Friday, February 5

LATIMES.COM — ‘Tapestry’ at 50: How Carole King ‘bet on herself’ to record a singer-songwriter classic


In January 1971, Carole King — a native New Yorker recently transplanted to touchy-feely Los Angeles — entered A&M Studios on La Brea Avenue to record her first album of songs for which she’d written both music and lyrics.

With her was a family-sized crew of musicians-slash-confidants from the emerging Laurel Canyon rock scene, among them her producer, Lou Adler, and James Taylor, the sexy and ruminative singer and guitarist for whom she’d played piano on tour the year before.

They worked quickly, cutting two or three tunes a day, and finished the 12-song record in three weeks. (The studio budget, according to Adler: $22,000.) By June, the LP — King called it “Tapestry” in acknowledgment of its handcrafted vibe — had reached the top of the Billboard 200, where it stayed for 15 weeks on its way to finding a permanent spot in what seemed like every home in America.

“In a funny way, it was almost like Obama’s first presidential run, when he sprinted through the campaign so quickly that the Republican dirt machine didn’t get him in their sights,” says Taylor, whose early success alongside King would propel the two of them half a century later to performances at Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration. “People didn’t get a chance to say, ‘Oh, Carole — she doesn’t really have a singer’s voice.’ Or, ‘She’s a mother.’ Or, ‘She’s from Brooklyn.’

“The first thing you knew about it was, here’s this incredible material, and people heard it and said, ‘Yeah, that’s for me.’ It was like a first-pitch home run.

“Of course, that wasn’t true,” Taylor adds with a laugh. “It came after a decade of work.”

Indeed, for all its energy of arrival, “Tapestry” actually marked the beginning of an unlikely second act for King, who at age 28 had left behind a life and career as half of a prolific Brill Building songwriting duo with her husband, Gerry Goffin, and had moved to L.A. with her two young daughters, Louise and Sherry. Here, nestled in the verdant hills above Hollywood, the woman who co-wrote the deathless “Up on the Roof,” “The Loco-Motion” and “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” remade herself as a new kind of pop star: thoughtful, relatable, understated. The album’s iconic cover, showing wavy-haired King and her cat sitting contentedly by a window in her home on Wonderland Avenue, said it all.

And the shift went beyond her: Along with Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” and Joni Mitchell’s “Blue,” the latter recorded just down the hall at A&M with some of the same players, King’s album helped launch the singer-songwriter movement of the 1970s, resetting pop’s mood and scope in the wake of the cultural and political upheaval that defined the end of the ’60s.

King, now 78, declined to talk about her signature work, as she does with virtually all interview requests. But 50 years after its release on Feb. 10, 1971, “Tapestry” stands as an indelible document of soft-rock introspection, with the statistics and accolades — four top-20 singles; Grammy Awards for album, record and song of the year; estimated worldwide sales of 30 million copies — to ensure it’s still talked about even as hand-me-down vinyl collections have given way to streaming ones and zeroes.

Yet to tune out the decades of adulation and simply listen to “Tapestry” is to be struck by the essential modesty of its sound and outlook. Accompanying herself on piano — and backed unobtrusively by Taylor, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, bassist Charles Larkey and drummer Russ Kunkel — King sings in a yearning, slightly raspy voice free of obvious ornamentation.

“It’s an it-is-what-it-is kind of vocal,” says Peter Asher, the veteran producer and manager who oversaw Taylor’s career at the time. “She wasn’t saying, ‘Look, I’m a singer!’”

Instead, King was using her warmly conversational tone (which she’d developed, if that’s the word for it, recording demos for her and Goffin’s songs) to deliver her lyrics about romance and friendship. In the made-to-order hits she wrote in her teens and early 20s, back when Goffin was handling the words, love always carries the promise of ecstasy and the threat of agony; it’s a sensation to be swept away by, to get lost in, sometimes to fear.

But love on “Tapestry” is a more realistic proposition. “You’re so far away,” she sings in one typically plainspoken line. “Doesn’t anybody stay in one place anymore?” There’s no exaggeration in the heartache she describes in “It’s Too Late” (which King wrote with Toni Stern), no hyperbole in the commitment she offers in “You’ve Got a Friend.” The songs treat relationships within the dramatic parameters of everyday life — a point of view born from King’s experience with divorce that ended up resonating with a generation of young women reordering their priorities regarding sex, work, marriage and motherhood.

You wouldn’t call “Tapestry” an explicitly political album, though drummer Kunkel ties its themes of personal liberation to the sense of possibility embodied in the efforts to end the Vietnam War and to stop the proliferation of nuclear power. King, an ardent Democratic activist known to turn up on MSNBC, no doubt would agree.

“What she does so beautifully on that record is she distills these really complex subjects — the big emotional milestones of our lives — to these simple phrases that you feel like you can hold,” says 41-year-old Sara Bareilles, who first encountered “Tapestry” in a bin of her parents’ LPs and recalls getting deep into the album after college.

With its highly legible emotions and its easy show-tune melodicism, “Tapestry” contrasted with Mitchell’s more intellectual approach. But for an artist who started out in a pop factory thought by some to crank out product for teenyboppers, the album succeeded in establishing King as a grown-up presence — an achievement that cleared a path for the ascent of a hitmaker-turned-auteur named after King’s sideman: Taylor Swift.

“Carole bet on herself,” says Bareilles, who calls King her “north star.” “She had the courage to step out from a framework that’s safe and lucrative and to make a decision that’s a little bit more honest and a little bit more authentic.”

Barry Mann, another Brill Building pro who with wife Cynthia Weil came up alongside Goffin and King, wasn’t surprised when the world learned to take Carole King seriously.

