Wednesday, July 15

iNEWS — James Taylor: ‘I thought that by now I’d have learned to get it right’

By Sarah Carson

The legendary singer-songwriter tells Sarah Carson why, at 72, he still feels as baffled by life as he did at 17, and talks candidly about addiction, mental health – and how he still holds out hope for America.

James Taylor has been “asking for people’s attention”, as he puts it, for 50 years. There was Apple Records, “Fire and Rain”, there was Sweet Baby James and the 100 million records sold since, five Grammys, the dreamy years in Laurel Canyon, the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, the White House concerts for the Obamas, the Presidential Medal of Freedom. And this year, he released American Standard, his recordings of songs such as “Moon River”, “God Bless the Child, and “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ the Boat” – “all the songs from a time when sheet music would be played at the piano and people would sing, the high point of western popular music”.

It’s his 19th album, and he’s now 72, but still, he says, “you’re always thought of as that first iteration, that person bursting on the scene. You become those songs.”

It is true – to so many, he is still the frowning twentysomething in the denim shirt on Sweet Baby James, the seminal second album from 1970, all tender, wounded, soulful and raw – from the title track, to which they rock their babies, to “Fire and Rain”, which they request at funerals. Popular culture, he thinks, helps us to “assemble our own mythology”, with its own soundtrack. “You go for a job interview and channel Eddie Murphy or Robert De Niro in a particular role; you think of the theme from Rocky when you’re trying to do your best. It’s like assembling your heroes. Some things we’ll hold on to for just a few years, others will be with us our entire life.”

His songs tend to stick around. Beloved by fans, an inspiration for musicians such as Bruce Springsteen and Alison Krauss, a muse for Joni Mitchell and Carole King. Taylor Swift was named after him, the [formerly Dixie] Chicks’ lead singer Natalie Maines grew up hoping to be his backing singer, his music is a mainstay of Desert Island Discs, chosen by figures as broad as Sheryl Sandberg and Andrew Neil. “When a song is useful in that way to someone, that’s the best news you can get.”

Taylor was born in 1948 in Boston, in the same hospital where his father, Isaac, worked as a resident; his mother, Gertrude, had been an aspiring opera singer before she married. Taylor was the second of five children – all of his siblings also became musicians – and their home was liberal: his mother longed for Massachusetts when his father was appointed assistant professor of medicine at the University of North Carolina when Taylor was a toddler, and the family moved south.

“It was the perfect storm, my family’s coming off the rails”

When his father was assigned to the navy, he came back an alcoholic – he “self-medicated”, which Taylor would come to understand as he grew older and developed his own problems with addiction. “My father’s experience was so painful,” he says now. “I know my folks loved us, and they had problems. Our culture isn’t very supportive of bringing kids to adulthood, particularly in the States. I think other cultures do it a lot better, and the late 60s were particularly fraught.” While at boarding school as a teenager in Massachusetts, Taylor fell into a depression and spent nine months in a psychiatric hospital. Two siblings would later do the same. “It was the perfect storm, my family’s coming off the rails.”

Taylor recently explored all this, the first 20 years, in an audio-memoir, Break Shot. People know about his marriage to Carly Simon, the Laurel Canyon scene, the songs he inspired Joni Mitchell to write on Blue, the heroin addiction – and Taylor has always considered himself “available” – but family, grief, trauma, makes you even more vulnerable.

“Nothing was painful to relive or re-examine, but at the end I felt a sense of having seen things in perspective.” More uncomfortable was wondering how it would be perceived. “You do get tired of people always wanting to mine the nasty bits, the naughty bits.”

Self-examination, “maybe to excess”, has been a constant in Taylor’s life. “I’ve been in psychotherapy for most of my life, as a useful tool and a luxury,” he says. He has twin sons, now 19 years old, with his third wife, Caroline ‘Kim’ Smedvig. Looking back at himself at the age his children are now has made him think hard about the kind of parent he is. His experiences have “made me perhaps a little bit too over-cautious and relentlessly focused on their emotional state. I think I’ve over-reacted to a certain extent. My older children [with Simon, whom he married in 1972] were children of divorce, and though it’s commonplace, it is still a terribly traumatic and terrible disservice and interruption of the responsibility you’ve taken on of having kids.” He pauses for a moment. “I wouldn’t tolerate them taking the kind of risks I took.”

Taylor had cello lessons as a child, before learning to play the guitar; he wrote his first song at the age of 14. After leaving the psychiatric hospital, he went to New York and started a band, The Flying Machine. It was there that he developed a heroin addiction – something his father would warn him ran in the family. At 19, he moved to London. He was introduced to producer and manager Peter Asher, “who walked me by the Apple Records offices on Baker Street and said: ‘Let’s find a Beatle and play some tunes for him.’” He played “Something in the Way She Moves” for Paul and George, and they signed him – the label’s first artist. When the company collapsed, and Taylor was back in detox for malnutrition and opiate addiction in the US, it was Asher who called him to ask: “How about we look for another record deal?”

“As soon as I was cleaned up enough, Peter started booking me into folk clubs, coffee houses, universities – my star was rising and the tide was coming in. Eventually we got a record with the studio and made Sweet Baby James.” Most of the songs – “Fire & Rain”, “Steamroller”, “Country Road” – were written in the middle of the detox. “It was very difficult to get to a point where I could stand living in my skin and sleep through the night. But that’s the way opiate dependence is – it is uncomfortable and anxiety-provoking and agitated.”

Our understanding of addiction and mental health issues has developed since then in some ways, Taylor thinks, but not enough. “Acceptability or availability of people’s inner personal selves and difficulties is increasingly true. But it doesn’t mean the culture at large has an accurate opinion on schizophrenia or on psychopathic behaviour. There are levels of mental illness that we still shy away from. We still isolate some people from our society, from our presence.

“I’ve been institutionalised four times, mostly because my parents were concerned for me, and I was extremely grateful.” He describes himself as suffering from “inappropriate programming”. Earlier this year, he said: “If I could just get out of my own way, life would be a dream.” I wonder if a person can ever get out of their own way? “I would have thought that by this time I would have learned to get it right. But one of the things you find out as you get older is that you’re still that 17-year-old living in this meat suit.”

