James Taylor

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James Taylor
James Taylor - Columbia.jpg
Taylor in the mid-1970s
James Vernon Taylor

(1948-03-12) March 12, 1948 (age 71)
Alma mater Arlington School
  • Singer-songwriter
  • guitarist
Years active1966–present
Home town Chapel Hill, North Carolina, U.S.
Carly Simon
(m. 1972;div. 1983)

Kathryn Walker
(m. 1985;div. 1995)

Caroline "Kim" Smedvig(m. 2001)
Children4; including Sally and Ben Taylor
Parent(s) Isaac M. Taylor
Gertrude Woodard Taylor
Relatives Alex Taylor (brother)
Kate Taylor (sister)
Livingston Taylor (brother)
Musical career
  • Vocals
  • guitar
  • harmonica
  • keyboards [1]
Associated acts
Website jamestaylor.com

James Vernon Taylor (born March 12, 1948) is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. A five-time Grammy Award winner, he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. [2] He is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide. [3]

Grammy Award Accolade by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences of the United States

A Grammy Award, or Grammy, is an award presented by The Recording Academy to recognize achievements in the music industry. The annual presentation ceremony features performances by prominent artists, and the presentation of those awards that have a more popular interest. The Grammys are the second of the Big Three major music awards held annually.

Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Hall of fame located on the shore of Lake Erie in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, United States

The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, located in downtown Cleveland, Ohio, on the shore of Lake Erie, recognizes and archives the history of the best-known and most influential artists, producers, engineers, and other notable figures who have had some major influence on the development of rock and roll. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame Foundation was established on April 20, 1983, by Ahmet Ertegun, founder and chairman of Atlantic Records. In 1986, Cleveland was chosen as the Hall of Fame's permanent home.


Taylor achieved his breakthrough in 1970 with the No. 3 single "Fire and Rain" and had his first No. 1 hit in 1971 with his recording of "You've Got a Friend", written by Carole King in the same year. His 1976 Greatest Hits album was certified Diamond and has sold 12 million US copies. Following his 1977 album, JT , he has retained a large audience over the decades. Every album that he released from 1977 to 2007 sold over 1 million copies. He enjoyed a resurgence in chart performance during the late 1990s and 2000s, when he recorded some of his most-awarded work (including Hourglass , October Road , and Covers ). He achieved his first number-one album in the US in 2015 with his recording Before This World . [4]

Fire and Rain (song) 1970 single by James Taylor

"Fire and Rain" is a folk rock song written and performed by James Taylor. Released on Warner Bros. Records as a single from his second album, Sweet Baby James, in February 1970, the song follows Taylor's reaction to the suicide of Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend, and his experiences with drug addiction and fame. After its release, "Fire and Rain" peaked at number two on RPM's Canada Top Singles chart and at number three on the Billboard Hot 100.

Youve Got a Friend 1971 song written by Carole King

"You've Got a Friend" is a 1971 song written by Carole King. It was first recorded by King, and included in her album Tapestry. Another well-known version is by James Taylor from his album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. His was released as a single in 1971 reaching number 1 on the Billboard Hot 100 and number 4 on the UK Singles Chart. The two versions were recorded simultaneously in 1971 with shared musicians.

Carole King American singer and songwriter

Carole King is an American singer-songwriter who has been active since 1958, initially as one of the staff songwriters at the Brill Building and later as a solo artist. She is the most successful female songwriter of the latter half of the 20th century in the US, having written or co-written 118 pop hits on the Billboard Hot 100 between 1955 and 1999. King also wrote 61 hits that charted in the UK, making her the most successful female songwriter on the UK singles charts between 1952 and 2005.

He is known for his covers, such as "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" and "Handy Man", as well as originals such as "Sweet Baby James". [4]

How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) 1964 song performed by Marvin Gaye

"How Sweet It Is " is a song recorded by American soul singer Marvin Gaye from his fifth studio album, How Sweet It Is to Be Loved by You (1965). It was written in 1964 by the Motown songwriting team of Holland–Dozier–Holland, and produced by Brian Holland and Lamont Dozier.

Handy Man (song) 1959 song composed by Otis Blackwell, Jimmy Jones performed by Jimmy Jones

"Handy Man" is a song written by singer Jimmy Jones and songwriter Otis Blackwell. Recordings by Del Shannon and also The Sparks Of Rhythm list Charles Merenstein as a co-writer, as does BMI. The Sparks Of Rhythm version on the Apollo 541 single version released in 1959 credits Andrew Barksdale and Merenstein as writers omitting Jimmy Jones. The song is noted for Jones singing "Come-a, come-a come-a come-a, come come-a, yeah" lyrics, which are heard at the beginning as well as in the coda of the song, before the song's fade.

Sweet Baby James (song) 1970 song performed by James Taylor

"Sweet Baby James" is a song written and recorded by James Taylor that serves as the opening and title track from his 1970 breakthrough album Sweet Baby James. It was released as the first single from the album but did not chart. Nonetheless, it is one of his best-known and most popular tunes, considered a classic. Taylor considers it his best song.

Early years

James Vernon Taylor was born at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston on March 12, 1948, where his father, Isaac M. Taylor, worked as a resident physician. [5] [6] His father came from a wealthy Scottish family from the South; [5] however, part of his ancestral roots are deep in Massachusetts Bay Colony and include Edmund Rice, one of the founders of Sudbury, Massachusetts. [7] His mother, the former Gertrude Woodard (1921–2015), studied singing with Marie Sundelius at the New England Conservatory of Music and was an aspiring opera singer before the couple's marriage in 1946. [5] [8] James was the second of five children, the others being Alex (1947–1993), Kate (born 1949), Livingston (born 1950), and Hugh (born 1952). [9]

Massachusetts General Hospital Hospital in Massachusetts, United States

Massachusetts General Hospital is the original and largest teaching hospital of Harvard Medical School and a biomedical research facility located in the West End neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts. With 25,000 employees it is one of the world's largest hospitals by number of staff. It is the third oldest general hospital in the United States. With Brigham and Women's Hospital, it is one of the two founding members of Partners HealthCare, the largest healthcare provider in Massachusetts. Massachusetts General Hospital conducts the largest hospital-based research program in the world, with an annual research budget of more than $900 million. It is currently ranked as the #4 best hospital in the United States by U.S. News & World Report and #6 in the world by Newsweek.