“If it wasn’t ‘Tapestry,’ it would’ve been something else — she’s just so talented that it was only a matter of time,” he says. But King’s split from Goffin, as a result of his infidelity and volatile behavior, focused what she wanted to say with her music. (Goffin died in 2014.) So too did her new home, according to Toni Stern, a born-and-raised Angeleno who says King “intuited that things were happening out here musically” and that the singer, once ensconced as Laurel Canyon’s yoga-practicing earth mother, felt freed from the various ways her family and her oldest friends thought of her.

“She stopped eating red meat… and started to cook vegetarian,” Sheila Weller writes of King in her 2008 book “Girls Like Us,” about the interconnected lives of King, Mitchell and Carly Simon. With a neighbor, King played volleyball on a team called the Wonderland Wonders.

King quickly formed a short-lived group, the City, with Kortchmar and Larkey (whom she later married), then made her solo debut with 1970’s “Writer.” Neither project garnered much attention outside the music industry but they established crucial connections that set up what was to come.

For “Tapestry,” Adler was aiming for what he’s called “a smooth ride” modeled in part on June Christy’s mid-’50s “Something Cool”; he and his engineer, Hank Cicalo, turned down the lights in the studio and huddled the musicians as close as they’d been while rehearsing the music in King’s living room. It’s not all so hushed: “I Feel the Earth Move” opens the album with a barreling piano groove. But Taylor says the producer “protected the integrity” of the singer’s naturalistic sound by resisting the urge to “send it to the garden to pick up strings and horns.”

“Lou left Carole raw and left the tracks raw,” Taylor says. “‘Raw’ may be the wrong word. I mean pure.”

Adds Kunkel: “The songs flew the plane,” including a pair of Goffin-King numbers — “Will You Love Me Tomorrow” and “(You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman” — reframed here as stripped-down ballads.

The reaction to “Tapestry” was immediate, with rave reviews in Rolling Stone and the Village Voice. Stern remembers walking into her dry cleaner’s at the corner of San Vicente and Santa Monica boulevards one day and hearing a guy “walking out, his cleaning flung over his shoulder — I can still see the plastic — and he’s humming ‘It’s Too Late.’ That was better than hearing it on the radio,” she says.

It wasn’t just fans and critics either; other musicians clamored to cover King’s songs. Taylor famously scored a huge hit that year with his own take on “You’ve Got a Friend,” while Barbra Streisand put three tunes from “Tapestry” on her “Barbra Joan Streisand” album, which came out just months later.

Asher says King’s appeal among artists “proves that the other Carole — the Brill Building Carole — was still in there: ‘Here’s a hit song for you.’” And as in that earlier era, when acts like the Drifters and Aretha Franklin were singing her stuff, many of the best interpretations came from Black soul and R&B artists such as Donny Hathaway, who did “You’ve Got a Friend” on a classic live album cut at the Troubadour in L.A., and the Isley Brothers, who turned “It’s Too Late” into a lusty-tortured slow jam.

“That song to me was like a great R&B song,” says Ron Isley. “It used to be a showstopper for us.”

In the years after “Tapestry,” King could seem ambivalent about the stardom she’d attained. She continued to make records, occasionally in search of a convincing style, but she didn’t tour or promote them as the pop industry requires. Today, nine of her 10 most-streamed songs on Spotify are from “Tapestry,” and her 1974 track “Jazzman,” which reached No. 2 on the Billboard Hot 100, may be best known in a version by Lisa Simpson.

“She wanted to be home with her children — and to create more children,” Kortchmar says. (In addition to her daughters with Goffin, King has a daughter, Molly, and a son, Levi, with Larkey.) “And she was just seriously less interested in the fame part of the gig — the everyone-adores-me part — than in actually creating the music.”

The adoration came anyway, of course. There was a “Tapestry” tribute album with performances by the Bee Gees and Celine Dion. There was TV’s “Gilmore Girls,” which used “Where You Lead” as its theme song. There was an episode of “Glee” featuring King’s music, and the Tony-winning Broadway biographical musical “Beautiful,” and a Kennedy Center Honors ceremony in which Franklin blew everybody’s mind (and brought President Obama to tears) with a thrilling and queenly rendition of “Natural Woman.”

In 2010, King surprised lots of folks when she agreed to an international arena tour with Taylor in which the two “got the band back together,” as Taylor puts it, and played their beloved old songs as though they were onstage together at the Troubadour in 1970.

“It worked extremely well,” Taylor says. “Then at the end of it, when everybody’s saying, ‘Keep the big ball rolling,’ Carole says, ‘No, let’s quit while we’re still ahead.’ And she walked away.”


Monday, February 1

PEOPLE.COM — Zac Brown Band Releases Cover of James Taylor’s Hit Song ‘Sweet Baby James’: He’s ‘My Influence’

By Darlene Aderoju

Zac Brown Band has released a new cover song that will ease music listeners’ ears.

On Friday, the multi-platinum, Grammy-winning group dropped their Amazon Original cover of James Taylor’s classic song “Sweet Baby James.” Their soulful rendition is available for both purchase and streaming on Amazon Music’s “Fresh Country” playlist. Zac Brown Band’s frontman has always been an avid fan of the star, who is now 72.

“I started listening to James Taylor in elementary school,” Brown, 42, said in a statement. “He’s probably my single biggest influence that I’ve ever had.”

For the country star, Taylor’s impressive skills as a guitarist are what really seal the deal. He said of his inspiration, “What Taylor plays on the acoustic guitar is very hard, there are moving baselines and there’s a rhythm and melody all playing at one time. He showed me what you can do with a single guitar to accompany a song. I hope our fans love this as much as we do.”