That 17-year-old in the 60s “really did think with the hubris of youth that the world was gonna be a different place, we were gonna change it”, he says. “At that time, we really wanted to break with the past and there was a large enough mass of people that we had our own art form, our own way of communication with FM radio, our own movies and television – that’s why the world was turned upside-down.”

And now, amid his government’s handling of the virus, of climate change, is there room for hope? “When Barack Obama came in, I had a huge swelling of pride and faith in the electorate, but this has just been devastating, an abdication of responsibility on a global scale, an inept, corrupt and opaque government that may be largely serving a foreign agenda. We have no bloody idea. There has to be a reckoning at some point in the future. If we were wise, this could be it.”


Wednesday, July 15

BESTCLASSICBANDS.COM — The Making of the ‘Sweet Baby James’ Album Cover

By Greg Brodsky

Although James Taylor released his debut album for the Beatles’ Apple Records in 1968, it wasn’t until his second LP, 1970’s Sweet Baby James for Warner Bros. Records, that most audiences were introduced to the singer-songwriter. The album, featuring such Taylor songs as “Fire and Rain,” “Country Road,” “Blossom,” and the title cut, was a significant success, commercially–it reached #3 on the U.S. sales chart–and critically–it received a Grammy Award nomination for Album of the Year from his peers.

By late 1969, folk musician Henry Diltz had been photographing many of the biggest recording artists in Southern California, in Los Angeles’ burgeoning Laurel Canyon music scene for several years, and had become a top choice for publicity pictures and album cover photos.

Best Classic Bands has previously written about some of Diltz’s famed work in the ’60s and ’70s. We talked to him about shooting the cover for Sweet Baby James, which remains one of his very favorites.

“Peter Asher called me one day and asked if I could come to his house and photograph this guy that he was producing,” he says. After experiencing success as one-half of the British pop vocal duo Peter and Gordon, Asher had become an executive for Apple Records and signed Taylor. He ultimately resigned his position with the label to become Taylor’s manager.

“I went over and as I walked into the living room,” says Diltz, “James was sitting on the far side, sort of behind the piano with his back to the window, finger-picking ‘Oh, Susannah’ on his guitar. And being a musician, it just absolutely blew me away to hear this music box version of the song.”

Taylor was still just 21 years old on this December 1969 day.

“I couldn’t even believe it. It was angelic,” recalls Diltz. “I kind of sunk down in front of him and asked if he would play it again. The first pictures I took of him, he was sitting there.”

The photographer then suggested that they “go outside somewhere” and they went over to a friend of Diltz’s who had a place called “The Farm.”

“It was kind of a musical commune,” he says. “There were little sheds, little outhouses and things. So we took pictures there. It was very quiet. We weren’t talking much. And at one point James leaned on this big post. He’s a tall guy and he leaned on it and it filled my frame… my horizontal frame… in a perfect way. I thought, ‘Holy cow… I’m taking black-and-white, because they wanted publicity pictures.’ “So I said, ‘Wait a minute, James, don’t move.’

James Taylor at “The Farm,” Dec. 1969 (Photo: © Henry Diltz; used with permission)

“And I picked up my color camera because in my mind I was thinking I want to show this in my slide shows for my hippie friends and I wanted to show this picture that was blowing my mind.”

“And when Peter saw those, he showed them to Warner Bros. and it became the cover. The art director blew it up, it was kind of grainy, and he cropped it into a square. Inside that was a pullout, black-and-white, that had the lyrics on one side and it was like 12×24 when you opened it up and on the other side was that black-and-white picture of him from elbow to elbow, leaning on that post as a horizontal shot the way it ought to be. And that’s one of my absolute favorite portraits.”

[Taylor’s tour with Jackson Browne has been moved to 2021. Tickets are available here.]

Sweet Baby James was released just two months after the photo shoot, in February 1970.

“Years later, when I see that photo on the wall, I love seeing that picture of James. The song, ‘Sweet Baby James,’ was such a haunting melody to me… I love it so much. My two children were born nine years apart, but for both of them when I would sing them to sleep, I would sing ‘Sweet Baby James.’ It was the perfect lullaby.

“That song is so beautiful and I’m so proud to have done the cover.”

Diltz’s iconic works are available for purchase at the Morrison Hotel Gallery, which he co-founded.


Thursday, June 11

GUITARWORLD.COM — James Taylor: “American Standard is a guitar album – I’ve had some of these arrangements since I started playing”

By Neville Marten

We get the lowdown on the arrangement, composition and recording of the original singer-songwriter’s new covers album American Standard, including a full track breakdown

If we exclude the insightful protest songs of Bob Dylan, mostly played over simplistic backings, the pithy words and harmonically sophisticated arrangements of Paul Simon, or the often wistful, sometimes jazzy but always poetically sublime meanderings of Joni Mitchell, then James Taylor is the archetypal singer- songwriter-guitarist.

An often troubled intellectual, Taylor’s masterstroke was in putting deeply personal lyrics, sometimes clear but often cryptic, onto a country-folk musical backdrop with deft and hooky acoustic guitar picking at its core.

In a way, he’s the stealth bomber of the music world. A bona-fide superstar with 100 million album sales to his credit (every release from JT in 1977 to 2006’s James Taylor At Christmas has gone Platinum), Taylor has a self-effacing demeanor that still sends women swooning and men trotting off to the guitar shop – and vice versa, we’re sure.

His latest release, American Standard, takes a formula first laid down by Willie Nelson with Somewhere Over The Rainbow in 1981, then Linda Ronstadt’s What’s New in 1983, and taken up by everyone from Robbie Williams (Swing When You’re Winning, 2001) to Rod Stewart, who’s built a second career out of it, and created an album of American Songbook classics.

Of course, as with everything he does, Taylor has gently but powerfully laid his stamp all over it. As his producer Dave O’Donnell says, “When James covers a song it sounds like he wrote it.”