Boston Capital city of Massachusetts, United States

Boston is the capital and most populous city of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts in the United States. The city proper covers 48 square miles (124 km2) with an estimated population of 694,583 in 2018, making it also the most populous city in New England. Boston is the seat of Suffolk County as well, although the county government was disbanded on July 1, 1999. The city is the economic and cultural anchor of a substantially larger metropolitan area known as Greater Boston, a metropolitan statistical area (MSA) home to a census-estimated 4.8 million people in 2016 and ranking as the tenth-largest such area in the country. As a combined statistical area (CSA), this wider commuting region is home to some 8.2 million people, making it the sixth most populous in the United States.

Isaac Montrose Taylor was the dean of the Medical School of the University of North Carolina from 1964 until 1971. His first marriage to Gertrude Woodard produced five children,James Taylor, the singer and guitarist, and four other children, Alex, Livingston, Hugh, and Kate. Through his second marriage to Suzanne Francis Sheats, he fathered three more children, Andrew Preston (1983), Theodore Haynes (1986), and Julia Rose (1989).

In 1951, his family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina, [10] when Isaac took a job as an assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. [11] They built a house in the Morgan Creek area off the present Morgan Creek Road, which was sparsely populated. [12] James would later say, "Chapel Hill, the Piedmont, the outlying hills, were tranquil, rural, beautiful, but quiet. Thinking of the red soil, the seasons, the way things smelled down there, I feel as though my experience of coming of age there was more a matter of landscape and climate than people." [12] James attended public primary school in Chapel Hill. [5] Isaac's career prospered, but he was frequently away from home, on military service at Bethesda Naval Hospital in Maryland, or as part of Operation Deep Freeze in Antarctica in 1955 and 1956. [13] Isaac Taylor later rose to become dean of the UNC School of Medicine from 1964 to 1971. [14] Beginning in 1953, the Taylors spent summers on Martha's Vineyard. [15]

Chapel Hill, North Carolina town in Orange County, North Carolina, United States

Chapel Hill is a town in Orange, Chatham, and Durham counties in the U.S. state of North Carolina. Its population was 57,233 in the 2010 census, making Chapel Hill the 15th-largest city in the state. Chapel Hill, Durham, and the state capital, Raleigh, make up the corners of the Research Triangle, with a total population of 1,998,808.

Military service Performing the service in the armed forces of a state

Military service is service by an individual or group in an army or other militia, whether as a chosen job (volunteer) or as a result of an involuntary draft (conscription).

Maryland State of the United States of America

Maryland is a state in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, bordering Virginia, West Virginia, and the District of Columbia to its south and west; Pennsylvania to its north; and Delaware to its east. The state's largest city is Baltimore, and its capital is Annapolis. Among its occasional nicknames are Old Line State, the Free State, and the Chesapeake Bay State. It is named after the English queen Henrietta Maria, known in England as Queen Mary.

James first learned to play the cello as a child in North Carolina and switched to the guitar in 1960. [16] His guitar style evolved, influenced by hymns, carols, and the music of Woody Guthrie, and his technique derived from his bass clef-oriented cello training and from experimenting on his sister Kate's keyboards: "My style was a finger-picking style that was meant to be like a piano, as if my thumb were my left hand, and my first, second, and third fingers were my right hand." [17] He began attending Milton Academy, a preparatory boarding school in Massachusetts in fall 1961. Summering before then with his family on Martha's Vineyard, he met Danny Kortchmar, an aspiring teenage guitarist from Larchmont, New York. [18] The two began listening to and playing blues and folk music together, and Kortchmar quickly realized that Taylor's singing had a "natural sense of phrasing, every syllable beautifully in time. I knew James had that thing." [19] Taylor wrote his first song on guitar at 14, and he continued to learn the instrument effortlessly. [17] By the summer of 1963, he and Kortchmar were playing coffeehouses around the Vineyard, billed as "Jamie & Kootch". [20]

Cello musical instrument

The cello ( CHEL-oh; plural celli or cellos) or violoncello ( VY-ə-lən-CHEL-oh; Italian pronunciation: [vjolonˈtʃɛllo]) is a bowed (and occasionally plucked) string instrument of the violin family. Its four strings are usually tuned in perfect fifths: from low to high, C2, G2, D3 and A3, an octave lower than the viola. Music for the cello is generally written in the bass clef, with tenor clef and treble clef used for higher-range passages.

North Carolina State of the United States of America

North Carolina is a state located in the southeastern region of the United States. North Carolina is the 28th largest and 9th-most populous of the 50 United States. North Carolina is bordered by Virginia to the north, the Atlantic Ocean to the east, Georgia and South Carolina to the south, and Tennessee to the west. Raleigh is the state's capital and Charlotte is its largest city. The Charlotte metropolitan area, with an estimated population of 2,569,213 in 2018, is the most populous metropolitan area in North Carolina and the 23rd-most populous in the United States and the largest banking center in the nation after New York City. North Carolina's second largest metropolitan area is the Research Triangle, which is home to the largest research park in the United States.

Hymn type of song specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer

A hymn is a type of song, usually religious, specifically written for the purpose of adoration or prayer, and typically addressed to a deity or deities, or to a prominent figure or personification. The word hymn derives from Greek ὕμνος (hymnos), which means "a song of praise". A writer of hymns is known as a hymnodist. The singing or composition of hymns is called hymnody. Collections of hymns are known as hymnals or hymn books. Hymns may or may not include instrumental accompaniment.