The country hitmakers have already joined forces in a huge way. In 2011, Zac Brown Band and Taylor hit the stage together and wowed fans at Academy of Country Music Awards. They performed a medley of fan-favorites, including hit song “Colder Weather” and of course, “Sweet Baby James.”

Zac Brown Band released “The Man Who Loves You the Most” and “You and Islands” digitally last year — the former debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s country digital song sales chart.

The original “Sweet Baby James” is still considered one of Taylor’s most popular tracks and was the lead single of his 1970 eponymous breakthrough album.


Monday, February 1

AMERICANSONGWRITER.COM — Zac Brown Band Releases Amazon Original Cover of James Taylor’s Enduring Classic, “Sweet Baby James”

Multi-platinum, Grammy Award-winning Zac Brown Band released an Amazon Original cover of James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James,” available to stream and purchase only on Amazon Music. The soul-stirring song is the opening track on Taylor’s 1970 breakthrough sophomore album and is considered by Taylor to be his best song.

“I started listening to James Taylor in elementary school. He’s probably my single biggest influence that I’ve ever had,” said Zac Brown. “What Taylor plays on the acoustic guitar is very hard – there are moving base lines, and there’s a rhythm and melody all playing at one time. He showed me what you can do with a single guitar to accompany a song. I hope our fans love this as much as we do.”

Zac Brown Band has a long history with Taylor, sharing the stage with him at the 2011 Academy of Country Music Awards, performing a medley of their hit song “Colder Weather” with “Sweet Baby James.” This Original cover of “Sweet Baby James” follows Zac Brown Band’s two digital singles released in 2020, “The Man Who Loves You The Most,” which debuted at #1 on Billboard’s Country Digital Song Sales Chart, and “You and Islands.”

Amazon Music listeners can find the track on the “Fresh Country” playlist, the best place to find the freshest tracks in country music. Customers can also simply ask, “Alexa play the Amazon Original by Zac Brown Band” in the Amazon app for iOS and Android and on Alexa-enabled devices. In addition to Zac Brown Band, Amazon Music listeners can access hundreds of Amazon Originals featuring both emerging and established artists across numerous genres, available to stream and purchase only on Amazon Music.


Monday, January 25

THE WALL STREET JOURNAL — James Taylor Looks Back on His Early Years

By Alan Paul

It might seem unusual, even presumptuous, for a 72-year-old man to write a memoir covering just the first 21 years of his life, as James Taylor did last year with “Break Shot,” published as an Audible Original audiobook. But Mr. Taylor’s first two decades were extraordinary. He had already lived a privileged but tormented childhood, seen his New York rock ’n’ roll dreams collapse, spent time in a mental institution, been addicted to heroin, recorded with the Beatles, lived in both swinging London and Los Angeles’ Laurel Canyon at its creative peak, and cut a landmark second album, “Sweet Baby James,” that included the classic “Fire and Rain.”

“I stopped the story with the release of ‘Sweet Baby James’ because at that point, I become a public person and said everything worth saying,” says Mr. Taylor on the phone from a recent Montana ski trip. “I was on the cover of Time magazine in 1971 and became sort of an open book.”

Mr. Taylor has had a seismic cultural impact. His manager says that he has sold 100 million albums. Taylor Swift was named after him, as she announced from the stage of Madison Square Garden in 2011 when Mr. Taylor joined her to sing “Fire and Rain.” In addition to his own songs, Mr. Taylor has excelled as an interpreter, notching hits with covers including Carole King’s “You’ve Got a Friend” and “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You),” which was written by the Motown team of Lamont Dozier, Brian Holland and Eddie Holland.

On his most recent releases, 2020’s “American Standard” and the three-song EP follow-up “Over the Rainbow,” Mr. Taylor’s taste in covers gets more eclectic. He focuses on songs he learned in his childhood, including “Moon River,” “Somewhere Over the Rainbow” and “Surrey With a Fringe on Top” from the musical “Oklahoma!”, mostly performed as guitar duets between Mr. Taylor and the jazz great John Pizzarelli. “American Standard” has been nominated for a Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album—his 19th nomination on his 19th album. He has previously won five.

“Early in my career, I found it almost embarrassing to be nominated for Grammys,” says Mr. Taylor. “I was dismissive and arrogant and felt an adversarial relationship with the business side of music, which only wanted massive hits and turned a blind eye toward so much beauty. Now that albums don’t sell like they used to, there’s no longer a king’s ransom involved, and the people left are really dedicated. It feels like more of a team effort, and I appreciate the acknowledgment of all that work.”

Mr. Taylor’s sweet, contemplative voice and wonderfully precise fingerpicked guitar have always hearkened to pop, standards and Anglican hymns, as well as folk and blues. Their beauty has often belied some dark subject matter, most notably in “Fire and Rain.” The song, about a friend’s suicide and Mr. Taylor’s own mental health and struggles with addiction, has been central to many people’s lives, played at countless funerals and farewells. That could be a large burden to bear, but Mr. Taylor says that isn’t so.

“Writing something with that kind of resonance was always the main point for me,” he says. “My songs were always expressing very internal thoughts in music, and you hope that these things which mean something to you will resonate with other people. We go shopping in the popular culture for our own mythology and our tribe. We assemble things to speak for us.”

Mr. Taylor has largely been riding out the pandemic at home in western Massachusetts with his wife, Kim. Last summer’s postponed tour with Jackson Browne has been rescheduled to start May 14 in New Orleans. His twin sons, Rufus and Henry, are in their freshman years of college. His children with Carly Simon, Ben and Sally, are both singer/songwriters, following in a Taylor family tradition that included all four of Mr. Taylor’s siblings.

