Long before he was tearing it up on the late-night shows and on tour with The Who, Ty Taylor was Jesus.
Right here in Pittsburgh.
The New Jersey native got his B.A. from Carnegie Mellon University, where he played the title role in "Jesus Christ Superstar." His credits back in the early '90s also included a Pittsburgh Public Theater production of "Eleanor" (choreographed by Rob Marshall) and a tour of Andrew Lloyd Webber music with Michael Crawford that played the Star Lake Amphitheatre.
After that, he worked on Broadway, led the group Dakota Moon and appeared on the CBS reality show "Rockstar: INXS."
Now, he has an international spotlight as the soulful, gyrating frontman for Vintage Trouble, an LA band that revives the freewheeling R&B of the late '50s and early '60s.
"I grew up in a house where that was the kind of music that was playing," he says. "I've done a lot of styles of music, everything from theater to jazz to rock 'n' roll to rhythm 'n' blues, and when I started doing this music with this band, my mother said, 'This is the kind of music you were conceived to,' so I guess what got me started in this music would be my mother and father. What's cool about this music was that in the '50s and '60s, with rock 'n' roll and rhythm 'n' blues, there wasn't such a clear line between what was what."
Vintage Trouble formed in 2010, taking its cues from the likes of Ike and Tina Turner, Etta James, Little Richard, early Stones, early Led Zeppelin -- "all these people who were combining the mediums so beautifully, with a harmonious friction," he says.
Mr. Taylor's performances on the late-night shows scream James Brown and Otis Redding, not to mention Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson, names that are thrown out to him nightly when he signs autographs at the merch.
"They're not gonna think a woman, 'cause I'm a guy, but my biggest vocal influence is Tina Turner," he says, adding, "and all those other people, and Etta James. I like the people who seem to have good technique but were never trained, so they were singers who knew how to sing, but because they were never trained, the emotion rang first."
Back in '96, he got the chance to meet Tina Turner when Dakota Moon opened for her Wildest Dreams Tour. Their initial contact began with him caught in a most awkward situation.
"I saw her tights hanging backstage, and I just wanted to see what they smelled like," he says laughing. "As I was smelling her tights, she walks right up, so our first meeting is with me sniffing her tights!"
How'd she react to that?
"She shook my hand and smiled and just walked on. But then I heard she was never social with anyone else, but she was with me, so maybe it was a nice icebreaker."
Vintage Trouble rehearsed for just a few weeks before hitting the LA clubs and then beginning work on its debut album, "The Bomb Shelter Sessions." Given its retro style, the band was encouraged to break out in the UK, so the quartet went over in early 2011 to play the TV show "Later ... With Jools Holland," which put it on the UK charts. The band toured with Brian May (of Queen) and did the UK leg of Bon Jovi's "The Circle" tour before being invited to tour here with The Who, winning over huge audiences cold.
"It's like my fairy godmother wrote The Who story," he says. "They've been so giving. After our first show with them, Pete Townshend, we're doing our soundcheck, he comes out on stage and tells the production staff to give us the entire projection wall, and everything that's accessible to The Who is accessible to us as far as stage performance. The entire stage!
"That's how giving Pete was. And Roger [Daltrey], he's backstage one day and has about 15 friends with him and he calls me over and says, 'Ty, I was just telling my friends that if I wasn't in The Who and this was 15, 20 years ago and I saw you guys play, I would leave my life and follow you on the road.' Meanwhile, he still has his shirt open from the show. I'm like, 'This guy is still so cool.' You can tell he still loves the music sooo much."
Between shows on The Who tour and on the road right now, Vintage Trouble is popping back into small clubs, where VT's music is a better fit.
"Small clubs is really what our band is about. That's where our music belongs, in some place that's sweating. We go back and forth and it keeps us in our place and reminds us when we're playing arenas that our idea of music has to do with communicating with everyone in the room. The fact that we're playing in small places allows us not to get too grand and fist-pumpy arena-ish."
The Stage AE show on Friday brings him back to the city where he got his training.
"I loved it," he says of CMU. "So many people had a hard time there, but it whipped me into shape. Every day on stage now, in the music I recall one thing I got from Carnegie Mellon -- every day."
Scott Mervis: firstname.lastname@example.org; 412-263-2576.