June 19, 2015 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

This article was originally published in the May/June 2015 edition of 60-Plus.

The way Joe Taylor became “Mr. Memories” sounds a little like a scene from a movie.
One afternoon in the spring of 1994, he was working in the Council Bluffs thrift store he’d owned for many years. In walked a woman who would change his life forever.
She was a special education teacher planning an event for 300 students and her entertainment had fallen through. “Heck, I can come down and do a show that will fill in about 30 minutes for you,” Joe offered.
That might sound a little crazy, but this wasn’t Joe’s first time on a stage. In fact, you might say he’s a born performer. As a kid, growing up in 1930s and ‘40s, he’d climb on a bench in the backyard of his family home and pretend he was on stage. Later, as a teenager, his older brother and sister would take turns driving him to resorts in the Catskill Mountains where he’d sing with the
house bands.
He always dreamed of making it big as a singer, but life had other plans. He met and married his wife of nearly 60 years, Jan, and they started a family. Joe’s musical ambitions took a back seat to the responsibilities of being a husband and father.
Then, on April 28, 1994, after a near-40-year hiatus, Joe put on a tux, dusted off his singing voice and became “Mr. Memories.” He sang the songs of his heyday—Frank Sinatra, Dean Martin, and the like—and by the end of the month he’d booked three more shows. During his third performance, a hat was passed around and, at the end of the show, there was 31 dollars inside.
“I went home and told Jan ‘They paid me!’ and I’ve been singing ever since,” he says with a chuckle.
Soon he was making more money performing than he ever had operating the thrift store, so in 1996, he sold it and became a full-time entertainer. Today, he books from 10 to 20 shows a month—for the elderly and disabled, corporate events, birthday parties, weddings, and more. He gets paid for doing what he loves and it can be incredibly rewarding.
Once during a performance at a retirement center, Joe remembers a woman sitting in the front row who looked thoroughly unentertained throughout the show. But then, afterward, something surprising happened. She came up to him and, with a tear in her eye, said, “Thank you for helping me remember that I was young once.”
“You can’t put a price on that,” he says.
Another woman hired him to sing at her birthday party every year from the time she turned 102. She lived to be 108.
“Every year she’d say, ‘See you next year, Joe!’” he laughs. “I was starting to think she’d outlive me!”
Hanging in his home, among photos of him performing at various venues, is a cartoon drawing of Mr. Memories being trailed by three little old ladies with cartoon hearts floating above their heads. He loves every minute of it.
“If you love what you’re doing,” he says, “you never work another day in your life.”

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