O’Donnell couldn’t be more right. James uses his tried-and trusted chord voicings and fretboard moves, and weaves them around tunes that could have been written for his milestone JT album of 1977, the Grammy-winning Hourglass that came two decades later, or his No 1 release Before This World in 2015.

“It is a guitar album,” states James in typically clipped fashion. “I purposefully didn’t iterate it with a keyboard. We were very careful to keep the guitar as the centre of each arrangement, because these are arrangements of my own.

“I’ve had some of these since I started playing the guitar. I learnt to play playing these songs that I knew from childhood.

My generation drew a distinct line between ourselves and what sounded to us like Vegas or in any way ‘lounge-y’. It’s like folk music was okay and Celtic music was okay, but Sinatra was not

“But it’s interesting. When my generation stepped out and were making themselves known, we drew a distinct line between ourselves and what sounded to us like Vegas or in any way ‘lounge-y’. It’s like folk music was okay and Celtic music was okay, but Sinatra was not. We were unkind and unaccepting of that music. We distanced ourselves from it.

“And, in fact, it’s so fabulous. We did them a disservice. People like Bobby Darin tried to change his stripes and become Bob Darin, and found himself on the wrong side of the generational divide.

“But that changed when Willie Nelson made his standards album. And Linda Ronstadt, who actually worked with Nelson Riddle. That changed things. It made it possible for Rod Stewart. And now Natalie Cole, of course – she’s the real deal; she actually is a jazz singer [Natalie passed away in 2015].

“But on each album I tend to have a cover of some sort. And I recorded an album of covers [Covers, 2008] which had Oh, What A Beautiful Mornin’ on. So I’ve done a number of these tunes, what are thought of as American Songbook. They are songs of the 1920s, 30s and 40s, with a couple from the 50s in there. They are the previous generation’s music.

“But this is the music that informed Lennon-McCartney, Paul Simon, Randy Newman, Joni Mitchell. The people of our generation listened to this stuff when they were kids, and I think that it really informed their harmonic sense. It’s much more sophisticated than music has become.

“I think the difference is that these were written as songs to be done by anyone. These days what we listen to are performances. In other words, we are listening to a specific person, a specific voice, and you wouldn’t think of them being covered by other people, generally speaking.

“[Back then], they didn’t have production values that would dazzle us, and they didn’t know who would be performing the song, so it had to exist as a set of changes, a lyric and a melody. So, in my opinion, they are the high watermark of popular music.”

These were written as songs to be done by anyone… they are the high watermark of popular music

Taylor and the brilliant jazz guitarist John Pizzarelli worked out the core of the guitar arrangements for the album, which must have been an interesting challenge.

“Yes, we did work them out together,” Taylor concurs. “I’m playing my Olson guitars and Pizzarelli is mostly playing a seven-string. So there’s some bass notes that are coming out of the guitars that are outside of the usual range. But they’re my arrangements.

“With my limited guitar technique I’ve managed to interpret these tunes. It works for John to augment those. It doesn’t work for John to give me changes and to have me play them. He’s much more suited to accommodating me than I am suited to accommodating him. And, fortunately for me, I’m calling the shots.

“But, yes, it was a very interesting process. I thought we were doing demos to start with. Then the idea occurred to me, ‘Let’s make this into a guitar project.’ Because you can tend to have a kind of cookie-cutter experience when making this kind of album.

“You can get a great rhythm section and a really strong arranger, but it can sound like these songs often tend to sound. When I do a cover I basically try to adapt my technique and my voice to the material, and when it works it does. I really wanted to keep that at the centre of it.

“If we’d asked a piano player to interpret these changes then had an arranger orchestrate them, it would have somehow obscured what is actually happening here. Which is that I’m running these songs through my process. There are some that it works with and some that it doesn’t – these are the ones that work.”

To keep an essentially acoustic album from sounding same-y, Taylor and his team added instruments from outside the main band. Things like saxophone, melodica, Dobro, violin, and harmony vocals lend color and interest.

When I do a cover I basically try to adapt my technique and my voice to the material… I really wanted to keep that at the centre of it

“After John and I cut these basic tracks we took them to my musical community, and that’s basically the guys that I tour with and record with [James’s band comprises Jimmy Johnson, bass; Steve Gadd, drums; Larry Goldings, keys; Lou Marini, clarinet, sax]. I also have a relationship with Jerry Douglas [Dobro] and Stuart Duncan [violin], and for the first time I worked with Viktor Krauss [upright bass].

“We worked for an awfully long time, getting the arrangements down. And I took it to my vocalists [Arnold McCuller, Kate Markovitz, Dorian Holley, Andrea Zonn] and we found parts for them on three of the songs to sing. So, yes, I sort of took it through the garden.”

When two guitarists arrange songs on acoustics one imagines capos at various positions on each instrument, with each player adopting different inversions of the chords. Not so in this case, apparently.

“John is a proper guitar player,” Taylor states, modestly. “He very seldom uses a capo. He is free on the neck with all of the inversions. I’m pretty much stuck in the first position, so I use a capo a lot. My guitar tech, Jon Prince, wrote down all of the capo positions, so that tells you what the fingering is.

“Often it’s either G [shape], many of them are A, there’s a couple in E and a number in D. And there are actually some where I change capo position for the bridge. I’ll get JP to send them to you.” James kindly did this and the key and capo position are listed beside each song in the track-by-track interview that follows…

1. My Blue Heaven

Key: C, Capo 3rd fret

This opening track on American Standard begins with a separate verse, a typical songwriting device of that time that we seem to have lost…

“It was the way the song was introduced into the action of a musical, or a little way of setting it up. A bit of conversation that’s not yet the body of the song. They’re great; some of them are really smart. It basically sets the stage a little bit. A number of the songs that I play, I go from the swung thing to a straight eight thing, and it’s the straight eight that sounds like Latin. We actually brought in Luis Conte on percussion to make that clear.”