Taylor faltered during his junior year at Milton, feeling uneasy in the high-pressure college prep environment despite good scholastic performance. [21] The Milton headmaster would later say, "James was more sensitive and less goal-oriented than most students of his day." [22] He returned home to North Carolina to finish out the semester at Chapel Hill High School. [21] There, he joined a band formed by his brother Alex called The Corsayers (later The Fabulous Corsairs), playing electric guitar; in 1964, they cut a single in Raleigh that featured James's song "Cha Cha Blues" on the B-side. [21] Having lost touch with his former school friends in North Carolina, Taylor returned to Milton for his senior year. [21]

There, Taylor started applying to colleges [23] but soon descended into depression; his grades collapsed, he slept 20 hours each day, and he felt part of a "life that [he was] unable to lead." [21] [24] In late 1965 he committed himself to the renowned McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts, [21] where he was treated with Thorazine and where the organized days began to give him a sense of time and structure. [22] [24] As the Vietnam War escalated, Taylor received a psychological rejection from Selective Service System when he appeared before them with two white-suited McLean assistants and was uncommunicative. [25] Taylor earned a high school diploma in 1966 from the hospital's associated Arlington School. [25] He would later view his nine-month stay at McLean as "a lifesaver ... like a pardon or like a reprieve," [24] and both his brother Livingston and sister Kate would later be patients and students there as well. [22] As for his mental health struggles, Taylor would think of them as innate and say: "It's an inseparable part of my personality that I have these feelings." [23]


1966–1969: Early career

At Kortchmar's urging, Taylor checked himself out of McLean and moved to New York City to form a band. [25] They recruited Joel O'Brien, formerly of Kortchmar's old band King Bees, to play drums, and Taylor's childhood friend Zachary Wiesner (son of noted academic Jerome Wiesner) to play bass, and after Taylor rejected the notion of naming the group after him, they called themselves the Flying Machine. [22] [26] They played songs that Taylor had written at and about McLean, such as "Knocking 'Round the Zoo", "Don't Talk Now", and "The Blues Is Just a Bad Dream". [24] [26] In some other songs, Taylor romanticized his life, but he was plagued by self-doubt. [27] By summer 1966, they were performing regularly at the high-visibility Night Owl Cafe in Greenwich Village, alongside acts such as the Turtles and Lothar and the Hand People. [28]

Taylor associated with a motley group of people and began using heroin, to Kortchmar's dismay, and wrote the "Paint It Black"–influenced "Rainy Day Man" to depict his drug experience. [22] [28] In a late 1966 hasty recording session, the group cut a single, Taylor's "Night Owl," backed with his "Brighten Your Night with My Day". [29] Released on Jay Gee Records, a subsidiary of Jubilee Records, it received some radio airplay in the Northeast, [29] but only charted at #102 nationally. [30] Other songs had been recorded during the same session, but Jubilee declined to go forward with an album. [29] After a series of poorly-chosen appearances outside New York, culminating with a three-week stay at a failing nightspot in Freeport, Bahamas for which they were never paid, the Flying Machine broke up. [29] (A UK band with the same name emerged in 1969 with the hit song "Smile a Little Smile for Me". The New York band's recordings were later released in 1971 as James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine.)

Taylor would later say of this New York period, "I learned a lot about music and too much about drugs." [27] Indeed, his drug use had developed into full-blown heroin addiction during the final Flying Machine period: "I just fell into it, since it was as easy to get high in the Village as get a drink." [29] He hung out in Washington Square Park, playing guitar to ward off depression and then passing out, letting runaways and criminals stay at his apartment. [31] Finally out of money and abandoned by his manager, he made a desperate call one night to his father. Isaac Taylor flew to New York and staged a rescue, renting a car and driving all night back to North Carolina with James and his possessions. [31] Taylor spent six months getting treatment and making a tentative recovery; he also required a throat operation to fix vocal cords damaged from singing too harshly. [32]

Taylor decided to try being a solo act with a change of scenery. In late 1967, funded by a small family inheritance, he moved to London, living in various areas: Notting Hill, Belgravia, and Chelsea. [33] After recording some demos in Soho, his friend Kortchmar gave him his next big break. Kortchmar used his association with the King Bees (who once opened for Peter and Gordon), to connect Taylor to Peter Asher. Asher was A&R head for the Beatles' newly formed label Apple Records. [34] Taylor gave a demo tape of songs, including "Something In The Way She Moves," to Asher, [35] who then played the demo for Beatles Paul McCartney and George Harrison. McCartney remembers his first impression: "I just heard his voice and his guitar and I thought he was great ... and he came and played live, so it was just like, 'Wow, he's great.'" [34] Taylor became the first non-British act signed to Apple, [34] and he credits Asher for "opening the door" to his singing career. [35] Taylor said of Asher, who later became his manager, "I knew from the first time that we met that he was the right person to steer my career. He had this determination in his eye that I had never seen in anybody before." [36] :70

Living chaotically in various places with various women, Taylor wrote additional material, including "Carolina in My Mind", and rehearsed with a new backing band. [37] Taylor recorded what would become his first album from July to October 1968, at Trident Studios, at the same time the Beatles were recording The White Album . [37] [38] McCartney and an uncredited George Harrison guested on "Carolina in My Mind", whose lyric "holy host of others standing around me" referred to the Beatles, and the title phrase of Taylor's "Something in the Way She Moves" provided the lyrical starting point for Harrison's classic "Something". [39] [40] McCartney and Asher brought in arranger Richard Anthony Hewson to add both orchestrations to several of the songs and unusual "link" passages between them; they would receive a mixed reception, at best. [39] [41]

James had been through so much by the time he was twenty that he had so much to express in his music. Other young artists of his age whom I worked with sang about how good or bad life was but really had no idea what they were singing about. James was already singing with the conviction of a singer much older than himself. Everything that he had already been through was evident in his songwriting.

