and several different instrumental sounds that you could switch to.  Taylor would play it for hours every day until his grandfather had enough noise for one day and told him to stop.

In elementary school Taylor took lessons on the trombone and the violin, but didn't really care much for either instrument. At age 12 Taylor's uncle Ralph bought him a Silvertone acoustic guitar from Sears for a confirmation present.  Taylor's uncle Joe showed him the basic functions of the guitar, like how to tune it,  and a few more chords and Taylor began to play it for hours every day until his fingers hurt too much to play.

First Band

An elementary school mate name Tommy Gennaro, who played the sax, called Taylor and asked him if he wanted to start a band. Taylor jumped at the opportunity and went to Tommy's house several days a week to practice. Tommy lived only a block away. Santo Tedesco, of the Kingsmen, was Tommy's uncle and would come to some of the jam sessions and give them tips.

From acoustic to electric

During a school dance in the gym at D.A. Harmon Jr. High, a band that was playing let two of Taylor's class mates get up and play. One was Richie Molinaro, who played guitar and sang, and the other was Tony DeCosmo, who played bass. Taylor thought that the sound of Richie's electric guitar was so cool that he had to get an electric guitar. An acoustic guitar wasn't loud enough to play in a full band and the electric guitar had such a different sound. Another class mate of Taylor's named Bill (Skip) Nehring, had a Kay electric guitar for sale for $15, which Taylor bought.

Another attempt at a band

Taylor then started another band with some local friends: Joe Penkala on drums, Kenny Gallagher on guitar, and Bob Gidosh on vocals and guitar. They jammed for awhile, then Kenny and Joe went their separate ways and started another band. Bob and Taylor worked together for awhile as a duo, performing songs by Simon & Garfunkel, Chad & Jeremy, Peter Paul & Mary, and many other folk artists of the time. Up to this point, Taylor had never played any real gigs. Their audience had consisted of friends and kids in the neighborhood that would stop and listen to them practice in Bob's Garage on First Street in Hazleton.

First working band

They eventually brought in Donny Hill (now deceased) on drums. By this time, Taylor was in High School. Taylor had some problems learning history and was failing the subject. In one of his history classes, Taylor met Bob O'Shaughnessy (now deceased), who was very good at history and helped Taylor with his studies. Bob wanted to learn to play guitar. Taylor offered to give him free lessons if Bob agreed to play in a band with Taylor. Bob agreed, and the "Olusions" were formed. Bob O'Shaughnessy later introduced Taylor to Jack Shelepets (now "Jack Shelly") after a movie at the Grand Theater. When Jack shook Taylor's hand he had a grip that nearly brought Taylor to his knees. Those huge mighty bone crushing hands were perfect for playing the bass guitar. Jack was a bass player and we immediately accepted him into the band.

Once the Olusions got their act together, they played weekly at Skateland, where the owner Bill Fascina held skate and dance parties. At the end of the night, each band member got paid $1.00 for the show. We thought it was so cool that we could do something we loved and actually get paid for it. Of course, $1.00 went a long way back in the 60s. Usually after a gig we would all pile into one car and drive to Wilkes-Barre to the Stop And Go restaruant for 15 cent hamburgers.

The Olusions performed new songs of the time period and sounded very much like the Beach Boys.  Occasionally they would change members, but the band remained intact for a few years. Some of the people used as lead singers were Howie Wendall, Joe Petrosky, and Mike Romanchick. They got more gigs playing locally, then began to get performances in Atlantic City, N.J. That was before gambling, when Atlantic City was actually a fun place to go and there was lots to do there. They played in a club called The Alibi, were pop group "The Circle" got their start under the name of "The American Beatles". Taylor had heard them play there a few years ago and they sounded just like the beatles. The Circle later went on to record hits such as "Red Rubber Ball" and "Turn Down Day", both of which songs the Olusions played at their performances.

In the late 60s, two of the key members, Bob (rhythm guitar) and Donny (drums), of the band got drafted and the band broke up. Taylor tried replacing those members, but the band just wasn't the same without them, so it never really did much more after that.

Caught in a draft

At age 19, Taylor attended Weaver Airline School in Kansas City, Mo. and in 1969 moved to Queens, Ny to work at Braniff Airlines at JFK international airport. Shortly after he was hired, he was drafted into the U.S. Army. Brainff was holding his job for him when he returned from the army, as did many businesses who lost their employees to the draft.  This was required by law at the time.

He couldn't bring his guitar with him into the army, so all during basic training at Fort Dix, N.J., he was unable to play. When he finished basic, he went to Fort Gordon, Ga. for training to be a Teletype operator. When he and a few Platoon buddies went into Agusta, they stopped at the USO for some recreational activities. The USO had acoustic guitars that you could borrow and sit and play as long as it didn't leave the building. After discovering this service, Taylor began playing guitar again.

