ACT ONE I was a child prodigy, born in Washington DC in 1934. My mother's parents were from San Juan, Puerto Rico. My father was a native American. I came from a family of 24 children and was the first born. Mother sang with Marian Anderson, the first black opera singer. President [Franklin] Roosevelt's wife allowed my mother and her to sing on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, because they weren't allowed to sing in the opera house. I started at the age of three. I could sing the Gregorian Chant and still know every word of it today. I used to sing Brahms' Lullaby in church and that was taught to me by my mom's best friend, The Lady, Billie Holiday. Everybody you can imagine, including Miles Davis, Ella Fitzgerald, Nina Simone and Nat King Cole, came through my grandfather's house. ASIA, THE EARLY YEARS I graduated from high school at the age of 14 and was scared of white people. At that time the Ku Klux Klan would have a meeting every week on the Capitol steps. So I skipped college and went to the Korean war. I was going to be a cook in the service, but never saw a pot or pan once I was there. We were in an all-black unit and would have to go out at night. Our captain said: 'They're not going to be able to see you.' Of course, he didn't return to the United States. I was shot in the head on Pork Chop Hill and was 17 when I came out of the service. THE BIRTH OF ROCK Most people would think that it was Little Richard who started it, but it wasn't. It was Fats Domino. Then Chuck Berry. I met Elvis Presley - he was OK, but he was a pill freak. Between Presley and Jerry Lee Lewis, I would take Jerry Lee Lewis anytime. I put my first band together - The Jimmy Johnson Quartet - in San Antonio, Texas. From there, I moved to San Jose, California, went to college and was an alternate on the 1960 Olympic Boxing Team. That's how I met Muhammad Ali. I cut him off every which way but loose, but still couldn't hit him. STAR STRUCK I was singing at a place called Big Al's in North Beach, California. Everyday I was met by Reece 'Goose' Tatum, the clown prince of basketball, along with Wilt Chamberlain and Sly Stone. Clint Eastwood, Telly Savalas - they all showed up. That's how I met Tommy Chong, who later moved to Vancouver, Canada, and urged me to go up there because the pay was US$750 a week; unheard of in 1961. The first name of our group was Four Niggers and a Chink. The next thing you know, we get a call from Martin Luther King. 'What we're trying to do is make the people who are not of the Caucasian race equal,' he said. TOP OF THE WORLD By this time we were known as Bobby Taylor & the Vancouvers. We were unstoppable and had audiences coming from Texas. Jimi Hendrix was our third guitarist and he's still the only person I've ever cried over when he died. We became one of Motown's top acts. At the Regal Theatre in Chicago, the promoter tipped me off to a kid who was singing and dancing like James Brown. It was a young Michael Jackson. I took him back to my limo from Chicago to Detroit, where The Jacksons opened up for us for the first time - and the rest is history. He was more my kid than he was Joe's. He was smart, brilliant and a workaholic. But Motown cheated us completely. I've never been paid a penny in royalties by Motown. Fortunately, I wrote I Believe in Miracles, and get paid grand theft money four times a year. BORN AGAIN I got cancer of the throat in 1976, was broke and had nowhere to live. They gave me a year. I was ready to die. Marvin Gaye asked me to come on the road with him. Then I got tipped off to a doctor who claimed he could cure my cancer. He came to my house and said, 'I'm going to show you death. You're going to defecate death.' He gave me a potion and I saw the tumours and death coming out of my body. His medicine came from the rainforest. The next thing I know, I'm back singing. Motown was like a family and there's so few of us left today. The ones that are still alive, I'm still in touch with. THE MOTOWN MISSION After seven years in Beijing, a place I crave, I came here. I've got two great friends in Hong Kong. One of them is David Cosman, who wanted me to build the best band in the country for him at the Skylark Lounge. He said, 'Don't worry about nothing. I've got your back,' and kept his word. The other one is Paul Buxton, who owns Bulldog's. They're the only two places I've performed at here. I feel I'm building a dynasty. The young people who don't know what Motown is are hearing something new. I like performing here because they come and listen to you sing. Now I've got students and am going to branch out. I have 12 kids, met three presidents and in general, I wouldn't change a thing. I won't retire until God takes me away. Bobby Taylor performs at the Skylark Lounge (1/F, 63 Wyndham Street, Central, tel 2801 6018) on Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays.