Carole King’s Tapestry turns 50
The genre singer/songwriter was named around 1970, give or take, and was said to apply to me among others: Joni Mitchell, Cat Stevens, Jackson Browne… Why that supposed movement didn’t begin with Bob Dylan or even Woody Guthrie or Robert Johnson beats me, maybe they were still “folk“. But, if it means anything, Carole King deserves to be thought of as its epitome. I’d been deep into her songs – “Up on the Roof”, “Natural Woman, “…Cryin’ in the Rain” – for a decade before Danny Kortchmar introduced us in Los Angeles in 1970. She played piano on my “Sweet Baby James” while working on the songs for her own “Tapestry”. Our collaboration, our extended musical conversation over the next 3 or 4 years was really something wonderful. I’ve said it before but Carole and I found we spoke the same language. Not just that we were both musicians but as if we shared a common ear, a parallel musical/emotional path. And we brought this out in each other, I believe.
It was a big change for Carole to leave NY for LA. She left behind an established, hugely successful career as a Brill Building tunesmith, with her husband/lyricist Gerry Goffin and went west, on her own, with two young daughters. She started writing by herself, about herself – that is to say, from her own life. It came out of her so strong, so fierce and fresh. So clearly in her own voice. And yet, so immediately accessible, so familiar: you knew these songs already. I had that experience the first time I heard Carole sing “You’ve Got a Friend” from the stage of the Troubadour: “oh yeah, that one” Incredible that this song didn’t always exist… Carole’s focus was her family: Louise and Sherry and imminently, Levi and Molly. She had no time for the stuff the rest of us in Laurel Canyon were up to. She had her family and her songs. Certainly she would have her adventures, dramatic emotional switchbacks, in years to come. But in those days, she seemed to watch the dancers with a kind, wry detachment. To me, she was a port in the storm, a good and serious person with an astonishing gift, and, of course, a friend.
James Taylor for The Guardian, February 12, 2021.
Photo: Elissa Kline Photography