His late mother Gertrude was also musical; she studied singing at the New England Conservatory of Music. His father Isaac was a physician who moved the family from Boston to Chapel Hill, N.C., when he took a job at the University of North Carolina, where he eventually became dean of the Medical School. The family spent summers on Martha’s Vineyard, which became central to Mr. Taylor’s musical development. He met a group of musicians there that included the guitarist Danny Kortchmar, who would become a key collaborator.

Mr. Taylor later attended Massachusetts’ Milton Academy. At age 17, he checked himself into McLean psychiatric hospital outside of Boston, where he was treated for depression for nine months.

After graduating high school, he moved to New York City and formed the Flying Machine, a band with Mr. Kortchmar and drummer Joel O’Brien, an important musical guide who also introduced him to heroin. When that band flamed out, Mr. Taylor moved to London. That led to a meeting with Peter Asher, who had a new job signing acts to the Beatles’ Apple Records.

Mr. Taylor’s self-titled debut album was released in 1968 on Apple Records, and to get that deal, he auditioned alone with his guitar for George Harrison and Paul McCartney, both of whom played on the record. (Mr. Harrison borrowed the opening line of Mr. Taylor’s “Something in the Way She Moves,” which he played at the audition, for his own song “Something.” Mr. Taylor says he was “hugely flattered” by this and always considered it accidental.) It is almost impossible to imagine what that attention from the rock legends must have felt like for an unknown 20-year-old, as the Fab Four were recording their seminal White Album; his own album was cut in the same studio when they went home for the night. How was he confident enough to do such a thing? “I had some competence and the arrogance of youth,” says Mr. Taylor.

“If we didn’t have those things, nobody would ever do anything, because you would hedge your bets. There’s a stage in our development where you’re allowed to do impossible things.”

Mr. Taylor says that can-do momentum continued on his second album, 1970’s “Sweet Baby James,” which truly launched his 50-year career. It was recorded in less than two weeks for less than $10,000. He and his band, which included Carole King and Mr. Kortchmar, recorded songs as fast as he could write them.

“We were just living on the surface, like one of those water striders that can walk on the surface tension of a pond,” he says. “It felt like we were just right on the surface of ourselves. Our artistic process was like stepping out into traffic and getting hit by a truck. There was nothing premeditated or strategic about the entire enterprise.”

Mr. Taylor adds, “That was an unprecedented time in popular music. The postwar baby bubble was 21 years old, and we all decided that we were going to rewrite everything and decide how life would be lived from this point on. That was supremely arrogant and destined to fail, but it did actually change a lot—and it sure made a huge musical impression.”


Monday, January 18

ROLLINGSTONE.COM — James Taylor, Carole King, Fall Out Boy to Play Pre-Inauguration ‘We the People’ Virtual Concert

By Daniel Krebs

James Taylor, Carole King, Fall Out Boy, and Ben Harper are among the performers set for a pre-inauguration virtual concert hosted by the Biden administration on Sunday, January 18th., AJR, Michael Bivins, and more will also perform at the We the People event, which will be co-hosted by Keegan-Michael Key and Debra Messing, People reports.

The We the People concert also doubles as a fundraiser for the Biden Inaugural Committee, with tickets ranging from $50 (complete with a personalized commemorative inauguration ticket and an exclusive event poster) to a pay-what-you-want fee.

Earlier today, Lady Gaga revealed that she would sing “The Star-Spangled Banner” following the inauguration of President-elect Joe Biden and Vice President-elect Kamala Harris, with the singer also attending the swearing-in ceremony in Washington, D.C.

On the night of January 20th, Tom Hanks will host the primetime Celebrating America special marking the inauguration, with performances from Justin Timberlake, Demi Lovato, Bon Jovi, Ant Clemons, and more.

“This inauguration presents a unique opportunity to spotlight the resilience and spirit of an America United,” said Tony Allen, the President of Delaware State University and CEO of the Presidential Inaugural Committee. “We have witnessed countless heroes this past year step up to the frontlines and serve their fellow Americans, so we are telling their stories, spreading their collective light, and celebrating the best of our country and its people with this primetime program.”


Monday, January 4

UDISCOVERMUSIC.COM –Sweaters, Snakes, And Joni Mitchell: James Taylor Remembers 1970

By Paul Sexton

James Taylor has been sharing his memories of the staging-post period in his career that included his celebrated BBC television performance of November 16, 1970. The monolog is available on the revered singer-songwriter’s YouTube channel, along with each of the individual songs in the set.

In the clip, Taylor covers a range of subjects including his song list of the day, the sweater he wore for the filming, and his adventures with Joni Mitchell and James’ soon-to-be movie co-star Warren Oates.

“It’s funny to look back at those times and realise I had just enough material to do a full set,” says Taylor. “I had written the songs on the James Taylor Apple album, I’d written the songs on Sweet Baby James, my first Warner Brothers album, and that was it. So I basically pulled out everything I knew, including a snuff commercial from when I was a kid in North Carolina, and a brand new song that was sort of half-baked, on the piano.”

Of his choice of knitwear for the occasion, he confides: “I’ll tell you about that sweater. That was made for me by Joni Mitchell. She was travelling with me and I was filming that movie [also starring Dennis Wilson] Two Lane Blacktop – my only movie that I ever acted in. Well, at least in a starring role, I guess I’ve had a couple of cameos.

“Joni was on a knitting jag, and like everything she set her mind to, she made some beautiful stuff, and that actual sweater was meant to be representative of Two Lane Blacktop, and the time that we had on the road with Warren Oates. We had a great time, too.

“I also wrote ‘You Can Close Your Eyes’ during that same time and I remember so much that we did. Warren had a funky little rented RV, ‘cos he wanted to have his own space to use as a dressing room, a hideaway. Joni and I would ride with Warren between cities, as we drove across the country. It was a movie about driving across the country, so that was perhaps appropriate.”

He recalls that the trio visited a ceremonial dance by the Native American Hopi tribe, in their village of Hotevilla, in Navajo County, Arizona. The Hopi were communicating with snakes, causing Joni to face her phobia about the creatures.

“It was a really exciting time, and it was the first time I’d got back to London since I’d been there for a year,” he concludes. “A great time…sort of a time capsule to see those performances and that beautiful sweater that Joni knit me. One of the sleeves was eight inches longer than my arm. The other was an avant garde piece of wearable art.”


Monday, January 4

BERKSHIREEAGLE.COM – James Taylor tops charts again as audio memoir makes big impact

By Clarence Fanto

James Taylor’s groundbreaking audio memoir, “Break Shot: My First 21 Years,” ranks as’s most listened-to original production of 2020.

The online audiobook and podcast service owned by announced the No. 1 ranking on its Instagram page this week. Audible Originals, described as a “genre-bending” documentaries combining words and music, released Taylor’s autobiographical production last January, recorded at his high-tech home studio, The Barn, in the town of Washington.

His deeply introspective look at his formative years included his most candid acknowledgement of personal demons that haunted him from his privileged but ultimately fractured family life, suicidal thoughts while in high school and eventual heroin addiction.

“Three of us kids ended up in psychiatric hospitals, and the fourth should have,” he said in “Break Shot.”

He also admitted that “heading out into the world to play music was not a career path, it was an abandonment of conventional ambitions. It was like becoming a hobo and riding the rails. No one was offering the music business as a college degree. Any hope my family might have had that I would pull myself together, go to college, study law or medicine, was now abandoned. I was heading into territory for which there was no map. I was free.”

Barely out of his teens, he arrived in London, singing for Paul McCartney and George Harrison and being the first outside act signed to Apple, the Beatles’ new label, to cut his first album.

Taylor recalled his brief romance with Joni Mitchell, followed by a lifelong friendship with her and with Carole King. He credited his 19-year marriage to Kim Taylor for overcoming multiple personal struggles.

Shortly before the release, during a revealing fireside chat with The Eagle, Taylor mused about the long and winding trail, including bouts of depression that led him to spend time at the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge.

“Austen Riggs is very close to where I live now,” he commented. “Life circles around.”

Asked about any downsides to fame as a celebrity, Taylor replied: “I think there’s such a thing as too much exposure, being too popular. I see people whose lives are restricted by how well known they are. I can move relatively calmly and comfortably in pretty much any circumstance. People in the Berkshires may recognize me more than they do elsewhere but basically it’s a very comfortable level of fame, it’s really the best of both worlds, and it’s been extremely gratifying.”

Taylor’s year included last February’s release of his 19th studio album, “American Standard,” recently nominated for a Grammy award in the category of Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

The recording of selections from Broadway and the Great American Songbook competes against releases by Burt Bacharach & Daniel Tashian, Harry Connick, Jr., Rufus Wainwright and Renée Zellweger (for her soundtrack album based on the film, “Judy”). CBS will televise the annual Grammys award show on Jan. 31.

2020 also marked the 50th anniversary of the release of Taylor’s second album, “Sweet Baby James.”

As for a 2021 tour, rescheduled from 2020 because of the COVID-19 pandemic, his website lists 39 U.S. and Canadian dates, beginning May 14 in New Orleans and ending in Vancouver, B.C., on Oct. 2.

The U.S. performances are with singer-songwriter Jackson Browne, and the Canadian dates feature guest artist Bonnie Raitt. There’s also a July 4 date reserved for Tanglewood (minus Browne), but details of the season at the Boston Symphony’s summer home are not expected until mid- to late March.

In His Own Words…
James Taylor commented to The Eagle via text on his top-ranked memoir and other topics:
“My autobiographical piece, ‘Break Shot,’ seems to have reached a lot of listeners: it has been Audible Original’s number one offering this past year (!)

“Along with the Grammy nomination for our album, ‘American Standard,’ we get a splendid bright spot in an otherwise disappointing year: Jackson Browne and I had to postpone our American tour. The same thing happened to the tour of Canada that Bonnie Raitt and I had booked for this past April.

“It seems odd to celebrate in the context of so much suffering and sadness, the great global interruption of COVID-19. Of course, these changes to our plans are nothing compared to the huge challenges that so many people, all over the world, are grappling with.

“But, for the moment, I am deeply grateful for the good news. Congratulations to the terrific people at Audible and to my editor/producer, Bill Flanagan, for the inestimable parts they have played in ‘Break Shot’s’ success. And to Dave Odonnell, John Pizzarelli and the excellent team at Fantasy Records for making ‘American Standard’ such a rewarding recording.”


Thursday, December 24

BIOGRAPHY.COM — James Taylor Wrote One of His Biggest Hits While in Rehab

By Jordan Zakarin

was only 22 years old when he achieved breakout success as a singer-songwriter, but he’d already experienced the sort of pain, frustration and sublime thrills of someone twice his age. Fittingly, the song that launched him to stardom, the 1970 single “Fire and Rain,” summoned and encapsulated the tragedies, setbacks and struggles that had marked his life to that point.

Along with his finger-picking guitar work and sweet, soothing voice, Taylor is known for his immensely personal lyrics, which often juxtaposed the music to which they were set with tales of sadness, heartbreak and depression. “Fire and Rain” was the epitome of Taylor’s from-the-heart lyrical style, and to understand what he’s singing about, it’s imperative to know a bit about his early life and career.

Taylor struggled with his mental health as a teenager
Though a bright student, Taylor was plagued by depression, which was exacerbated by family turmoil and instability. By 15 years old, he’d already begun performing music in coffee shops and other small venues in his native Massachusetts and adopted home of North Carolina, showing flashes of his genius, but he was having trouble keeping his head above water at school.

