Taylor Doggett was painting houses in Greensboro's black neighborhoods when the music first got to him. Working for his father's real estate management company one hot summer, Doggett got a chance to soak up the best R&B the '50s had to offer, listening to the music of people sitting out on their front porches playing their radios. Once hooked, Doggett continued his musical education, tuning in to a local black radio station and going to R&B and soul shows while in school at UNC-Chapel Hill.
"They had a lot of those package shows that came through," Doggett remembers. "You could pay three dollars and see Fats Domino and Ray Charles and Clyde McPhatter all in one show, and several local groups."
Although he liked the style of the music, Doggett didn't become a collector until decades later.
"'One Mint Julep' was the only single I ever bought when I was young," Doggett says. "But as I was approaching retirement age and got exposed to Beach music, all these memories were coming back. I'm a pretty good collector--things I get interested in, I find a way to collect it."
Once he got started, though, he became a serious collector. He got heavily into The 5 Royales, a Winston-Salem-based group that was one of the first to start out in gospel and cross over into R&B, a path also followed by Sam Cooke, Ray Charles, Wilson Pickett and members of the Drifters. James Brown was said to have studied the group while perfecting his act, adapting some of their style and sound into his stage persona.
The 5 Royales was the only vocal group of their time that never sang doo-wop. Doggett credits them with being the first soul group, saying that every soul singer that came along afterwards was influenced by their style. He calls their sound "holy blues"--a straight gospel sound coupled with secular subject matter. Ray Charles followed the same pattern, but Doggett insists that the Royales got there first, predating Charles by at least two years.
Though their records are prized by collectors and the group is acknowledged by critics as being one of the finest in R&B and soul, the Royales never achieved the popularity of some of their peers. Part of the reason, Doggett believes, is simply that they were ahead of their time, singing soul before soul groups were popular. Another reason was they almost exclusively played the chitlin' circuit--a coast-to-coast chain of black clubs.
The Royales gained most of their popularity in the '60s while playing beach clubs in Myrtle Beach and playing frat parties and touring with R&B icon Johnny Otis, a white performer best known for his recording of "Willie and the Hand Jive" who had a traveling caravan of the best performers in R&B.
Although the Royales were his passion, Doggett scooped up other performers for his R&B collection, including Otis and Greensboro native Arthur Prysock, a soul and jazz artist. He collected jive as well, citing Eddie "Cleanhead" Vinson as a good example of that genre, which Doggett defines as being close to jump blues of the sort popularized by Big Joe Turner.
As the years went by, Doggett found his taste in R&B waning. In hindsight, he says now that he sometimes wonders if he'd been better off to stick with one thing and just carry it as far as it would go. But he got sidetracked. "I saw it written somewhere that Django Reinhardt had a influence on some of the African-American guitarists, and so I bought a couple of CDs of his and listened to 'em and said, 'This doesn't do anything for me. I don't care for this,' " Doggett remembers. "Next thing you know, I was probably one of the biggest collectors of international gypsy jazz in the U.S."
Last year, Doggett decided that his extensive R&B collection--including memorabilia, pictures, cover art and numerous booklets he's written on various groups--was threatening to take over his house. Rather than let it just gather dust, he decided to donate it to his alma mater. Stephen Weiss, head of the Southern Folk Art Collection at the Wilson Library at UNC, was happy to accept the offer.
"We're always interested in sound recordings," Weiss says. "Any material that relates to traditional art and popular culture related to the South. We're always interested in record collections, as well as materials dealing with artist and musicians."
The J. Taylor Doggett Papers, the collection's official title, contains an estimated 160,000 sound recordings as well as papers, posters, video recordings, motion picture film, songbooks and folios. Weiss says the archive he oversees contains materials on traditional music and popular culture in the American South. It already contained a batch of material on The 5 Royales and more than 1,000 CDs and LPs Doggett donated previously.
Weiss is still cataloging the new R&B donation. When that's done it'll be available at Wilson Library to those interested in hearing the recordings and viewing the materials. Since the library will make you a copy of a specific record or collection of songs in the collection (for a fee), it'll also be possible to take a piece of it home with you.
"If you wanted a particular artist or a particular song, you could go through the material and we could assist you that way," Weiss says. All it takes is a picture ID and a form you have to fill out. "From there," Weiss advises, "either contact myself or the staff here at the manuscripts department, and we can get you started on doing research."
Doggett says he has no plans right now to donate the rest of his music collection. He's too busy enjoying it and adding to it, corresponding with other collectors worldwide. "It's equally interesting," Doggett says of his new musical treasures. "But I think maybe by changing the types of things you're interested in, it gives you new direction, new energy."