Peter Asher, Taylor's manager [36] :66

During the recording sessions, Taylor fell back into his drug habit by using heroin and methedrine. [39] He underwent physeptone treatment in a British program, returned to New York and was hospitalized there, and then finally committed himself to the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts, which emphasized cultural and historical factors in trying to treat difficult psychiatric disorders. [42] Meanwhile, Apple released his debut album, James Taylor , in December 1968 in the UK and February 1969 in the US. [42] Critical reception was generally positive, including a complimentary Jon Landau review in Rolling Stone who said that "this album is the coolest breath of fresh air I've inhaled in a good long while. It knocks me out." [41] The record's commercial potential suffered from Taylor's inability to promote it because of his hospitalization, and it sold poorly; "Carolina in My Mind" was released as a single but failed to chart in the UK and only reached #118 on the U.S. charts. [42]

In July 1969, Taylor headlined a six-night stand at the Troubadour in Los Angeles. On July 20, he performed at the Newport Folk Festival as the last act and was cheered by thousands of fans who stayed in the rain to hear him. [43] [44] Shortly thereafter, he broke both hands and both feet in a motorcycle accident on Martha's Vineyard and was forced to stop playing for several months. [45] However, while recovering, he continued to write songs and in October 1969 signed a new deal with Warner Bros. Records. [45]

1970–1972: Fame and commercial success

Taylor in the early 1970s James taylor publicity photo.jpg
Taylor in the early 1970s

Once he had recovered, Taylor moved to California, keeping Asher as his manager and record producer. In December 1969, he held the recording sessions for his second album there. Titled Sweet Baby James , and featuring the participation of Carole King, the album was released in February 1970 and was Taylor's critical and popular triumph, buoyed by the single "Fire and Rain," a song about both Taylor's experiences attempting to break his drug habit by undergoing treatment in psychiatric institutions and the suicide of his friend, Suzanne Schnerr. Both the album and the single reached #3 on the Billboard charts, with Sweet Baby James selling more than 1.5 million copies in its first year [22] and eventually more than 3 million in the United States alone. Sweet Baby James was received at its time as a folk-rock masterpiece, an album that effectively showcased Taylor's talents to the mainstream public, marking a direction he would take in following years. It earned several Grammy Award nominations including one for Album of the Year. It went on to be listed at #103 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Albums of All Time in 2003, with "Fire and Rain" listed as #227 on Rolling Stone's 500 Greatest Songs of All Time in 2004.

During the time that Sweet Baby James was released, Taylor appeared with Dennis Wilson of the Beach Boys in a Monte Hellman film, Two-Lane Blacktop . In October 1970, he performed with Joni Mitchell, Phil Ochs, and the Canadian band Chilliwack at a Vancouver benefit concert that funded Greenpeace's protests of 1971 nuclear weapons tests by the US Atomic Energy Commission at Amchitka, Alaska; this performance was released in album format in 2009 as Amchitka, The 1970 Concert That Launched Greenpeace . In January 1971, sessions for Taylor's next album began.

His career success so far and appeal to female fans of various ages piqued tremendous interest in him, prompting a March 1, 1971, Time magazine cover story of him as "the face of new rock." [22] It compared his strong-but-brooding persona to that of Wuthering Heights ' Heathcliff and to The Sorrows of Young Werther , and said, "Taylor's use of elemental imagery—darkness and sunlight, references to roads traveled and untraveled, to fears spoken and left unsaid—reaches a level both of intimacy and controlled emotion rarely achieved in purely pop music." [22] One of the writers described his look as "a cowboy Jesus," to which Taylor later replied, "I thought I was trying to look like George Harrison." [46] Released in April, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon also gained critical acclaim and contained Taylor's biggest hit single in the US, a version of Carole King's new "You've Got a Friend" (featuring backing vocals by Joni Mitchell), which reached #1 on the Billboard Hot 100 in late July. The follow-up single, "Long Ago and Far Away," also made the Top 40 and reached #4 on the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart. The album itself reached #2 on the album charts, which would be Taylor's highest position ever until the release of his 2015 album, Before This World, which went to #1, superseding Taylor Swift.

In early 1972, Taylor won his first Grammy Award for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male, for "You've Got a Friend"; King also won Song of the Year for the same song in that ceremony. The album went on to sell 2.5 million copies in the United States.

November 1972 heralded the release of Taylor's fourth album, One Man Dog . A concept album primarily recorded in his home recording studio, it featured a cameo by Linda Ronstadt along with Carole King, Carly Simon, and John McLaughlin. The album consisted of eighteen short pieces of music put together. Reception was generally lukewarm and, despite making the Top 10 of the Billboard Album Charts, its overall sales were disappointing. The lead single, "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," peaked at #14 on the Hot 100, and the follow-up, "One Man Parade," barely reached the Top 75. Almost simultaneously, Taylor married fellow singer-songwriter Carly Simon on November 3, in a small ceremony at her Murray Hill, Manhattan, apartment. [47] A post-concert party following a Taylor performance at Radio City Music Hall turned into a large-scale wedding party, and the Simon-Taylor marriage would find much public attention over the following years. [47] They had two children, Sarah Maria "Sally" Taylor, born January 7, 1974, and Benjamin Simon "Ben" Taylor, born January 22, 1977. [48] During their marriage, the couple would guest on each other's albums and have two hit singles as duet partners: a cover of Inez & Charlie Foxx's "Mockingbird" and a cover of The Everly Brothers's "Devoted to You."

1973–1976: Career ups and downs

Taylor spent most of 1973 enjoying his new life as a married man and did not return to the recording studio until January 1974, when sessions for his fifth album began. Walking Man was released in June and featured appearances of Paul and Linda McCartney and guitarist David Spinozza. The album was a critical and commercial disaster and was his first album to miss the Top 5 since his contract with Warner. It received poor reviews and sold only 300,000 copies in the United States. The title track failed to appear on the Top 100.

However, James Taylor's artistic fortunes spiked again in 1975 when the Gold album Gorilla reached #6 and provided one of his biggest hit singles, a cover version of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)", featuring wife Carly on backing vocals and reached #5 in America and #1 in Canada. On the Billboard Adult Contemporary chart, the track also reached the top, and the follow-up single, the feelgood "Mexico" also reached the Top 5 of that list. A well-received album, Gorilla showcased Taylor's electric, lighter side that was evident on Walking Man. However, it was arguably a more consistent and fresher-sounding Taylor, with classics such as "Mexico", "Wandering" and "Angry Blues". It also featured a song about his daughter Sally, "Sarah Maria".