2. Moon River

Key: Bb, Capo 1st fret

James hasn’t exactly re-harmonized this, but there are some interesting things going on – he seems to have twisted it a little bit. There’s a Stevie Wonder-esque solo that sounds like a harmonica, but isn’t…

“This particular track is just the two guitars, there’s no rhythm. So the only other thing aside from my voice is a six-string guitar, a seven-string guitar, and a solo that Larry Goldings is playing. It sounds like a harmonica, but actually it’s a melodica.

“Actually, in many cases I wrote these solos. I gave the players lines to play, and Larry starts with my melody and then goes off on his own and that’s when it rises up and breaks free of it. If it sounds like Stevie Wonder, I think it’s probably more likely that Stevie and I have the same source, which is Ray Charles. That informs Stevie’s music – at least I think it does.”

3. Teach Me Tonight

Key: B, Capo 2nd fret

This song has lyrics by the incomparable Sammy Cahn, with music by Gene De Paul and was published in 1953. Five different versions charted in 1954 and 1955 alone.

“Yes, Sammy Cahn and Gene De Paul. We’ve cast this with something of a Latin feel and, again, got Luis Conte to play maracas and congas on it. Walt Fowler plays some beautiful trumpet on it, too. It’s a simple piece and it’s essentially a simple album.”

4. As Easy As Rolling Off A Log

Key: A, Capo 2nd fret

There’s an almost Django-esque swing to this song, which James first heard on the kids’ cartoon Katnip Kollege. The tasty guitar fills are also by James, but he has a confession…

“I play that introduction into the clarinet on the guitar. But it’s a studio artefact. I couldn’t play it in real-time. I jumped in and constructed it, edited it together really. This song came from a cartoon that I remember from when I was a kid. When I told Kootch [old friend and collaborator Danny Kortchmar] that I’d cut that song, he said, ‘Yes, you were always going on about that song.’”

5. Almost Like Being In Love

Key: G, Capo 3rd fret

Here the harmony vocals come in, lifting both the song and the album. Typical JT chords such as major 9ths and #5ths show that songs like this clearly informed his own writing.

“Yes, they definitely did. Nat King Cole’s version of this song was my favorite, but I knew it from the musical Brigadoon. It was one of those ones that I learnt early on and basically taught me the chords that are in it.”

6. Sit Down, You’re Rocking The Boat

Chorus: Key: B, Capo 1st fret; Intro: Key: Abm, Capo 2nd fret

Readers may remember Stubby Kaye’s brilliant original from Guys And Dolls. The fabulous Jerry Douglas guests on Dobro here, which works a treat.

“This doesn’t have the energy that Stubby Kaye’s version had, and that’s because that’s a cast album version. It’s live and the tempo is way up and he’s singing it like he’s got a trumpet in his throat. So our approach was to get intricate with it and the harmonies, and we spent a lot of time writing these harmony parts that are in there. It was a lot of fun, that tune.”

7. The Nearness Of You

Key: E, Capo 2nd fret

There’s a kind of Herb Alpert feel to this, with James’s favorite chord moves the perfect bed for some succinct trumpet solo and fills.

“That’s Walt Fowler, who tours with me. He popped it into double time and he did lift it, did a great job on it. The same thing with Lou Marini on Almost Like Being In Love; that’s a line that I asked him to play, a line I’ve heard for years as something I’ve wanted to hear in that place.

“That really opens it up, too. It’s a song that I’d already recorded with Pat Metheny and Michael Brecker. It’s a Hoagy Carmichael, so it was probably written on the guitar. My favorite chord changes do fall right into it. It was part of my DNA and part of my vocabulary.”

8. You’ve Got To Be Carefully Taught

Key: D, No capo

This song from the 1958 musical South Pacific is powerfully anti-racist. Coming from that time it must have been an incredibly brave song to write.

“I think so. The lyric is angry. It’s cynical and talking about making children hate, teaching them when they’re young and innocent. So it is a pretty brutal thing when you get right down to it. That’s a song that John Pizzarelli brought to the project. He said, ‘You know this one.’ I said, ‘You bet I do,’ and played it immediately on the guitar for him.”

9. God Bless The Child

Key: C, Capo 3rd fret; No capo on second half of bridge

This Billie Holiday classic is really a sophisticated blues. And she made a fantastic version of it.

“Absolutely right, it is. I played the song with Kootch and Joel O’Brien and Zach Wiesner in our band The Flying Machine in 1966. This was part of our repertoire. I’ve lived with the tune for a long time, so it’s been a long time coming.”

10. Pennies From Heaven

Key: A, Capo 2nd fret

The organ sound on this is reminiscent of Nat King Cole’s solo on Let’s Face The Music And Dance.

“It’s the only keyboard on the album that is actually comping, playing along with the chords. Larry Goldings plays a sort of a solo in that tune, and then comes back in the coda, in the fade, and plays the changes with us.”

11. My Heart Stood Still

Key: E, Capo 2nd fret

The chord structure on this song, sung by Frank Sinatra and many others, lends itself perfectly to Taylor’s lyrical style, and is one of those that definitely sounds like he might have written it.

“Yes, this one fell right into place. Lyrics by Lorenz Hart. I think that Hart was a closeted gay guy. A lot of his lyrics have this kind of heartbreak behind them, a kind of a furtiveness, and a ‘dare not speak its name’ kind of thing that you can feel.

“This song explicitly is not definitely homosexual love, but you can feel that doomed energy to it, that sort of ‘this will never happen’. Because the musical theatre was so tolerant of gay people it has such a strong energy to it because of its denial.”

12. Ol’ Man River

Key: Bb, Capo 1st fret

This Jerome Kern and Oscar Hammerstein song from Show Boat was made famous by legendary singer Paul Robeson.

“That’s the definitive version of it, and has connected to it all of that political energy. It’s a very dicey thing for a white guy to sing this song and some of the lyrics. This is an abbreviated version of what’s actually a very long song, but I’ve played it for so many years and loved it so much.