“My folks were educated people, and they had expectations. I assumed it meant finishing school, finding a career, probably an academic one,” he told the Chicago Tribune many years later. “But my family fell apart (through divorce), and I fell apart. It was mysterious to me why. I had no expectations of what would happen to me.”

Flailing in school, Taylor dropped out his senior year and instead checked himself into McLean, a psychological hospital of great renown in Massachusetts. He spent the end of 1965 and much of 1966 in recovery at the facility before checking himself out after nine months and went up to New York’s East Village to begin his musical career.

His years in New York brought his first tastes of success and addiction
The next few years were a whirlwind for Taylor. In New York, he plugged into the Village music scene, where cafes overflowed with musicians and low-rent apartments were infested with drugs. Taylor plunged headfirst into both of them, forming a band called vThe Flying Machine and falling in with heroin addicts.

“The drummer from my band, The Flying Machine, was a heroin addict,” Taylor told Oprah Winfrey in 2015. “It was a matter of time before I got my first taste. And I was gone. As soon as I was introduced to opiates, I was gone.”

It turned out that Taylor’s family had a long history of addiction, especially to opioids, and even at one point owned a sanitarium dedicated to helping people kick the habit. It was a dark time — The Flying Machine’s album never made it past demo tapes and Taylor, strung out and dependent on drugs, wound up being whisked back home to North Carolina, where he’d check into rehab. This began a multi-year cycle of recovery and relapse, with Taylor deciding to get high as his career began its ascension, as well.

“People argue about substance abuse and whether or not addiction is genetically predisposed,” he later reflected. “I think it probably is. There’s definitely that gene in my family. Whether it’s nature or nurture, we tend to be addicted.”

After rehab, Taylor moved to England, set up his own little recording studio, and then scored an audition for The Beatles’ new record label, Apple Records. He earned a contract and spent plenty of time at the studio, recording at the same time that The Beatles were putting down the White Album. The flow of creativity was rivaled only by the flow of drugs; Taylor had access to plenty of cheap heroin in London, and he eventually returned to the United States with a modestly successful debut self-titled album and another serious drug habit.

It was a chaotic, productive and shambolic 1968, and it set the stage for another year of highs and lows that would ultimately lead him to “Fire and Rain.”

When Taylor got back from London, he played major festivals, garnered modest acclaim, and then promptly hit the skids again when he crashed his motorcycle. That fall, he moved in with his then-girlfriend Joni Mitchell in Los Angeles but soon checked in to rehab once again. His stay wound up being remarkably productive, even if he didn’t fully shake his addiction to heroin.

It was in rehab that Taylor wrote a majority of his second album, Sweet Baby James, including that first smash hit.

The song has three verses, each detailing a hardship or sad moment in his life. The opening lines, “Just yesterday morning they let me know you were gone/Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you,” referred to a friend named Suzanne Schnerr, who he knew during his time in New York. They were close pals for a while, riding the ups and downs of the music scene and heroin, and a few years after he left the city, Schnerr wound up taking her own life.

“At the time, I was recording in England with The Beatles, and my friends had sort of kept the information about this death from me because they thought, you know, `This is a crucial time for him, he’s doing his work, and we don’t want to upset him or bring him down,’” Taylor told NPR years later. “So my friend Richard Corey told me about it, but he had known about it for a month or so before he mentioned it to me. So that’s where ‘they let me know you were gone’ comes in.”

In an interview for a biography published in 2001, Taylor said that he didn’t find out about Schnerr’s death until six months after she took her own life. The news hit hard, contributing to an anxiety and unease that fed into the heroin habit he was trying to kick when he wrote the song. That addiction informed the second verse, where he sings, “Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus / You’ve got to help me make a stand / You’ve just got to see me through another day,” putting out a call for help as he struggled through withdrawal.

Similarly, the third verse takes inspiration from his time at McLean and the pain that came with the failure of The Flying Machines, which he slyly name-checks near the end, singing, “Sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground.”

The song was laid down in the studio in late 1969 and released as the first single on Sweet Baby James when it came out in 1970. It became his calling card, a deeply personal track that seemed to connect with everyone. It hit number three on the Billboard charts and has been covered more than 80 times, including by some of the most prominent musicians of the 20th century. Taylor himself played it at President Barack Obama’s second inauguration.


Thursday, November 26

EW.COM — James Taylor reflects on his musical memories and his 19th Grammy nomination

By Devan Coggan

This week, James Taylor notched a Grammy nod for his 2020 album American Standard — about 50 years after he was first nominated for 1970’s influential folk classic Sweet Baby James. The recently released Standard, which is up for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album, marks his 19th career nomination, and Taylor says it’s a particularly meaningful honor. Although the 72-year-old musician may be best known as an insightful songwriter himself, this new collection is something different: a deeply personal set of what he considers some of the best songs ever written, covers of classic standards he first heard as a young child listening to his parent’s records.

“It’s funny, but we released the album sort of exactly when COVID struck,” he says, adding that the pandemic delayed plans plans for a 2020 tour with Jackson Browne. “At that time, it felt like everything that I’d been working on for the past three years had been sort of eclipsed by [COVID]. Of course, I’m not the only one. Many people have felt, and continue to feel, a huge economic shock from what’s happening to us. But it is nice that six months later we should get this recognition for a record that was sort of dropped into a well when we released it.”

It’s easy to pick out a few of Taylor’s many influences over the course of his decades-long career, including folk, rock, blues, and jazz. But for American Standard, he wanted to return to some of the first music he ever loved: early pop standards and Broadway musical cast albums. Last week, he released a new EP to accompany the album, featuring “Over the Rainbow” from The Wizard of Oz, “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from My Fair Lady, and “Never Never Land” from Peter Pan, all arranged with his familiar acoustic guitar and soothing voice.

