Remembering B.E. Taylor at Christmas

He was a sick kid one year in Aliquippa, PA and ordered to remain home by doctors after he was diagnosed with a kidney disease, so he asked his parents for a guitar and then taught himself how to play it.

That’s how William Edward Taylor, one of three sons raised in a Rust Belt town that rests about 30 miles northwest of Pittsburgh, came to create music for the very first time. During the years that followed, B.E. Taylor would perform covers and originals that focused on love – he even assisted with the creation of a new “Vitamin L” – and his 20 years’ worth of Christmas shows established him as a holiday tradition in the Pittsburgh and Wheeling areas.

Until last year, of course. Annually, Taylor would travel to places like New Castle, PA, and Heinz Hall in downtown Pittsburgh before returning to his adopted hometown of Wheeling to spread his Christmas spirit, but last December the historic theatre was dark except for the marquee that paid tribute to the artist who passed on Aug. 7, 2016, at the age of 65.

But on Dec. 21-22, B.E. Taylor will be remembered during two very special Christmas shows at the Capitol Theatre with his band and his family intimately involved with every aspect of the performances because, his son, B.C., confirmed, “my Dad would want it no other way.” He created such a magical, inspirational, and loving environment that celebrated everyone on stage, backstage, and in the audience, and that’s what made it a family affair, and he included everyone in that.

“For me, doing this show wasn’t a difficult decision to make because very soon after my father’s passing we all asked each other about celebrating him because he would always say that the Christmas show was bigger than just one person,” he continued.  “I think we all knew we would do it, but the question was when we would do it. We wanted to make sure everyone was on the same page so we all could be sure that we would perform a show that we could all be very proud of.”

Taylor’s marriage to his bride of 33 years, Veronica, was a friendship, a partnership, and what they both cherished the most.

B.E. or Bill?

Entertainer. Man.

Performer. Person.

Fans know him as “B.E,” but his friends called him “Bill,” but whether or not someone was friends with him depended only how long a conversation an individual held with the singer-songwriter.

“That was the thing about my dad,” B.C. said. “He had that way of making you feel like his friend even during short conversations, and he told his friends to call him ‘Bill.”

The earliest record of Taylor being referred to as “B.E.” was his own doing all the way back in high school when he formed the “B.E. Taylor and The Establishment” group, a cover band that became very popular around the Pittsburgh area. Then early in 1982 he recruited Rick Witkowski, and two years later the music industry was introduced to “Vitamin L,” a national hit song that climbed up all the way to No. 6 on Billboard Magazine’s Top 100 Hot Hits listing.

“It was an exciting time because he was signed to a record label, and ‘Vitamin L’ was all over the radio,” his youngest brother, Dan, recalled. “But those days were early on in his career, and it was a very special time. I was a pretty young guy back then, and I was in awe of his success.

“But even then, the only difference between Bill and “B.E.” was that “B.E.” was the one who would sing,” he said. “He was who he was whether you saw him on stage or at the grocery store. That’s one of many things that made him so special.”

Bill and Veronica raised two children, son B.C. and daughter Tahnee, and B.C. currently is employed as a touring and session musician in Nashville after initially living in Los Angeles. When describing the difference between his father’s stage name versus his given name, B.C. said his mother enters into the equation.

“There was just a slight difference between Bill and B.E. My mom took incredible care of him, and she was the one who made sure he always looked wonderful, and that his hair was perfect, but Bill Taylor would want to go onstage in his Aliquippa sweatpants and his Pitt shirt if she wasn’t there to stop him,” B.C. said with a laugh. “And he would be totally comfortable that way.

“When it was possible, he would try to play basketball as long as possible before a show, but those games always ended when my mom would go get him,” he explained. “When she did, he would just tell the others he’d see them on stage, walk off with his tail between his legs, and go with her to get ready for the show that night.”

For two decades, the B.E. Taylor Band toured the Upper Ohio Valley and Western Pennsylvania to perform at least 16 shows each holiday season.

Despite Illness

His father would tell stories about his childhood, his parents and brothers, and about the early years of his career, and Bill would repeat those stories over and over. Even when B.C. would remind his father that he had heard the tale before, Dad didn’t care and would proceed anyway.

He was teaching lessons.

“I’ve realized that. I’ve realized that he was confident that during my career I was going to face a lot of the same situations, and predicaments and he wanted me to remember how he handled those moments,” B.C. said. “But because of that, I can still hear his voice in certain situations, and it’s wonderful for me because it feels like he’s still here with us. I love hearing him whether it’s inspirational or instructional, or whatever. It’s pretty wild, but it’s very special for me.”