Gorilla was followed in 1976 by In the Pocket , Taylor's last studio album to be released under Warner Bros. Records. The album found him with many colleagues and friends, including Art Garfunkel, David Crosby, Bonnie Raitt and Stevie Wonder (who co-wrote a song with Taylor and contributed a harmonica solo). A melodic album, it was highlighted with the single "Shower the People", an enduring classic that hit #1 on the Adult Contemporary chart and almost hit the Top 20 of the Pop Charts. However, the album was not well received, reaching #16 and being criticized, particularly by Rolling Stone. Still, In The Pocket went on to be certified gold.

With the close of Taylor's contract with Warner, in November, the label released Greatest Hits , the album that comprised most of his best work between 1970 and 1976. With time, it became his best-selling album ever. It was certified 11× Platinum in the US, earned a Diamond certification by the RIAA, and eventually sold close to 20 million copies worldwide.

1977–1981: Move to Columbia and continued success

In 1977 Taylor signed with Columbia Records. Between March and April, he quickly recorded his first album for the label. JT , released that June, gave Taylor his best reviews since Sweet Baby James, earning a Grammy nomination for Album of the Year in 1978. Peter Herbst of Rolling Stone was particularly favorable to the album, of which he wrote in its August 11, 1977 issue, "JT is the least stiff and by far the most various album Taylor has done. That's not meant to criticize Taylor's earlier efforts. ... But it's nice to hear him sounding so healthy." [49] JT reached #4 on the Billboard charts and sold more than 3 million copies in the United States alone. The album's Triple Platinum status ties it with Sweet Baby James as Taylor's all-time biggest selling studio album. It was propelled by the successful cover of Jimmy Jones's and Otis Blackwell's "Handy Man," which hit #1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and reached #4 on the Hot 100, earning Taylor another Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for his cover version. The song also topped the Canadian charts. The success of the album propelled the release of two further singles; the up-tempo pop "Your Smiling Face," an enduring live favorite, reached the American Top 20; however, "Honey Don't Leave L.A.", which Danny Kortchmar wrote and composed for Taylor, did not enjoy much success, reaching only #61.

Back in the forefront of popular music, Taylor guested with Paul Simon on Art Garfunkel's recording of a cover of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World," which reached the Top 20 in the U.S. and topped the AC charts in early 1978. After briefly working on Broadway, he took a one-year break, reappearing in the summer of 1979, with the cover-studded Platinum album titled Flag , featuring a Top 30 version of Gerry Goffin's and Carole King's "Up on the Roof." (Two selections from Flag, "Millworker" and "Brother Trucker", were featured on the PBS production of the Broadway musical based on Studs Terkel's non-fiction book Working , which Terkel himself hosted, and Taylor himself appeared in that production as a trucker; he performed "Brother Trucker" in character.) Taylor also appeared on the No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden, where he made a memorable live performance of "Mockingbird" with his wife Carly. The concert appeared on both the No Nukes album and film.

On December 7, 1980, Taylor had an encounter with Mark David Chapman, who would assassinate John Lennon just one day later. Taylor told the BBC in 2010: "The guy had sort of pinned me to the wall and was glistening with maniacal sweat and talking some freak speak about what he was going to do and his stuff with how John was interested, and he was going to get in touch with John Lennon. And it was surreal to actually have contact with the guy 24 hours before he shot John." The next night, Taylor, who lived in the next building from Lennon, heard the assassination occur. Taylor commented: "I heard him shoot—five, just as quick as you could pull the trigger, about five explosions." [50]

In March 1981, Taylor released the album Dad Loves His Work whose themes concerned his relationship with his father, the course his ancestors had taken, and the effect that he and Simon had on each other. [51] The album was another Platinum success, reaching #10 and providing Taylor's final real hit single in a duet with J. D. Souther, "Her Town Too," which reached #5 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #11 on the Billboard Hot 100.

1981–1996: Troubled times and new beginnings

At Winterfest, 1985 James Taylor - Winterfest.jpg
At Winterfest, 1985

Simon announced her separation from Taylor in September 1981 saying, "Our needs are different; it seem[s] impossible to stay together" and their divorce finalized in 1983. [52] Their breakup was highly publicized. [53] At the time, Taylor was living on West End Avenue in Manhattan and on a methadone maintenance program to cure him of his drug addiction. [54] Over the course of four months starting in September 1983, spurred on in part by the deaths of his friends John Belushi and Dennis Wilson and in part by the desire to be a better father to his children Sally and Ben, he discontinued methadone and overcame his heroin habit. [54]

Taylor had thoughts of retiring by the time he played the Rock in Rio festival in Rio de Janeiro in January 1985. [55] He was encouraged by the nascent democracy in Brazil at the time, buoyed by the positive reception he got from the large crowd and other musicians, and musically energized by the sounds and nature of Brazilian music. [56] "I had ... sort of bottomed-out in a drug habit, my marriage with Carly had dissolved, and I had basically been depressed and lost for a while," he recalled in 1995:

I sort of hit a low spot. I was asked to go down to Rio de Janeiro to play in this festival down there. We put the band together and went down and it was just an amazing response. I played to 300,000 people. They not only knew my music, they knew things about it and were interested in aspects of it that to that point had only interested me. To have that kind of validation right about then was really what I needed. It helped get me back on track. [57]

The song "Only a Dream in Rio" was written in tribute to that night, with lines like I was there that very day and my heart came back alive. [56] The October 1985 album, That's Why I'm Here , from which that song came, started a series of studio recordings that, while spaced further apart than his previous records, showed a more consistent level of quality and fewer covers, most notably the Buddy Holly song "Everyday", released as a single reached No. 61. On the album track "Only One," the backing vocals were performed by an all star duo of Joni Mitchell and Don Henley. [58]

Taylor's next albums were partially successful; in 1988, he released Never Die Young , highlighted with the charting title track, and in 1991, the platinum New Moon Shine provided Taylor some popular songs with the melancholic "Copperline" and the upbeat "(I've Got to) Stop Thinkin' About That", both hit singles on Adult Contemporary radio. In the late 1980s, he began touring regularly, especially on the summer amphitheater circuit. His later concerts feature songs spanning his career and are marked by the musicianship of his band and backup singers. The 1993 two-disc Live album captures this, with a highlight being Arnold McCuller's descants in the codas of "Shower the People" and "I Will Follow". In 1995, Taylor performed the role of the Lord in Randy Newman's Faust .