Here, the singer-songwriter opens up to EW about 50 years of Grammy memories, songwriting, and how he’s been spending time during the pandemic.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: You were first nominated about 50 years ago for “Fire and Rain” and Sweet Baby James. What do you remember most from those first nominations, all those years ago?

JAMES TAYLOR: I remember that I was driving up from Los Angeles to Big Sur to spend a weekend. I got the word from my management that we’d [been nominated for] that Grammy. At the time, I can’t say the Grammys meant anything in particular to me. In those days I thought of it as something that belonged to a prior generation, that was sort of an artifact of a time that we had left behind. Of course, I’ve changed my thinking since then. I’m very excited to be nominated. But at the time, I didn’t really give it much of a thought.

You know, my first time I received that award, in those days we had a real sense that the world was going to change. That certainly our music, the music that belonged to that generation, was a new thing and of its own. There was a real sense of a divide, at least in my mind, between this sort of given showbiz take on what music and music business was. This sort of new territory, maybe starting with Dylan and the Beatles, probably actually starting with the folk music era, but that it wasn’t that it was a new thing.

That makes sense. That time was sort of a musical transition period.

It’s funny, at that time I sort of thought of the Grammys as being a traditional sort of showbiz — a plastic artifact. Really didn’t think much of it. Over time, it is one of those things that you appreciate. I guess I was just self-centered and full of myself and judgmental about things. [Laughs] But it is great to have this album be recognized in that way.

I was listening to American Standard and I was struck by how it ended up being sort of serendipitously fitting for 2020. There’s a lot of hope and optimism. It kinda feels like the world could use a little bit of those classic American standards right now.

It’s true. They’ve been with us all for such a long time. Most of them are from my parents’ generation. I was introduced to most of these songs from their record collection, actually, when I was a kid. They were songs that I learned on the guitar. So in a sense, they taught me music, too. They taught me those classic changes, and they meant a lot to me.

I had a lot of these songs as guitar arrangements for many years. So when John Pizzarelli, a really a fantastic guitar player, when he and I got together to cut basic tracks for the album, we decided that we’d make it a guitar album, basically — let the guitar arrange everything.

I love that because I think some people tend to think of standards as big orchestras and big arrangements. I love how you sort of strip it down and make it really guitar-driven.

Oh, it was a great project and definitely stretched my guitar technique. It advanced my playing, I think. The other thing is that it’s always been my opinion that the high-water mark for popular music in our culture, basically, was this era of songs from the late ’20s through to the mid-’50s. Mostly now when we think of songs, we think of a particular recording. But these songs were from a time when you would experience a song by buying the sheet music and playing it on the piano or the guitar. So these are songs that were meant to be performed by the world, by musicians all over the world.

For that reason, the songs have to stand on their own legs. They can’t depend upon a great vocalist or production values, which is so much a part of recorded music. The songs themselves had to stand on three legs really: the chord arrangement, the lyric, and the melody.

Your new EP features your take on “Over the Rainbow.” Is that another song you have memories of from growing up?

Yeah. Again, it’s one of those songs I’ve had a guitar arrangement for decades. Wizard of Oz, they used to broadcast it every year. One of the original three broadcasts used to. It was a yearly thing that you could watch The Wizard of Oz on the tube, and [I remember] that song in particular. “Moon River” is really a similar song: You get that sense of hope for the future, the excitement of escaping and going on and adventure to find what you’re looking for. That’s just a great message.

I feel like we could all use a little bit of that right now.

I know it, especially going into this unbelievable second round of COVID. It’s a hopeful time, because it looks like we’re going to get a new administration and some leadership, and that, I think, a lot of people are hopeful about.

How have you been spending the last couple months? How has your quarantine been?

We had a big tour planned with Jackson Browne [and] a tour of Canada with Bonnie Raitt. To have that canceled, to have it coming up in a couple of months, and to feel the gravitational pull of that commitment and to re-engage all of the people, my crew and my band and my audience — it felt like falling off a cliff a little bit.

But the great thing was that my kids came home and we got to spend some great time together. It’s been mostly family stuff. I have two twin boys that were graduating high school, which was a sort of non-event as well. We were in the final phases of finding their next school, finding where they were going to go to college. That occupied us a lot. Then we got sort of pulled into the [Biden-Harris] campaign and did a lot of work, mostly fundraisers and rallies and virtual events that were focused on the campaign. That’s been a big part of the fall.

With American Standard and with your Audible memoir Break Shot earlier this year, you’ve been looking back a lot at your early career and that point in your life. What was it that made you want to revisit some of those moments in your past?

You know, it was an offer that came in from Audible, the people who released Break Shot. It was a project done for them. Really, it was the offer coming in and accepting it that sort of led the way. I always have the feeling that basically since 1970 or so, my life has been an open book. I’ve been a sort of public commodity and have been a public person. It’s funny, when you’re successful at something there’s a tendency to keep doing it. But up until that point was sort of a discrete, particular, defined period of time. It was interesting to tell that story. It also really helped me organize that period of time in my head, too. Which was in so many ways about my family and my childhood and how I got into music, how I got into that career, and that focus for my life.

You talked about how some of the songs on American Standard came from your family’s record collection. What are some of your earliest memories of music?

That’s a lot of it. We weren’t a church-going family. There weren’t a lot of hymns. Although when I went away to school as a teenager in high school, I went to a boarding school. There was a lot of church connected with that. There was a period of time when hymns were a big part of my musical education. Initially, we got Christmas carols, of course. I remember those early on. Then, the family record collection. It was an interesting collection of music. There was some light classics in there. There was some kind of accessible jazz, a lot of folk music. Then a cast album to Broadway plays: Oklahoma, Annie Get Your Gun, South Pacific, Carousel, all those wonderful musicals.