“It’s also amazingly range-y, so I’ll never be able to do it live. It starts with an F, because it’s in Bb. And of course at the end of it, it goes up two and a half octaves. It’s a very difficult song to sing. Also, it walks a line for someone such as me to sing it, but I love the song so much I just couldn’t leave it alone. We put very little on top of this tune; it lives with my guitar and voice.”

13. It’s Only A Paper Moon

Key: A, Capo 2nd fret

Those who knows Taylor’s 1997 album, Hourglass, will recognize some of the chord moves here, particularly in the track Line ’Em Up.

“I did cut Paper Moon before with Don Grolnick for a movie called A League Of Their Own, so I had become familiar with the tune. Kootch and I used to talk about doing the song in kind of a straight eight blues kind of way. But it’s one of those things that fell into the Latin-leaning side of my stuff. And it’s very much the same place as Line ’Em Up.”

14. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top

Key: G tuned down a half-step, Capo 1st fret

This Rodgers and Hammerstein song from the hit musical Oklahoma! (1943) can seem rather throwaway, but harmonically it’s surprisingly sophisticated.

“Yes, it can be. The person who really opened these American Songbook songs up, chordally and harmonically, was Bill Evans. Bill just had that touch of gold. He looked at things and saw harmonies and chord changes in them that have become the standard versions of a lot of songs. The Surrey With The Fringe On Top is an old-fashioned song.

“It’s not a beat that has been in pop music since. It’s got that foxtrot kind of rhythm that’s not a current song. And I actually found it very difficult to sing, because it’s not in any way modern or contemporary.”


Friday, April 24

SPORTBUSINESSDAILY.COM — Panthers Enlist Folk Legend James Taylor For Draft Announcement

By Josh Carpenter

NFL Panthers brass have used the quarantine period to set the bar high for their social media team, and their efforts were evident last night when folk legend James Taylor unveiled draft pick Derrick Brown to the tune of “Carolina In My Mind.” Panthers Social Media Manager Amie Kiehn said her staff was motivated by VP/Communications & External Affairs Steven Drummond and President Tom Glick to push the envelope during the pandemic rather than take a step back. “We’re really trying to push ourselves and think differently,” Kiehn told THE DAILY this morning. About three weeks ago, Kiehn was catching up via Facetime with a former colleague, Jared Kleinstein, the Founder & CEO of Colorado-based Fresh Tape Media. Kleinstein spontaneously started singing Taylor’s iconic song and jokingly suggested the Panthers reach out to Taylor’s agent to see if he would help announce the pick. After a quick Google search, Kiehn had an email request out. Just a few days later, Taylor’s rep agreed.


Wednesday, April 22

AARP.ORG — James Taylor Covers Timeless Songs in ‘American Standard’

American standards
I learned many of the songs on the new album [popular earlier works from Broadway and film] at my mother and father’s knee, then I interpreted them on the guitar. They’re the source of my music, along with some Celtic music, Brazilian music, Afro-Cuban music and the Protestant hymnal. These tunes by Frank Loesser and Rodgers and Hammerstein, and Yip Harburg and Harold Arlen, are, to me, as sophisticated as pop music can get.

Sine qua non
I dedicated the new album that way to my wife, Caroline. It’s Latin. It means “without which there’s nothing.”

Instrumental to success
I think my parents’ main contribution was not that they taught us any music but that they insisted we each choose an instrument and study it. At first, mine was the cello. My older brother, Alex, played the violin, reluctantly; my sister, Kate, and my brother Livingston both played the piano. When we got into our teenage years, Livingston played the banjo, Kate was singing, and I was playing the guitar. Alex and I were in a band together when we were in high school. So we did make a lot of music among us.

‘Break Shot’ youth
In a break shot in billiards, things go from order to chaos in an instant. It seemed like an apt metaphor for what happened to my family in the mid-’60s. We were the sons and daughter of a very dedicated and successful physician and academic, and had a wonderful childhood growing up in North Carolina. Yet instead of going to college, most of us ended up in a psychiatric hospital and essentially dropped out. It’s been a mystery to me. Why at this stage of mid-to-late adolescence did we jump the tracks and run off the rails? I pieced it together later: My father was a very functional alcoholic, but he was an alcoholic, as was his father, and it always gets to a point where it’s not sustainable anymore. That happened at about the same time that my parents’ marriage ended. I came out of it with only one path forward, and that was music.

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Over time I got deeply into the Beatles. I was amazed that their popularity and exposure did not just kill off their work; instead they just got better and better. So when I was with Apple Records, I wanted to see what life was like for a Beatle and what they did. I remember being there and John was nervous about a date he was going to go on. Turned out, it had to do with something set up with Brigitte Bardot the next day. It went fine, apparently.

Sobering up
At 35, I managed to get clean in 12-step programs — first Narcotics Anonymous, then AA. You find yourself in an unbelievable mess, having hurt people you love, all these grim things. But there was enough that was positive in my life on the other side, the other bank of the river, to get me across.

musician james taylor holding his guitar case and smiling in front of a garden backdrop

Taylor was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

Carolina in my mind
North Carolina was conducive to creativity — there was very little distraction. Your cellphone wasn’t ringing every five minutes; you weren’t streaming something on the computer or texting someone or going on Instagram. We were bored some of the time. When we wanted recreation, we went out into the woods. You could have long, uninterrupted thoughts.

His twin boys
They just turned 19 [he also has an older son and daughter]. I’m sort of hypervigilant, always trying to see what their state is. But even though they’re at the same prep school that I so reluctantly went to and dropped out of, they’re having a totally different experience of it and, I’m happy to say, are extremely resilient and tough. To me, they’re a miracle. Not at all as fragile as I was.

Common conscience?
We have so much communication and access to knowledge that I think younger people may end up with a different kind of mind, a more collective mind, like a common consciousness. The world is in desperate need of global cooperation for the health of the planet. So maybe this helps us head in that direction.

Wise words
I tell young people that the three things that will enslave you are an addiction, being in debt and having children before you’re ready to settle down and support them. Those are the three things that, to me, kids need to know.

