The appropriately named J Taylors – husband and wife Jonathan and Janelle Taylor – are a husband-and-wife vocal duo who perform a variety of popular songs at various venues and occasions. While both have a considerable background in music independently, they hadn’t given much thought to performing together professionally during the time they’ve been together (the two recently celebrated their 14-year anniversary). While they had been asked to perform for friends at occasions such as wedding ceremonies over the years, it wasn’t until Jonathan found himself away on the road much of the time for work in the auto industry that the two began looking for a business to start together. “We decided that life on the road, with me away from her, just wasn’t for us,” says Jonathan. “We decided we wanted to do something together, and we thought that singing was the most natural thing, and so it started off with the intention to do wedding singing, the entertainment for reception ceremonies.”
“I thought well we might as well just start a business we can do on the weekends and make a little money,” Janelle adds. They began performing together professionally in 2009, and it wasn’t long before wedding singing led to playing bars and festivals. By the following year, performing had become their full-time occupation.
While the versatile duo can capably pull off genres as varied as classic rock, blues and even Spanish-language ballads, their current focus is on classic country music. That emphasis has come as a bit of a surprise for Jonathan, who says he grew up listening to rock n’ roll and was never interested in country. Janelle, on the other hand, had parents who were country music aficionados, and when Jonathan attempted to sing in more of a country styling, his voice adapted well to it.
“[Janelle] grew up with the classic country stuff, and I hardly ever listened to it. I didn’t like country at all and never wanted to do any country music,” says Jonathan. “But then we started listening to it together and trying some of it out, and our voices just worked. My voice seems to lend itself well to the country leads, and her voice is perfect for anything from Patsy Cline to Carrie Underwood. It’s really amazing how well it suits us.”
To that end, the pair are preparing their first official studio recording which will be a CD covering classic country music songs. Additionally, the Taylors are working with a promoter to gear up a related show for next year’s festival signs, to be fittingly called the J Taylors Country Music Legends Show.
While classic country may be their current focus, the two have developed a repertoire of over 300 cover songs that they are able to perform. They’ve also written a considerable amount of original material, although they have no plans of recording or releasing their originals anytime soon.
“We’ve only got a couple of dozen songs that are original,” Jonathan says modestly. “We don’t have plans to release a CD of originals. We want to generate more material before we combine it into a cohesive album.”
As the duo continues to play festivals, events and restaurants and bars, they focus on entertainment and making sure their audience has a good time. They strive to make their performed material recognizable when compared to originals, and try to emphasize the joy that comes along with their music.
“We try to keep it light and humorous and upbeat for the crowd,” says Janelle. “We’re not trying to take ourselves super-seriously; we just want the crowd to have fun.”
While Jonathan in particular prides himself on cracking one-liners and making the audience laugh in between songs, he’ll admit to at least one instance when a joke backfired. It happened recently when the two were playing at an American Legion and Jonathan embellished on one of his standard jokes as an intro to their version of Jimmy Buffet’s “Margaritaville.”
“Before it starts I usually say ‘We’re going to do something a little patriotic here, if that’s okay,’ and then we start up the song and say ‘It’s the national anthem of Key West, Florida,’” says Jonathan. “And for people who haven’t heard it before, it’s mildly amusing. But it was the American Legion and I took it a little bit further that time and said, ‘Everybody stand up now for this patriotic song,’ and they took it really seriously that I was going to do a patriotic song. They were a little disgruntled by it, but they got over it. So we did a couple of real patriotic songs after that to make up for it.”
Jokes aside, the J Taylors do have a remarkable ability to perform a variety of styles and genres of songs convincingly. That makes them able to play to various audience members and different types of music lovers, from hard rock aficionados to their previously-mentioned country stylings to classic ballads. The two credit their individual musical backgrounds – Jonathan has a history in musical theater and Janelle has extensive experience in choral performance – as what enables them to shift from genre to genre with aplomb.
“I think Jonathan, to understand his background, he doesn’t do impersonations of these artists, but he does kind of an impression,” says Janelle. “He’ll suggest Elvis Presley or he’ll suggest Johnny Cash, or if we do some of these other groups like Sonny and Cher he’ll have a little bit of a nasal intonation.”
“The first thing [that enables us to perform different styles] is the versatility of Janelle’s voice,” says Jonathan. “She does everything from Janis Joplin to Doris Day, Joan Jett, all of these rockers.”