1997–present: Comeback

Taylor in concert at DeVos Hall, Grand Rapids, Michigan - April 2006 JamesTaylor 02.jpg
Taylor in concert at DeVos Hall, Grand Rapids, Michigan – April 2006

After six years since his last studio album, in 1997 Taylor released Hourglass , an introspective album that gave him the best critical reviews in almost twenty years. The album had much of its focus on Taylor's troubled past and family. "Jump Up Behind Me" paid tribute to his father's rescue of him after The Flying Machine days, and the long drive from New York City back to his home in Chapel Hill. [59] "Enough To Be on Your Way" was inspired by the alcoholism-related death of his brother Alex earlier in the decade. [60] The themes were also inspired by Taylor and Walker's divorce, which took place in 1996. [61] Rolling Stone Magazine found that "one of the themes of this record is disbelief", while Taylor told the magazine that it was "spirituals for agnostics". [62] Critics embraced the dark themes on the album, and Hourglass was a commercial success, reaching No. 9 on the Billboard 200 (Taylor's first Top 10 album in sixteen years) and also provided a big adult contemporary hit on "Little More Time With You". The album also gave Taylor his first Grammy since JT, when he was honored with Best Pop Album in 1998.

Flanked by two greatest hit releases, Taylor's Platinum-certified October Road appeared in 2002 to a receptive audience. It featured a number of quiet instrumental accompaniments and passages. Overall, it found Taylor in a more peaceful frame of mind; rather than facing a crisis now, Taylor said in an interview that "I thought I'd passed the midpoint of my life when I was 17." [63] The album appeared in two versions, a single-disc version and a "limited edition" two-disc version which contained three extra songs including a duet with Mark Knopfler, "Sailing to Philadelphia", which also appeared on Knopfler's album by the same name. Also in 2002, Taylor teamed with bluegrass musician Alison Krauss in singing "The Boxer" at the Kennedy Center Honors Tribute to Paul Simon. They later recorded the Louvin Brothers duet, "How's the World Treating You?" In 2004, after he chose not to renew his record contract with Columbia/Sony, he released James Taylor: A Christmas Album with distribution through Hallmark Cards.

Taylor performing at Tanglewood James Taylor at Tanglewood.jpg
Taylor performing at Tanglewood

Always visibly active in environmental and liberal causes, in October 2004, Taylor joined the Vote for Change tour playing a series of concerts in American swing states. These concerts were organized by MoveOn.org with the goal of mobilizing people to vote for John Kerry and against George W. Bush in that year's presidential campaign. Taylor's appearances were joint performances with the Dixie Chicks.

Taylor performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Game 2 of the World Series in Boston on October 24, 2004, on October 25, 2007 and Game 1 on October 23, 2018, and "America" before the game on October 24, 2013. In December 2004, he appeared as himself in an episode of The West Wing entitled "A Change Is Gonna Come". He sang Sam Cooke's classic "A Change Is Gonna Come" at an event honoring an artist played by Taylor's wife Caroline. Later on, he appeared on CMT's Crossroads alongside the Dixie Chicks. In early 2006, MusiCares honored Taylor with performances of his songs by an array of notable musicians. Before a performance by the Dixie Chicks, lead singer Natalie Maines acknowledged that he had always been one of their musical heroes and had, for them, lived up to their once-imagined reputation of him. [64] They performed his song, "Shower the People", with a surprise appearance by Arnold McCuller, who has sung backing vocals on Taylor's live tours and albums for many years.

In the fall of 2006, Taylor released a repackaged and slightly different version of his Hallmark Christmas album, now entitled James Taylor at Christmas, and distributed by Columbia/Sony. In 2006, Taylor performed Randy Newman's song "Our Town" for the Disney animated film Cars . The song was nominated for the 2007 Academy Award for the Best Original Song. On January 1, 2007, Taylor headlined the inaugural concert at the Times Union Center in Albany, New York, honoring newly sworn in Governor of New York Eliot Spitzer.

Taylor's next album, One Man Band was released on CD and DVD in November 2007 on Starbucks' Hear Music Label, where he joined with Paul McCartney and Joni Mitchell. The introspective album grew out of a three-year One Man Band Tour tour of the United States and Europe, featuring some of Taylor's most beloved songs and anecdotes about their creative origins—accompanied solely by the "one man band" of his longtime pianist/keyboardist, Larry Goldings. The digital discrete 5.1 surround sound mix of One Man Band won a TEC Award for best surround sound recording in 2008. [65]

Taylor in April 2011 JamesTaylorApr2011.jpg
Taylor in April 2011

On November 28–30, 2007, Taylor, accompanied by his original band and Carole King, headlined a series of six shows at the Troubadour. The appearances marked the 50th anniversary of the venue, where Taylor, King and many others, such as Tom Waits, Neil Diamond, and Elton John, performed early in their music careers. Proceeds from the concert went to benefit the Natural Resources Defense Council, MusiCares, Alliance for the Wild Rockies, and the Los Angeles Regional Foodbank, a member of America's Second Harvest, the nation's Food Bank Network. Parts of the performance shown on CBS Sunday Morning in the December 23, 2007, broadcast showed Taylor alluding to his early drug problems by saying, "I played here a number of times in the 70s, allegedly". Taylor has used versions of this joke on other occasions, and it appears as part of his One Man Band DVD and tour performances.