I don’t know what God is. I don’t know the nature of it. I certainly don’t know the sex of it or if we were made in its image. I also don’t trust anyone who says they do know what God wants or how God operates. What’s God’s will? The only thing I know about it is that it’s the name of a question; it’s not a thing.

Today’s wall of sound
A record contract was critical back in the day. That’s what you needed. That was the door you had to walk through. Now, of course, you don’t have to have one. You can walk through the door on your own. But if you do walk through that door, there are a million other musicians in the room.

How sweet it is
Yeah, I am happy. You learn as you get older to roll with it and that nothing lasts forever — if you’re in a bad stretch, things can get better. What makes me happy now is a quiet time, free time, a day off, an afternoon off. I love my wife and family, and I like to spend time with them. When I was younger, I wanted to go out into the world and do things and engage with people and travel to places. That sort of restless energy to get out and engage in the world, I think that diminishes over time. —As told to Natasha Stoynoff

Earlier this year multiple-Grammy winner and Rock & Roll Hall of Fame inductee James Taylor, 72, released his Audible Original memoir, Break Shot, and a new album, American Standard.

Postponed Summer Tour
James Taylor’s planned May-to-July tour with Jackson Browne, 71, who is recovering from a mild COVID-19 infection, has been postponed. “As this summer’s tour of 27 towns and cities across the US drew near, we’ve been increasingly excited to hit the road again,” said Taylor and Browne in a joint statement. “So it’s deeply disappointing for both of us to have to call it off and reschedule (and reschedule we WILL)! As we all now realize, COVID-19 is a serious, real and present danger. Moreover, our public health is all of our responsibility. So let us listen to and follow the directions of our public healthcare people and support their efforts in this unprecedented time of global pandemic. Love those around you and, above all, stay safe and healthy.”

Taylor appears as a Mega Mentor advising the contestants on The Voice (NBC, April 20, 8 p.m. ET), which was filmed earlier.


Tuesday, April 21

YAHOO.COM — James Taylor compares ‘Voice’ contestant Toneisha Harris to Streisand and Aretha

By Lyndsay Parker

t’s not every day that a legend like James Taylor agrees to mentor a TV singing competition. And it’s certainly not every day that a legend like James Taylor compares a TV singing competition contestant to legends like Barbra Streisand and Aretha Franklin. But that is exactly what happened Monday on The Voice, when “Mega-Mentor” James heard Team Blake diva Toneisha Harris’s masterful cover of Rihanna’s “Diamonds.” How sweet it is to be loved by him, indeed.

On a night packed with many great singers (and many tough choices faced by the coaches), James — who signed on to advise Season 18’s Knockout Rounds after producers apparently pursued him for years — was generous with his praise. He seemed thrilled to be on the set, actually stating it was an “honor” for him to appear on The Voice, which he called “hands-down, the most positive and effective” talent show on television. He was also impressed by Toneisha’s Knockouts opponent, Cedrice (whom Blake Shelton had stolen during the Battle Rounds), describing this pairing as “what singing is all about.”

But while James loved Cedrice’s attitude and gratitude and likened her vocal “fluidity and dexterity” on another Rihanna song, “Love on the Brain,” to Baked Alaska — “warm and piercing at the same time” — he truly had Toneisha on the brain. “There’s an effortlessness about it,” he said of the 44-year-old soul belter’s powerful vocal style. “I’d compare her with Streisand, or I’d compare her with Aretha. She’s really something. What a beautiful voice!” Toneisha, one of the contestants most excited to work with James — she could barely even enter the rehearsal room, she was so giddy — couldn’t help but tear up as James encouragingly embraced her.

Over on the main stage, Toneisha did James proud and lived up to his hype with a flawless, finale-worthy tour de force that had all four coaches leaping to their feet. Of course she won this Knockout — but that was a shame for Cedrice, one of this season’s most compelling performers, who probably would’ve prevailed if she’d been pitted against just about anyone else.

But as it turned out, Kelly Clarkson, who once declared Cedrice the “hottest woman alive,” apparently still had love for Cedrice on her brain — because she swooped in for the Steal. This now makes Kelly Cedrice’s third coach of the season. (“You have to stop doing this to me!” Cedrice laughed with relief.) But maybe the third time will be the charm. Regardless, I am sure that James Taylor was pleased with how this all turned out.

So for now, we know that both Toneisha and Cedrice are moving on to the Live Playoffs (which likely will not be “live” at all, since, like rival show American Idol, The Voice will have to conduct of the rest of this season remotely due to coronavirus concerns). But Monday also featured the series’ first-ever four-way Knockout — sort of Season 18’s version of the Island of Misfit Toys, similar in intention to the failed Comeback Stage rounds of recent seasons, with four contestants who lost their respective Battles giving it one last go. With no applicable Saves or Steals, only one of these four singers would advance via this week’s pubic vote. Let’s recap that quadruple-headed monster showdown, before reviewing the other normal Knockouts of the night:

ALL TEAMS: Todd Michael Hall (Team Blake) vs. Nelson Cade III (Team Legend) vs. Michael Williams (Team Nick) vs. Samantha Howell (Team Kelly)

Old-school rocker Todd sang first, and while classic rock does tend to do well with the graying terrestrial TV audience, this performance was laughable. Maybe if he’d covered Queen’s “Somebody to Love” he might’ve had a shot, but by doing OneRepublic’s song by the same title, Todd demonstrated just how corny and out-of-step he really is. He did hit most of the notes — that is, until that helium-high chorus, which was screechier than a sack of cats — but he had absolutely no emotional connection to the lyrics, and he came off like an actor in a second-string dinner theater production of Rock of Ages. If millennials and Gen Z kids think rock ‘n’ roll is just uncool music that their grandparents dig… well, hokey performances like Todd’s are the reason why.

Moving on. John Legend warned Nelson that a four-way Knockout performance would require some “fireworks,” but I welcomed Nelson’s chill, mellow cover of Daniel Cesar’s “The Best Part” after Todd’s ridiculous showboating. Nelson hit a nice groove here, and his performance was soooo Team Legend. But would this be enough? Eh, probably not.

