Bobby Taylor – “Does Your Mama Know About Me,” Pop # 29, R&B # 5
By Joel Francis
North Carolina native Bobby Taylor was working with a trio of Canadian musicians performing Motown numbers in Vancouver when the group caught the attention of Supremes Mary Wilson and Florence Ballard. The pair excitedly contacted Berry Gordy after hearing Bobby Taylor and the Shades in concert, and Gordy signed the group to his Gordy Records subsidiary.
Unfortunately, the excitement over Taylor’s stage shows failed to translate over records to a wider audience, and the group broke up in 1969 after one album and a handful of lukewarm singles. “Does Your Mama Know About Me” was the group’s biggest hit, peaking at No. 29 on the Pop chart.
Although Taylor’s Motown footprint is shallow, he had a hand in scouting and nurturing several well-known performers. While he was never a member of the Shades – later rechristened the Vancouvers by Gordy – Taylor recalled that Seattle guitarist Jimi Hendrix played with the group on several occasions. Shades drummer Floyd Sneed went on to join Three Dog Night. After booking a local band to open for them in Chicago, Taylor recommended Gordy sign the Jackson 5. He went on to produce the majority of the band’s debut album.
The Vancouver to go onto greatest acclaim, though, was the band’s guitarist. The half-Chinese, Scots-Irish born Thomas Chong co-wrote “Does Your Mama Know About Me” and performed on two more Vancouvers singles before being fired for missing a gig – he was applying for a green card – and becoming a superstar as half of the comedy duo Cheech and Chong.
With its sweeping strings and lush orchestration, “Does Your Mama Know About Me” feels more like a Philly soul number than a Motown production. This type of arrangement was used to great effect by Kenny Gamble and Leon Huff on early ‘70s soul hits like “Me and Mrs. Jones” and “If You Don’t Know Me By Now.” Although Gamble and Huff developed their sound independently – though they were no doubt keeping an ear trained on Motown – “Mama” illustrates how Motown continued to be at the vanguard of soul music beyond the departure of Holland-Dozier-Holland and its production-line sound.
A forgotten footnote, the only noteworthy cover of “Does Your Mama Know About Me” was performed by Diana Ross and the Supremes and included on their 1968 album “Love Child.”