But something wasn’t right a decade ago and Bill knew it, and that something was an inoperable brain tumor discovered in 2007.

The illness was there but by no means did that tumor stop him.

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The Taylor family – B.C., Veronica, Bill, and Tahnee.

“My dad immediately started treatment with some wonderful doctors at Duke University, Cleveland Clinic, Pittsburgh and here in Wheeling, and since that diagnosis until last August we continued doing our shows at Christmas, Valentine’s Day, in the summer months, and on many other occasions,” B.C. said. “My father was dealing with a very, very, very serious illness, but performing and spreading that love was so very important to him.

“And my mom? My mom took care of him and there wasn’t a day when she wasn’t researching and researching in an effort to find something that could help save his life,” he said. “I believe, truly, his final 10 years were quality years because of my mother, and I believe God worked through the doctors, and through my mom.”

But during the early morning hours on August 5, 2016, a brain hemorrhage led him quickly to meet His Maker on August 7, 2016.

“But even up to his last moments, his quality of life was great. Some may have believed that because of this horrible disease that he was bed ridden, but no, that was far from the case,” B.C. reported. “He was still traveling, still performing, and still playing basketball all the way up until the moment of his passing.

“And he was a father to me and my sister up until then, and he was a loving husband up until, and I believe that was a gift in itself,” he said. “We all loved each other very much, and that love is our motivation to make these two evenings very special for everyone there.”

He was on stage singing about the love of Christmas, and that is why B.E. Taylor always included a prayer with the audience during his shows.

‘He’ll Be There’

It was in 1994 when Taylor released his first of four Christmas albums, but it was 1991 when he assisted in arranging a version of “Silent Night” for a Pittsburgh radio station that placed that illuminating light bulb above the entertainer’s head in the first place.

For Taylor, a devoted Christian, Christmas was about the birth of Jesus Christ and the love for family and friends, and Dan insisted his brother found that songs like “Joy to the World,” “We Three Kings,” and “What Child Is This” precisely expressed his feelings for the holiday season.

“And that’s because he was all about what those Christmas songs are about,” he said. “Plus, by that point in his career, he was in control of everything and that allowed him to express himself the way he wanted. So, while the ‘Vitamin L’ days were a really cool time, I think the Christmas shows really defined who he was as a person and as an artist.”

That is why B.E. Taylor, as his son promised, will be there.

“The most important thing to all of us is to celebrate my father and to incorporate him as much as possible,” B.C. said. “It’s important to us to be able to perform with him again as much as possible, so we are using select video clips and audio clips from live shows so the band can perform with Dad again.

“That is very important to me because I will be able to be behind the drum kit supporting my father again as I play these songs once more,” he said. “Anyone who has been involved with the band or out in the audience is able to just close their eyes and be there seeing him move and hearing him sing. That’s the kind of shows they were, and that’s why it’s very important to all of us to have him there with us because my father lived the joy and love of Christmas every single day.”

And that makes brother Dan confident that Bill Taylor is pleased his “band of brothers and sisters” has reunited to continue that very mission.

“Now, I don’t think my brother would want a tribute to him because he was so humble despite his success, but he would want us to do these shows because it’s a celebration of the birth of Christ, and he loved making the members of the audience feel the love of Christmas,” he said. “We know he’s up there right now thinking that this is the right thing, and if we accomplish our goals with the shows, I believe my brother will be up there clapping for us.

“The shows meant so much to him and he never took for granted that people would buy tickets year-in and year-out. That always humbled him,” said Dan. “It’s important for us to do this together, and the response to these upcoming shows means everything to us.”

Initially, the Taylors’ plan was to perform one show, but after Dec. 22 sold out in about three hours, the family decided to add another show on Dec. 21. Tickets remain available for the Dec. 21 event and can be obtained by visiting the box office at Wesbanco Arena, or by visiting the Capitol Theatre’s website.

But whether or not the “I Will Remember B.E. Taylor Christmas” performance will become an annual event is a question still left unanswered.

“I think it’s too early to answer that question,” B.C. said. “One of the biggest reasons for us doing this show is to give myself, my family, the band, and the fans a bit of closure because I believe his passing took place at a time that didn’t give us enough time to put a show like this one together.

“If we are able to “Feel The Love” of Christmas one more time on that stage and spread that love to everyone in the theatre, then the vision will be complete,” he continued. “We just want to be able to play these songs again, but as far as far continuing it, I’m not going to say no, but I believe it will depend on how it goes and what kind of response it receives.”

(Photos provided by the Taylor family)