Greg ‘Fingers’ Taylor — Man who made music history with Jimmy Buffet — dies in Mississippi at 71

Published 1:34 pm Monday, November 27, 2023

The man who made music history with Jimmy Buffet and the Coral Reefer Band died in Mississippi on Thanksgiving Day.

Keyboardist and Harmonica player Greg “Fingers” Taylor, who performed with many of Mississippi’s blues legends for many decades, died at the age of 71 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s.

Below is the obituary from Sebrell Funeral Home in Ridgeland:

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Seth Gregory (Greg) Taylor, loving father, brother and friend to many, passed away on November 23, 2023 at the Mississippi State Hospital. He was 71 years old. He is preceded by the death of his Mother Doris J Mallicoat, and Father Seth F. Taylor. Greg was born in Wichita KS. He leaves behind to mourn his passing sons Steven Taylor, Hunter Taylor and Richard Rierson, sister Melanie Johnston and brother Brent Taylor. Also survived by nieces and nephews and many cousins and relatives and in the Taylor family.

Greg was born the first of three children in Wichita, born June 3, 1952. Greg’s father Seth was a pharmacist, a hard-working man with a big heart as big as the sun. His mother Doris was a sweet woman devoted to life raising her children. She was also an accomplished photographer. Both parents supported Greg’s whims, which included horror movies and characters, building models of cars and scary monsters, collecting baseball cards and comic books. And most of all his love of music.

He was first introduced to music through his mother. Doris grew up playing piano and marimba. Her record collection included Eddie Arnold, Tennessee Ernie Ford, Marty Robbins, Ray Charles. His early favorite song was Johnny Horton, ‘Battle of New Orleans’.

In the 1960’s Greg, along with his best friends from elementary through high school, Dave Shaw, and Dan Matthews, watched the Ed Sullivan Show one night. The new British band the Beatles played. They decided right then they would follow the Beatles path and formed their first band. Greg decided to be the keyboard player since he was had taken lessons since an early age. At first, it wasn’t cool to be the keyboard player, until the Dave Clark Five made the scene.

Greg had a portable organ and was the singer in the band. The Taylor home became the band house, all the rehearsals and gatherings were there. The Taylor parents took Greg’s passion in stride. Melanie and Brent listened to music from the rooms upstairs.

They played in high school at local dances, eventually in clubs, fraternity parties. The thrill of performing resonated with Greg. His mind was made up, he was going to be a professional musician. The called themselves the Immortals and later changed the name to Heavy.

In the late in 1960’s the family moved to Jackson MS. Although it was difficult for Greg to leave his friends and bandmates, he quickly fell in love with Mississippi. He was discovering the roots of Rock and Roll and loved Blues music. In high school he met other musicians and they formed the Buttermilk Blues Band. By this time Greg was listening to Mississippi Delta and Chicago Blues and loved the harmonica sound. He assumed the nick-name Fingers Taylor.

In 1970 Greg was off to college at the University of Southern MS. It did not take long for Greg to find local musicians for weekend gigs and school concerts. He and his college friend Fred Knobloch were gigging regularly at Ginos in Hattiesburg MS. By this time Greg’s love of the harmonica was increasing, his heroes included Paul Butterfield, Sonny Boy Williamson, Muddy Waters Elmore James, Jimmy Reed, Jerry McCain, Papa George Lightfoot, and most of all Little Water. During his time at USM Greg made his way on stage with the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band, Delaney and Bonnie, Black Oak Arkansas.

One late evening Greg was in the Student Union Hall at the University of Mississippi, where there was a musician playing an acoustic set. He had long blonde hair and wore a large cowboy hat. Jimmy Buffett was playing for a very small audience, but Greg was impressed with his whimsical songs and his stage persona. After a break, Greg approached him and asked if he could accompany him. ‘Maybe on the last song of the night’ says Jimmy. The last song went to 10 more songs. Jimmy asked if he could come back the next night. Greg and Jimmy remained together over 25 years as part of the Coral Reefer Band.

There is a historical marker on the USM campus next to the Student Union that is titled, Where Buffett met ‘Fingers’, that tells the story of their meeting and musical journey.

A year or so after meeting Buffett, Greg was visiting a close friend in Memphis, Micheal Adcock. They were out one evening and went to the High Cotton Club, where there was a lean and well-dressed lead singer and guitarist, with a tight 5-piece R&B band. Greg was energized! He boldly jumped the stage and started to play along on harmonica. Instead of being thrown off the stage, Larry embraced the moment and the band Rocked the House. He would soon become part of Larry Raspberry and the Highsteppers band, often referred to as Fingers Taylor-The Harpoon Man.

Larry and his Highsteppers toured the U.S. for the next few years and recorded in Memphis on a few memorable records, including the first LP Highsteppin’ and Fancy Dancing. Greg continued to do some live shows with Jimmy Buffett on occasion and continued recording his LPs during his run with Larry Raspberry.

In 1975 Buffett contacted Greg to let him know he was putting a band together, the Coral Reefer Band. His music partnership with Jimmy lasted through the end of the decade. This long run included over 20 LPs and 26 tours. Greg’s fan base grew exponentially over his 25-plus-year run with Jimmy and his band.
Greg had a special talent for interpreting a song and making it better. His signature solos on tunes like A Pirate Looks at 40, Coast of Marseilles, and Dixie Diner stand out and will forever be part of our memories. Greg always interpreted the needs of song and delivered his indelible mark. Whether it was a ballad or a rocking tune, he always played and performed with finesse.

Greg was associated with many other artists, either playing with or recording with: James Taylor, Mac McAnally, Jimmy Hall and Wet Willie, Johnny Sansone, Little Milton, Mark Hummel, John Mayall, Fred Knobloch, Bonnie Raitt, the Meters, Jerry Jeff Walker, Keith Sykes, Tim Krekel, Delbert McClinton, Bo Diddley, Dr. John, Fabulous Thunderbirds, Jerry McCain, Jessie Robinson, King Edward, The House Rockers, Sam Lay Blues Band, Omar and the Howlers, Don Nix, Al Cooper, Sam Myers,, Tim Krekel, Michael Nesmith, Casey Son Phillips and the Hounds, Anson Funderburg and the Rockets, Chris Gill, Lloyd Munn, Mark Whittington, Raphael Semmes, Little Feat, Mason Ruffner, Doug Demming and the Jewel Tones, KD Lang and many others. Greg also played with many Jimmy Buffett Tribute bands.

Greg released 5 studio albums of his own. He was inducted into the Mississippi Musicians Hall of Fame in 2012.

Many of his peers considered him a Musicologists. He collected thousands of LP’s and CD’s and studied all facets of the artists in admired.

Greg’s greatest gifts he has left us are his sons Hunter and Steven. Both are kind-hearted loving souls and that remind us so much their father. Steven is a blues guitarist and has released his own albums. Hunter has taken up a career as an Audio and Video Technician.

In Greg final years, he battled Alzheimer’s. The Taylor family wishes to express their gratitude to all the medical professionals and caregivers at St Catherine’s in Madison MS and the Mississippi State Hospital who provided the extraordinary care.

And for the love and support of his many fans, friends and Parrotheads.

Donations may be made in Greg’s honor Community Foundation for Mississippi/WellsFest CARES Fund
119 S President Street, 1st Floor
Jackson MS 39201

A Memorial Service will be Saturday, Dec. 2 at Wells United Methodist Church, Jackson MS at 2 p.m. A separate celebration of life will be held with music, memories, love and laughter. Date and venue to be announced.