Taylor finished AIT in October of 1970, then got orders to go to Vietnam after a short leave to go home.  While in Vietnam, he was looking around some of the Vietnamese shops on his base and saw an acoustic guitar for sale, which he bought. Several of his buddies in his unit had acoustic guitars and some of them could play really well. Folk music was popular at the time, and many of his buddies had mastered the art of finger picking...something Taylor had never done before.  He said it looked very hard to do, but another of his buddies, Greg Hargrave of Valparaiso, Indiana, who was a master at it, said, "It is a little difficult at first, but once you get used to it, it is as easy as scratching your head."  Then Greg taught Taylor how to finger pick, which he eventually mastered. Greg and Taylor still keep in touch today.

Every night the guys would gather on top of the bunker and play their guitars. Taylor had written several songs, one of which was called, "When Will I E.T.S?", which was a big hit among his army buddies. It was about getting out of the army, and everyone sang it in anticipation of returning home for good.

In February of 1971, after returning from his tour of duty, Sappe began playing for friends and other soldiers. While stationed in Fort Lewis, Washington, near Seattle, he purchased a beautiful Guild Guitar in a guitar shop for $300 and began to get more serious about his playing. 

The New York Experience

Taylor got out of the army in December of 1971 and returned home, where he bought a Standell acoustic guitar.  Shortly after returning home, he returned to his job at Braniff International Airlines (now defunct) at JFK airport in New York City.  While living in Far Rockaway (Queens), he decided to find a recording studio and make a record of some of his original songs that he had written while in the army. A small 4-track studio in Brooklyn (Demo Vox Studios) was where he learned recording techniques from engineer Frank Graci, and became interested in the technical process of recording from an engineer's point of view.

While working at Braniff, he worked with Barry Hirschberg, who used to play with the Critters (noted for their two 60s hit songs, "Mister Dyingly Sad", and "Younger Girl"). Occasionally Taylor and Barry would work the late night shift together and bring their guitars to work with them, and when it was slow, they would break out the guitars and jam together.  One of Taylor's German co-workers named "Dirk Vogel", told Taylor about a place in Atlantic Beach, Long Island, called "The Digs II", that was interested in having a soloist play there. This was also the hang out for the New York Rangers hockey team after their games on Sundays, which were the days that The Digs II needed the soloist. Taylor talked to the owner and after mentioning Dirk Vogel's name, got booked there every Sunday. 

Back home to Hazleton

After moving back home, Taylor began to book solo performances in the Hazleton area. In Hazleton, no one was performing solo guitar gigs, so there was no competition. Many of the clubs he went to were interested in booking soloists because they wouldn't have to pay as much as they did for a band. 

Taylor found his niche in Hazleton, where he branched out to Wilkes-Barre, Scranton and the Poconos. In about a year, he was playing a steady 5 nights a week and was turning down offers to play because his schedule would not permit. He played clubs, private parties, wedding dinners, church picnics and concerts, performing in front of hundreds of people at a time, and sometimes in front of one or two people at a time.  He had written quite a few songs and was performing a combination of covers and originals. 

Formal musical training

In 1974, Taylor wanted to learn more about music, so he took a correspondence course in music theory and arranging from the Applied Music School in Tampa, Florida. His personal instructor was Ron Delp, a former teacher at Berklee College of Music. He got Taylor interested in what Berklee had to offer, and Taylor thought about attending Berklee sometime in the future.

In 1975, many of the clubs where Taylor was booked, began to install disco systems, which was becoming the new fad. By 1976, there was no place left to play, and Taylor was out of work. He used this opportunity to enroll in Berklee College of Music, where he spent the next three and a half years living in Boston and majoring in music composition. At the same time, Mark Reinhart was taking a 2-year diploma course at Berklee and was in his final semester.  So Taylor and Mark would hang together and go over to each other's apartments and jam. They briefly formed a duo and played a Boston University frat party.

While at Berklee, Taylor studied guitar, voice and recording techniques. He formed a small recording studio in his apartment and recorded other Berklee Students there.

The regional hit "Dancin"

In 1979, he returned home and began working with bands to help them to develop their shows and to book them. He worked with several rock bands, from booking to running sound for them until 1982, when a bass player friend of his named Mike Dutz asked Taylor if he wanted to be Mike's replacement for a band that Mike was playing bass in.  Taylor had already been playing bass for several years on his own recordings and was in the process of recording a song titled, "Dancin".  Remembering that one of his fans in the early 70s had told him he looked a little like Max Gail's character, Sgt. Wojohowicz, on the TV sitcom, "Barney Miller", he was naming the artist for the single, "Wojo".

The band that he replaced Mike in was called Friends, Featuring Diane Dixon.  They seemed to have a large fan base and were well liked in the Wilkes-Barre and Scranton areas, and were playing regularly.  This made them good candidates for a record release. After Taylor joined the band, he asked them if they wanted to release a record, which he was already working on.  All it needed were vocals and lead guitar, and they would have to change their name to "Wojo" because that was the name on the production.  The band agreed to it. Diane Dixon, the lead singer, recorded the lead vocal, and Bernie Swankoski, now of the group "Totally Unplugged", who was not a member of Wojo at the time, recorded the lead guitar.  The record began to get AM radio airplay and took off fast, and the band started considering working full time. Dancin' became a regional hit and got airplay from Boston to Philadelphia and sold about 2,000 copies. 

