Re-meet the Flaky Bandit
As the year winds down, the first glimmer of #DD40 in 2019 crests the horizon and fans patiently await an announcement on how the band will (hopefully) commemorate this milestone. With tickets already in hand for the two nights in Vegas, I am anxious for something huge from the band. Maybe a few new songs? A setlist pulled from 1981? Or maybe, just maybe, the return of the flaky bandit from the sunny seclusion of Ibiza? Whether we ever see Andy Taylor on stage again, his impact and importance in the Duran Duran story deserves more attention.
In 1986, Duran Duran were faced with the departures of drummer Roger Taylor and guitarist Andy Taylor. Roger’s departure sounded more clean cut with the exhaustion of touring and being at the center of the popular music universe finally taking its toll on the quiet drummer. The band released a statement and we moved on. However, the dramatic unfolding of Andy’s exit took months with fans left in the dark as to what was happening. I don’t remember being shocked by the eventual news that Andy was’t coming back. The Power Station tour had made it clear Andy needed to flex his muscles as a guitarist and he always appeared a little out of place on the band’s more artsy songs. Looking back now, the loss of Andy Taylor proved to be crippling to the band’s creative balance even if we didn’t realize it at the time.
Duran Duran broke America because of Andy Taylor. Without Andy, Duran Duran would have still found a place on MTV along with every other New Romantic band but they would have never transcended that scene to become one of the most formidable acts of pop’s greatest decade. He was a classic rock gunslinger who gave the band’s sound more punch than ABC or Human League. He found innovative ways to weave his rock-n-roll licks into the highly polished synth-pop of the period. He was the counter-balance to Nick Rhodes, who would drown in an ocean of David Sylvian and Roxy Music had Andy not been there to pull him ashore when needed.
The AIR studio demos from the band’s debut album showcase how critical Andy was to the final recording. “Girls On Film” opens with a wall of distortion as Andy throws heavy chords over John’s percolating bass. Andy eventually pulled back and the band found the right balance. The finished product has Andy playing cleaner, crisper chords that add to the band’s funk-rock vibe but it started much louder. The demos for “Friends Of Mine” and “Planet Earth” also showcase a heavier sound on guitar. There simply wasn’t another New Romantic band with that power in their mix and it set them apart immediately.
When Rio finally cracked America, the title track and “Hungry Like the Wolf” were anchored by Andy’s guitar as Nick’s synths dance around the melody. That was exactly what American radio needed. For stations raised on the 70s rock canon, Duran Duran had enough guitar to get airplay alongside the Journey’s of the world. Once that door opened a little, the band stormed through and dragged mainstream audiences into a world where funk, rock, and pop could coexist. But that doesn’t happen without the sound of Andy Taylor’s guitar. We may look back and cherish the poetic beauty of “The Chauffeur” but that song would have never broken Duran Duran with large-scale American audiences.
The struggle of recording Seven & the Ragged Tiger came through on the first listen. I remember being underwhelmed by the album version of “The Reflex” and had Nile Rodgers not arrived with the perfect remix, the album might have sunk the band’s fortunes. The album’s best moment, or at least the song I come back to the most, is “The Seventh Stranger”. After the synth interlude mid-song, Andy delivers one of his most memorable solos. Right there, you have the balance of Duran Duran. The beautiful atmosphere of Nick Rhodes and the emotional pull of Andy’s guitar work. They never captured that again despite the many great songs that followed after Andy left.
While the band found interesting new colours to paint with on Notorious and Big Thing, the balance had been lost. Bringing in Warren Cuccurullo, a far more experimental guitarist, shifted the creative power to Nick Rhodes and the two of them formed a creative bond. There was no longer a counter-balance to Rhodes’ more artistic aspirations and John Taylor’s substance abuse probably didn’t allow him much creative sway in the studio at the time. Even when the band regained their commercial magic with “Ordinary World” and “Come Undone”, the music lacked a bit of the sonic tension that Andy’s guitar added to the music.
As the band moved on without their guitarist, Andy staked his claim as a rock artist and lost most of the Duran Duran fans along the way. While Arcadia remains more highly regarded by critics and Duran fans, I think The Power Station’s debut album and Andy’s Thunder are excellent albums in their own right. By 1987, music trends were shifting and hair metal dominated MTV. Guitars were more prevalent than synths and here was Andy Taylor, ready to join the party. Long-haired and looking a bit like Jon Bon Jovi, Taylor held his own with a string of solid singles that fit the scene. Just check out his set on MTV:
Two things stand out to me during the set. One, Andy’s vocals are far stronger than one might expect. And secondly, whether it was bags of cocaine or a chip on his shoulder, he overplays the guitar when he doesn’t need to. The songs are fine, middle-of-the-road rockers that can hold their own. If Andy was a little more comfortable as the centre of the band, he might have taken his solo career up a notch. On a side note, I especially love when he brings Dweezil Zappa out for a song since Andy’s replacement in Duran Duran had started as a guitarist for Dweezil’s dad. Maybe I am reading between the lines but it comes across as a sly move by the flaky bandit that reminds everyone that Warren wasn’t exactly a fresh face on the scene.
Around 1989, Andy seemed to fade away and without the constant vigilance of the internet to keep tabs on him, I eventually forgot about him. I knew he worked with Rod Stewart on the exceptional Out Of Order album but only recently discovered the kick-ass rock band Thunder and his work with them. I admit to never owning a copy of his covers album Dangerous but I ordered it this week after a few listens. Imagine if you replaced a few tragically misguided choices on Duran’s Thank You (911 was a joke, right?) with some of Andy’s on-point covers like “Live Wire” and “Violence”. Then you’d have a better representation of the influences that came together in 1979 to launch Duran Duran even if Andy’s affection for Montrose probably gave Nick Rhodes a case of the hives. We can only wonder.
When Duran Duran reunited for Astronaut, Andy was welcomed back but the album lacked the edge he once added to the band. Everything felt smoothed out under the heavy hand of Rhodes and the band’s producers. Maybe all those years apart had cemented the band’s direction and Andy never found his spot in the modern line-up. Maybe he did. If Reportage ever gets a proper release, we will know for certain. When Andy left again, I didn’t blame him but I wish he had stuck around for All You Need Is Now. The band sounded almost as good as they did on Rio and he might have made it a true Duran masterpiece.
For someone as famous as Andy Taylor once was, he has managed to stay off the radar pretty well. I remember a MySpace page or two but there isn’t much out there that keeps us in touch with Andy. From what little I have seen, Andy seems happy with his decision to leave Duran Duran a second time and while I didn’t understand it in 1986, I do now. Andy wasn’t a flaky bandit, he was a guitar player in the great rock-n-roll tradition. He needed to turn up his amp and make some noise. He brought something special to Duran Duran that wasn’t always appreciated by his bandmates or even the fans. In the end, he didn’t need Duran Duran as much as Duran Duran needed him.
Meet Jason Lent:
Jason is the writer and photographer for velvetrebelmusic.com.
This is his first article for Cherry Lipstick - and we hope there will be more!