Taylor and Carole King performing "You've Got a Friend" together during their Troubadour Reunion Tour in 2010 You've Got a Friend JT CK 2010.jpg
Taylor and Carole King performing "You've Got a Friend" together during their Troubadour Reunion Tour in 2010

In December 2007, James Taylor at Christmas was nominated for a Grammy Award. In January 2008, Taylor recorded approximately 20 songs by others for a new album with a band including Luis Conte, Michael Landau, Lou Marini, Arnold McCuller, Jimmy Johnson, David Lasley, Walt Fowler, Andrea Zonn, Kate Markowitz, Steve Gadd and Larry Goldings. The resulting live-in-studio album, named Covers , was released in September 2008. [66] The album forays into country and soul while being the latest proof that Taylor is a more versatile singer than his best known hits might suggest. The Covers sessions stretched to include "Oh What a Beautiful Morning", from the musical Oklahoma!, a song that his grandmother had caught him singing over and over at the top of his lungs when he was seven years old. [67] Meanwhile, in summer 2008, Taylor and this band toured 34 North American cities with a tour entitled James Taylor and His Band of Legends. An additional album, called Other Covers , came out in April 2009, containing songs that were recorded during the same sessions as the original Covers but had not been put out to the full public yet. [68]

During October 19–21, 2008, Taylor performed a series of free concerts in five North Carolina cities in support of Barack Obama's presidential bid. [69] [70] On Sunday, January 18, 2009, he performed at the We Are One: The Obama Inaugural Celebration at the Lincoln Memorial, singing "Shower the People" with John Legend and Jennifer Nettles of Sugarland. [71] Taylor performed on the final The Tonight Show with Jay Leno on May 29, 2009, distinguishing himself further as the final musician to appear in Leno's original 17-year run.

On September 8, 2009, Taylor made an appearance at the 24th-season premiere block party of The Oprah Winfrey Show on Chicago's Michigan Avenue.

On January 1, 2010, Taylor sang the American national anthem at the NHL Winter Classic at Fenway Park, while Daniel Powter sang the Canadian national anthem.

On March 7, 2010, Taylor sang the Beatles' "In My Life" in tribute to deceased artists at the 82nd Academy Awards.

Taylor at the October 16, 2011, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication concert 20111016 James Taylor at the MLK Memorial dedication concert.jpg
Taylor at the October 16, 2011, Martin Luther King, Jr. Memorial dedication concert

In March 2010, he commenced the Troubadour Reunion Tour with Carole King and members of his original band, including Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, and Danny Kortchmar. They played shows in Australia, New Zealand, Japan and North America, with the final night being at the Honda Center, in Anaheim, California. The tour was a major commercial success, and in some locations found Taylor playing arenas instead of his usual theaters or amphitheaters. Ticket sales amounted to over 700,000 and the tour grossed over $59 million. It was one of the most successful tours of the year. [72]

On September 11, 2011, Taylor performed "You Can Close Your Eyes" in New York City at the National September 11 Memorial & Museum for the 10th anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

On November 22, 2011, Taylor performed "Fire and Rain" with Taylor Swift, who was named after him, [73] at the last concert of her Speak Now World Tour in Madison Square Garden, as well as her own song, "Fifteen". Then, on July 2, 2012, Swift appeared as Taylor's special guest in a concert at Tanglewood. [74]

On April 24, 2013, Taylor performed at the memorial service for slain MIT police officer Sean Collier, who was killed by Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, the men responsible for the Boston Marathon bombing. [75] Taylor was accompanied by the MIT Symphony Orchestra and three MIT a cappella groups while performing his songs "The Water is Wide" and "Shower the People." [76]

He was active in support of Barack Obama's 2012 reelection campaign, and opened the 2012 Democratic National Convention. He performed "America the Beautiful" at the President's second inauguration. [77]

After a 45-year wait, James earned his first No. 1 album on the Billboard 200 chart with Before This World . The album, which was released on June 16 through Concord Records, arrived on top the chart of July 4, 2015, more than 45 years after Taylor arrived on the list with Sweet Baby James (on the March 14, 1970 list). The album launched atop the Billboard 200 with 97,000 equivalent album units earned in the week ending June 21, 2015 according to Nielsen Music. Of its start, pure album sales were 96,000 copies sold, Taylor's best debut week for an album since 2002's October Road. [78]

Taylor cancelled his 2016 concert in Manila as a protest to the extrajudicial killings of suspects in the Philippine Drug War. [79]

Family and personal life

Taylor and wife Caroline "Kim" Smedvig, seen in 2008 James Taylor and Kim Smedvig at Met Opera.jpg
Taylor and wife Caroline "Kim" Smedvig, seen in 2008

Taylor's four siblings (Alex, Livingston, Hugh, and Kate) have also been musicians with recorded albums. Livingston is still an active musician; Kate was active in the 1970s but did not record another album until 2003; Hugh operates a bed-and-breakfast with his wife, The Outermost Inn in Aquinnah on Martha's Vineyard; and Alex died in 1993 on James's birthday.

After his divorce from Carly Simon in 1983, Taylor married actress Kathryn Walker on December 14, 1985 at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York. [80] She had helped him get off heroin, but the marriage ended in divorce in 1996. [61]

On February 18, 2001, at the Emmanuel Episcopal Church, Boston, Taylor wed for the third time, marrying Caroline ("Kim") Smedvig, the director of public relations and marketing for the Boston Symphony Orchestra. [81] They had begun dating in 1995, when they met as he appeared with John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. [81] Part of their relationship was worked into the album October Road , on the song "On the 4th of July". [82] The couple reside in the town of Washington, Massachusetts, [83] with their twin boys, Rufus and Henry, born in April 2001. [81] [84]

Sally and Ben, his children with Carly Simon, have also embarked on musical careers. Taylor's children with his current wife express little interest in music. After they were born, Taylor moved with his family to Lenox, Massachusetts. [85]

Awards and recognition

Grammy Awards

Other recognition

James Taylor Bridge, Chapel Hill, North Carolina James Taylor Bridge 080526.JPG
James Taylor Bridge, Chapel Hill, North Carolina


Studio albums

Other appearances

Taylor performing with Vince Gill (right) and Amy Grant (left) at Tanglewood in 2011 Amy Grant, James Taylor, and Vince Gill.jpg
Taylor performing with Vince Gill (right) and Amy Grant (left) at Tanglewood in 2011

See also

Related Research Articles

<i>Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon</i> 1971 studio album by James Taylor

Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon is the third studio album by American singer-songwriter James Taylor, recorded and released in 1971.