Michael Williams’s cover of Calum Scott’s “You Are the Reason” was pleasant and vocally controlled, but not a standout by any means. So, this cleared the way for Samantha — the four-way Knockout’s only female singer and only country contestant — to win by a landslide. “Always on My Mind” was a genius choice: a song all of America loves, and a song that showcased the vintage-Dolly Opry sweetness in Samantha’s voice. If the way the studio audience roared for her bell-clear high notes was any indication of how America will vote, then she was the clear victor here.

WINNER: We will soon find out (but probably Samantha)

TEAM LEGEND: Thunderstorm Artis vs. Mandi Castillo

Thunderstorm and Mandi were both four-chair auditioners, but that’s where their similarities end. Latin pop diva Mandi dedicated an emotional but straightahead rendition of Ben E. King’s “Stand by Me” to her father, who is battling lymphoma, while Thunderstorm took the risk of performing a radical remake of his own coach’s “Preach.”

There was no doubt that Mandi delivered the technically stronger and more competitive vocal; Kelly said Mandi “came to win,” and Blake said Mandi “swung for the fences.” But where was the artistry? Thunderstorm’s performance was so intriguing that the great James Taylor said he felt he had “something in common” with Thunderstorm — which just might be the highest praise any aspiring singer-songwriter could receive. And John, who normally thinks contestants covering his own songs is his “Achilles heel,” was totally pleased with how Thunderstorm switched up “Preach” on acoustic guitar.

Thunderstorm has been such a frontrunner that I was shocked when John, who’s been making frankly baffling decisions all season, chose Mandi instead. Thankfully, Nick Jonas stole Thunderstorm. Nick claimed this had been his secret sneaky strategy all along, which I don’t believe for one second — but however it came about, this was a perfect storm of events that kept Nick and one of the season’s most interesting artists in the game.

WINNER: Mandi Castillo / STOLEN: Thunderstorm Artis moves to Team Nick

TEAM NICK: Arei Moon vs. Jon Mullins

Both contestants made dedications to their beloved spouses — Arei doing former Voice coach Alicia Keys’s “You Don’t Know My Name,” Jon taking on Ed Sheeran’s familiar wedding-reception ballad “Thinking Out Loud.” Jon had a solid and soulful vocal… but even Blake noted that he “turned it up a couple of notches” because Arei was such a tough act to follow and thus brought out Jon’s competitive spirit.

Arei was a revelation and practically at a Grammy-performance level, owning the moment. Sexy and confident, this girl was on fire, indeed. Nick even called her a “superstar” before making the easy decision to keep her. Arei’s husband is one lucky man. And now it’s looking like Nick is one lucky coach.

WINNER: Arei Moon

TEAM KELLY: Tayler Green vs. Micah Iverson

I was shocked by how the coaches reacted to this pairing. Yes, Tayler did a lovely job with “Time After Time,” expertly adapting it to her deep and rich voice, which differs so much from Cyndi Lauper’s. She made the classic ‘80s ballad sultry and soulful, and there was a tenderness and ache to her delivery that felt real and raw.

But Micah’s performance of Halsey’s “Graveyard” — an ambitious song choice, given its rapid, breathless syncopation — was modern and cool, very the 1975 (the band, not the year). He made it even darker and moodier than the original, and he effectively translated Halsey’s strong female point of view to his own narrative. It actually felt like his song. (Side note: Getting to see Micah and James during rehearsals was pretty amazing and surreal. “I love that James Taylor is playing Halsey right now — it’s my dream!” gasped Kelly.)

But all of coaches preferred Tayler, claiming that her song choice was the superior vocal showcase. Blake gave her a standing ovation, and John called her “mesmerizing… everything about your delivery said, ‘I’m a star and I deserve to be on this stage.’” I was surprised by these critiques… and even more surprised when Kelly went with her “gut feeling” and picked Micah anyway. Micah looked very surprised, as did Kelly’s fellow coaches, but I think she made the smart long-haul decision. I just wish Tayler had been stolen, because she too deserved to stay. A conflicted Kelly slammed her forehead onto her chair’s desk as Tayler exited stage left and Blake glowered in disbelief.

WINNER: Micah Iverson

TEAM NICK: Allegra Miles vs. Jacob Miller

I thought teenage Allegra was biting off more than she could chew with Sia’s “Chandelier,” but because of her past struggles with depression, she related to its dark lyrics. “Her connection to the song is clear,” Nick attested. She still had her usual diction issues, but the pain in her imperfect performance was palpable and believable; she sounded like a broken woman, in the best possible way.

Jacob’s folksy acoustic cover of Post Malone’s “Better Now” wasn’t a vocal masterclass, but it was a classic case of an artist “making a song his own.” Even James Taylor marveled during rehearsal over how Jacob “took the song to a new place… He’s got something.” This felt so special, a breakout moment, almost too good for The Voice. Kelly gasped, “Wow!” as she jumped to her feet after Jacob’s main-stage performance. But unfortunately, this was not Kelly’s decision to make.

For the same reason that I would have picked Thunderstorm over Mandi and Micah over Tayler — originality and artistry — I would have gone with Jacob. But Nick could not deny Allegra’s impact. Oh well. I hope Nick makes good on that promise to record with Jacob someday.

WINNER: Allegra Myles

TEAM KELLY: Mandi Thomas vs. Anaya Cheyenne

This may have been the most brutal montage in Voice history. While Mandi got a good amount of screentime for her barnstorming cover of Maren Morris’s “My Church,” with Kelly raving, “This song is rangy, and you made it even rangier,” poor Anaya’s performance wasn’t shown at all. Host Carson Daly didn’t even mention her name, and there wasn’t even a caption; I literally had to look up Team Kelly’s lineup on the NBC website to figure out who Mandi’s opponent was. This was strange, considering that Anaya had received a lot of attention earlier this season and had fared well in the Battles, so I’m not sure what happened here. It was a tough lesson for a 16-year-old kid to learn, but hey, that’s showbiz.