Then, there came a point when my older brother started bringing home the music he liked. That was really exciting to me, to have an older brother who was deep into rhythm-and-blues and brought home albums of Ray Charles and the Coasters and Sam Cooke and Jackie Wilson and Fontella Bass, all of the early 1960s, late ’50s, those great soul records. That was like the next stage.

Then I met a guy in the summertime. My mom was a Yankee and we lived in North Carolina because my dad was from down there. He was a doctor. He had a job at the University of North Carolina. But every summer, nothing would keep my mom from migrating upstream to the Atlantic Seacoast. That was the next big part of my musical education. I met this guy, Danny Kortchmar, who I still work with a lot, who has been really central in my musical life. Kootch, as we called him, he was the next person to light that fuse in my brain. He and I basically learned guitar together. He really is responsible for a huge piece of that. His preferences, the songs he liked to listen to, which was very much akin to my older brother’s taste in music too. Then when I moved to New York City in 1966 to work with my band the Flying Machine, the drummer in that band was sort of a musicologist. He had such wide-ranging taste, and he really opened a whole new set of doors for me.

Your question was, what is my earliest memory? Now, I’ve given you all of it. [Laughs]

At this point in your career, is there something you haven’t tried yet that you really want to do next?

Well, I hesitate to say it, but I think it would be interesting to try to do some musical theater. I have friends, Randy Newman, Sting, Paul Simon, people who have tried their hand in it and have really done beautiful work. I don’t know if I have enough discipline to do that. Because I’ve always just written by just following my nose, following my guitar, following my fingers on the guitar neck. But that has seemed like something that would be interesting to engage in, if it’s not too late.


Friday, November 20

APNEWS.COM — James Taylor on how he takes a song and makes it his own

By Mark Kennedy

NEW YORK (AP) — Something happens when James Taylor covers a song. It gets all James Taylor-y.

“People often tell me, ‘It sounds like you wrote that song’ or ‘That sounds like a James Taylor song.’ And that’s because basically it’s been translated into my language,” the singer-songwriter told The Associated Press in an interview this week.

“Not all songs work in my language, but the ones that do — if they’re interesting or worthy of being recut — it’s because it’s nice to hear them in James Taylor.”

Fans are getting more classics translated into James Taylor on Friday with the digital release of three songs — “Over The Rainbow” from “The Wizard of Oz,” “I’ve Grown Accustomed to Her Face” from “My Fair Lady” and “Never Never Land” from “Peter Pan.”

The trio of tunes never made it to Taylor’s “American Standard” album earlier this year, which contained such covers as “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” and “God Bless the Child.” Instead of leaning on a piano, they are guitar-led reinterpretations, often wistful and airy.

Taylor, 72, says he was intimately familiar with the songs picked for the album and new EP, having first heard many of them from his parents’ record collection growing up in North Carolina.

“I’d just try them on for size,” he says. “It was so easy and natural to pick up an instrument and start learning songs and reinterpreting songs and developing a sort of a simple guitar technique.”

The new batch of songs lean heavily on Broadway musicals, like the songwriting teams Richard Rodgers and Oscar Hammerstein II, as well as Frederick Loewe and Alan Jay Lerner. “I think they had a profound effect on my songwriting. They basically are my teachers,” says Taylor.

During the interview, Taylor was effortlessly thoughtful, moving easily from topics like the gentrification of Boston’s suburbs to what a revelation Chartres Cathedral must have been to a peasant hundreds of years ago. He’s well versed in Thomas Mann and Tolstoy.

Several times he noted that his guitar skills were somewhat limited and that his natural tendency to James Taylor a song is to lean on his own influences: Latin music, bossa nova and Afro Cuban. “It’s interesting to put songs into that vocabulary,” he says.

He is modest about his own songwriting, saying he usually sits down with a guitar and plays until he finds a melody — or “catching an idea,” as he puts it — and maybe a scrap of lyric. That is how masterpieces like “Carolina in My Mind” and “Fire and Rain” came about.

“There have been a few tunes that I just thought of while I was driving the car and I would reach for my phone and put down the line of lyric or melody — that has happened, too. But my feeling is that when that’s happening, I’m still inhabiting that place that I discovered and built by sitting down playing the guitar.”

The “American Standards” batch of recordings reunited Taylor with master guitarist and producer John Pizzarelli. The two had worked on Taylor’s 2002′s album “October Road” and his 2006 Christmas album.

Pizzarelli, who also has worked with Paul McCartney, Michael McDonald and Rosemary Clooney, calls Taylor an amazing guitar player and a talented harmonizer. “When you listen to the collection, he really James Taylor-ized them and not at the expense of the songs. He makes the songs better.”

Taylor says he recorded the covers, many at his barn studio in Washington, Massachusetts, not only to honor them but also to educate — reminding some younger listeners who might be looking for the next good thing of sonic past triumphs.

“I’ve got four kids and they’re all musical to a greater or lesser extent. So I’m constantly saying, ’Go listen to Lee Dorsey, listen to Ry Cooder, listen to Neil Sedaka,’” he says. “I am always recommending them.”

Whether he’s sitting down to rework someone else’s song or creating one of his own, Taylor somehow evokes feeling with his voice, a process that baffles even him. “You sing it and it summons the emotion. That’s the magical thing,” he says.

He marvels that songs like “Over There” or “It’s a Long Way to Tipperary” can instantly create patriotic zeal. “You can have a couple of pints and sing it and feel it again,” he says, genuinely impressed. “How about that?”