Manager/producer

In 1983, a Berklee class mate of Taylor's, named Paul Bettencourt, had seen an article about the regional hit in the Berklee Alumni News and contacted Taylor about producing Paul's band from West Warwick, RI called "Visions".  The band moved to the old Blueberry Farm in Sugarloaf, which was owned by Taylor's aunt Mary Laser at the time. Taylor worked with them for about a year, getting them bookings and publicity throughout the region. When Visions lost their drummer, Vick Lutsky, who is now with Monsters Of Rock, filled in for a brief period until the group finally disbanded.

During and after the production of Visions, Taylor was composing original experimental instrumental keyboard music in his 4-track studio. By the time the band had gone home, Taylor had about a half hour of his own music, which he took to WVIA. George Graham began playing it on his homegrown music show. Through the early 90s, Taylor would compose more music and have it played on WVIA. Eventually he called the studio group, "Escape Velocity". On his last CD's worth of instrumental music, he got help from lead guitarist David Buyarski, and Keyboardist James Buyarski, and all of the songs recorded and played on WVIA became the "Escape Velocity" project which released 3 CDs.  The music from the CDs also received airplay on Mike Naydock's Cellar Full of Noise Show on WZMT in Hazleton. Mike is now with WKAB in Berwick, and has taken the Cellar Full of Noise show with him and still occasionally plays music of Escape Velocity. Some of Taylor's music is occasionally played on L.A. Tarone's show as well.

During the Escape Velocity project, Taylor also began producing Jeannie Z, who released two singles. One was a sultry dance CD single titled, "Ultimate Lover", which Taylor co-wrote with Jeannie, and the other an oldies style cassette single titled, "You Said", which Taylor and Jeannie co-wrote with Fred Antolick.

Full circle, back to the acoustic guitar

A long period had passed since Taylor had played guitar and bass, and he eventually sold his Ovation Custom Legend that he had used in the 70s to perform with and his Fender Jazz Bass that he used in "Wojo". He was now a keyboard player.  However, after many years of not playing guitar, he was considering getting back into it. Friends had constantly been encouraging him to play guitar again, but there was really no place to gig as a soloist. He upgraded his studio to 8-track digital and continued to use the keyboards for recording.

One day, an old girlfriend showed up at his door and said, "I have a birthday present for you." Then she handed him an acoustic guitar that was about 30 years old. She said it was just a cheap one, but it had the sweetest sound and held it's tuning and the intonation was perfect.  Taylor began learning some songs just for his own amusement and his repertoire made it to about 15 songs, where it remained for a few years.

Back to performing

In 2000, Taylor began producing a CD for Deva-kant. In preparation for promotion of his CD, Deva-kant began booking himself at various clubs as a soloist.  When he started to get multiple bookings, Taylor realized that there are solo opportunities once again emerging. He had considered performing again.

In need of production money, Taylor got a part time job. Some of the sites he worked on were 8 and 12 hour shifts with lots of idle time between rounds, so he started bringing his guitar to work with him to pass the time.  He began ordering some refresher course books from Berklee and began to study music once again. He started learning and composing more songs and eventually had enough to do a show.  So on April 30th, 2004, Taylor played his first solo performance in 28 years at Keith's Bistro in Hazleton, and is now back into performing.

Teaching

In February 2006, Taylor began teaching at DeMelfi School of Music at 337 E. Diamond Ave., Hazleton, Pa. 18201. Private instruction and classes are available with Taylor, in voice, acoustic guitar (flat pick style), bass guitar (flat pick style), songwriting, recording and music arranging.

In 2007, Taylor launched a CD project with some of the younger, but very talented students, and named it "Child Prodigies". There is another CD recording project in the making. However, it is coming together much more slowly due to time constraints.

To date (March 9, 2010) the school has moved to two different locations since the location on E. Diamond Ave. The school is now located in the old (newly remodeled) Stephanisko building on Rt. 309 (S. Church St.) in Hazleton (The Sandton Business Center).

Retirement from performing

In Summer of 2009, Taylor announced his retirement from live public performances. However, he still plays at DeMelfi School recitals and private parties. Taylor's main interest is now in producing, and he has produced several albums since he began working at the school.

Music Production

In 2010 Taylor produced 2 country albums with the artist KelC. The first album, which is titled "Get Branded" was nominated for a Grammy in 2013 for best country album of the year.  The second album is titled "Twelve Dozen Roses".

In 2013 Taylor and KelC parted company and Taylor began working with Dean Paul in Baltimore, to help him produce his album.

In Nov 2014 Taylor joined the Nashville Songwriter's Association International to learn more about the methods used in Nashville and to establish higher level connections in the Nashville music industry.

Taylor Sappe Music Production & Instruction