<i>James Taylor</i> (album) 1968 studio album by James Taylor

James Taylor is the self-titled debut studio album by American singer-songwriter James Taylor. Released on December 6, 1968, it was the first recording by a non-British artist released by Apple Records, and would also be Taylor's only release on that label. The album was released under the title First Album on the South African market.

<i>James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine</i> 1971 studio album by James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine

James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine is an archival release of 1966 recordings of American singer-songwriter James Taylor's band The Flying Machine, first released in February 1971.

Livingston Taylor American singer-songwriter

Livingston Taylor is an American singer-songwriter and folk musician. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he is the brother of singer-songwriter James Taylor, singer-songwriter Kate Taylor, musician Alex Taylor, and innkeeper and singer Hugh Taylor. With a career reaching the fifty-year mark in 2017, Taylor is most notable for his Billboard hits “I Will Be In Love With You”, “First Time Love”, and “I’ll Come Running”.

William Haislip Squier is an American rock musician and singer. Squier had a string of arena rock hits in the 1980s. He is best known for the song "The Stroke", from his 1981 album Don't Say No.

Daniel Kortchmar is an American guitarist, session musician, producer and songwriter. Kortchmar's work with singer-songwriters such as Linda Ronstadt, James Taylor, David Crosby, Carole King, David Cassidy, Graham Nash, Neil Young, and Carly Simon helped define the signature sound of the singer-songwriter era of the 1970s. Jackson Browne and Don Henley have recorded many songs written or co-written by Kortchmar, and Kortchmar was Henley's songwriting and producing partner in the 1980s.

Steamroller Blues 1970 song performed by James Taylor

"Steamroller Blues", is a blues parody written by James Taylor, that appeared on his 1970 album Sweet Baby James. It was intended to "mock" the inauthentic blues bands of the day. The song later appeared on two of Taylor's compilation albums and has been recorded by a variety of other artists.

Country Road (song) 1971 single by James Taylor

"Country Road" is a song written and performed by James Taylor. It appears on his 1970 second album, Sweet Baby James. The song was inspired by Somerset Street in Belmont, Massachusetts,} a wooded road running adjacent to the land owned by McLean Hospital, where Taylor had committed himself in 1965 to receive treatment for depression. "Country Road" reached number 37 on the Billboard pop singles chart and number 9 Easy Listening in early 1971. On the Canadian charts, the song was a bigger hit on both the Pop (#19) and Adult Contemporary (#3) charts.

Your Smiling Face 1977 single by James Taylor

"Your Smiling Face" is a hit single by singer James Taylor. First available on the album JT, and released as the album's sophomore single in September 1977, "Your Smiling Face" peaked at number 11 in Cash Box magazine and at 20 on the Billboard Hot 100 near year's end. It reached number 11 on the RPM Top Singles chart in Canada. On Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart, it reached number 6.

Carolina in My Mind James Taylor song

"Carolina in My Mind" is a song written and performed by singer-songwriter James Taylor, which first appeared on his 1968 self-titled debut album. Taylor wrote it while overseas recording for the Beatles' label Apple Records, and the song's themes reflect his homesickness at the time. Released as a single, the song earned critical praise but not commercial success. It was re-recorded for Taylor's 1976 Greatest Hits album in the version that is most familiar to listeners. It has been a staple of Taylor's concert performances over the decades of his career.

Bartenders Blues (song) 1977 song performed by James Taylor

"Bartender's Blues" is a song written by James Taylor and first released on his 1977 album JT. It was also released as the b-side of the lead single from JT, "Handy Man." It has since been covered by George Jones and other artists.

Long Ago and Far Away (James Taylor song) 1971 song with lyrics by James Taylor performed by James Taylor

"Long Ago and Far Away" is a song written by James Taylor and first released on his 1971 album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon. It was the follow up single to You've Got a Friend and became a Top 40 hit in the U.S. and a Top 20 hit in Canada, and made the Top 10 on the Adult Contemporary chart in the U.S. It has also been covered by New York Voices and Johnny Mathis.

Mexico (James Taylor song) song by James Taylor

"Mexico" is a song written by James Taylor that first appeared as the opening track of his 1975 album Gorilla. It was released as a single, with the album's title track as the b-side, and reached #49 on the Billboard Hot 100, but performed much better on the Adult Contemporary chart, reaching #5. "Mexico" has appeared on many of Taylor's live and compilation albums. It has been covered by Jimmy Buffett, Alex de Grassi and Lauren Laverne

One Man Parade 1973 single by James Taylor

"One Man Parade" is a song written by James Taylor that was first released as the first track on his 1972 album One Man Dog. It was also released as the second single from the album, following up on the Top 20 hit "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," after receiving significant airplay as an album track. The single was issued twice with two different B-sides, "Hymn" and "Nobody But You." It did not achieve the same chart success as "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," peaking at #67 on the Billboard Hot 100. It also charted on the Adult Contemporary chart in Canada, reaching #55. In some countries, such as in Europe, it was released as the B-side of the single release of "One Morning in May."

Night Owl (James Taylor song) 1967 song performed by James Taylor

"Night Owl" is a song written by James Taylor that was originally released as a single by Taylor's band the Flying Machine, which also included Danny Kortchmar in 1967. Taylor later rerecorded a solo version of the song for his Apple Records debut album James Taylor in 1968. Subsequently, the Flying Machine version was released on the album James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine. It has also been covered by such artists as Alex Taylor, Carly Simon and Anne Murray.

Honey Dont Leave L.A. 1978 single by James Taylor

"Honey Don't Leave L.A." is a song written by Danny Kortchmar. It was first recorded by Attitudes, a band consisting of Kortchmar, Paul Stallworth, Jim Keltner and David Foster, who met while backing George Harrison on his album Extra Texture . It was released on Attitudes' self-titled debut album in 1976. It was also released as a promotional single on Harrison's Dark Horse Records label.


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Further reading

His father did not fly to New York to rescue him, then rent a car to drive back to North Carolina. His father drove 13 hours through the night to New York to bring him home to NC.( As per his interview on Oprah Winfrey’s Masters Class Series, aired May 20, 2019)