WINNER: Mandi Thomas


Thursday, April 9

BOSTONGLOBE.COM – James Taylor pays tribute to a ‘hero of mine,’ John Prine

Singer James Taylor posted a statement mourning the late John Prine on Wednesday:

“I spent the past two years touring with Bonnie Raitt. She changed her set pretty much every night but, often as not, her half of our concert included John Prine’s beautiful song, ‘Angel From Montgomery.’ I know tonight that Bonnie is mourning the loss of one of our generation’s greatest singer/songwriters. John was taken from us by Covid19. For me, losing him makes this pandemic personal because John Prine was a hero of mine. ‘Christmas in Prison,’ ‘Dear Abby,’ Paradise,’ ‘Hello in There’ . . .

“Prine was one of those artists that really didn’t translate into the Pop Culture, attempts to explain or promote him were clearly painful to him: he wasn’t evasive or mysterious, he was just embarrassed. The genuine article. There goes a good one . . .”


Tuesday, April 7

BILLBOARD.COM — James Taylor Is ‘The Voice’ Season 18’s Mega Mentor: Exclusive

By Rania Aniftos

Award-winning music icon James Taylor will serve as the mega mentor on Season 18 of The Voice, Billboard can exclusively confirm.

Taylor will join the coaches to mentor the artists remaining from the Battle Rounds, and prepare each team for the Knockout Rounds, which will begin on Monday (April 13) at 8 p.m. EST/PST.

The Knockout Rounds will have the contestants paired against a teammate once more, but unlike the Battle Rounds, they will each select their own song to perform individually while their competitor watches and waits. The coaches will then choose the winner from their team to advance.

Additionally, Taylor will help coach and rehearse with the four artists that were saved by their individual coaches during the Battle Rounds for the first-ever Four-Way Knockout. Only one winner on each team will advance, chosen by America’s votes and revealed at the beginning of the first live show.

In a funny announcement video revealing Taylor’s participation on this season, coaches Kelly Clarkson, John Legend, Nick Jonas and Blake Shelton play a game of telephone to tell each other the news. As usual with a game of telephone, something got mixed up along the way, leading Shelton to believe that the mega mentor was Elizabeth Taylor, not James.


Monday, April 6

BERKSHIREEAGLE.COM — James Taylor on virus’ impact: ‘Life … is going to change’

By Clarence Fanto

LENOX — After the peak of the coronavirus pandemic is reached and we start coming down the other side of the mountain, there will be a new abnormal, less restrictive but still critically different from the pre-virus era. It’s on all of our minds, including Berkshires troubadour James Taylor, as voiced during a wide-ranging conversation from his Montana spring break retreat last weekend.

It has been a busy year for James and Kim Taylor — a $350,000 gift to Berkshire Medical Center for coronavirus response, after a $1 million donation to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His “American Standard” album came out in late February, after the release of “Break Shot,” his retrospective audio documentary on that traces his first 21 years.

With the world turned upside down, Taylor didn’t want to dwell on his professional commitments. As confirmed Friday, he had to postpone his coast-to-coast U.S. tour of 27 cities with Jackson Browne slated from May 14 to July 10, including a June 21 date at Boston’s Fenway Park with Brandi Carlile and Shawn Colvin. (The sold-out Tanglewood concert July 4 is still listed on the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s schedule, for now.)

His April 14-May 5, 12-stop Canadian tour with Bonnie Raitt from Victoria, British Columbia, to St. John’s, Newfoundland, had already fallen by the wayside.

“The response to the tours was so fantastic, and we’re bound and determined to reschedule,” Taylor said, adding that both were sellouts as his latest studio recording was released.

“If you’re a touring musician and basically make it your living and focus of your professional life by asking people to come together in big groups and participate in a musical gathering, you’re in the center of how to respond to the threat and what needs to change,” he said.

“This is not about me,” he emphasized, “but it makes me understand and sympathize with people to have my year’s work so completely impacted by it and have a project I worked on for three years dropped into a well. It definitely makes me aware of the economic implications of this thing. You learn to make touring part of your life, you learn to do it well. For us who have devoted so much time in our lives to this process, this is a real disruption; that’s what we’re feeling.”

Here are additional excerpts from my conversation with Taylor, lightly edited for length and clarity:

Q: What are your immediate concerns about the public impact of the pandemic?

A: People are really hurting, that’s the main thing everybody’s been trying to control. This falls on the shoulders of our health care providers and first responders, and we must help them flatten the curve. We wasted two months, maybe three, to prepare for this thing, but the side that’s been in power, they just weren’t there, their heads were in the sand.

The U.S. is supposed to be the world leader, but it has been asleep at the wheel while the rest of the world was showing us what to do. The focus has to be on encouraging good leadership and supporting the health care providers.

Q: What should have been done differently?

A: For many years, I’ve said along with so many other people that there are serious problems with the way our economy works and what it does to our environment, the economic disparity, the increasing struggles of our workforce and the average citizen. There are real problems when we see our for-profit medical system trimmed down to the least excess, a lean operation with no excess capacity.

I really do think we’re going to need a public health “national guard,” maybe the current National Guard expanded in its medical capacity.

Q: Taking the longer view, what else will we confront whenever we return to some kind of new normal?

A: We’re facing really big decisions; deep alterations to the fabric of our lives are being made day to day with only a short period of time to consider them. That’s the nature of the emergency. We know life on the other side of this thing is going to change.

When something like this happens, people scream for change; they ask, “Why aren’t we protecting our brothers and sisters against this kind of capricious reversal of fortune?” We need to prioritize the well-being of the most number of people.

Q: What do you see as the responsibility of the nation’s chief executive?

A: The executive branch is where the rubber hits the road; the executive is supposed to run things. It’s not a matter of politics. There’s a job to be done, and when it’s not done, you can coast only for a while. But, when something comes along needing a timely and capable response, it isn’t there.

We have to get global, because civilization is all about the ability of strangers to cooperate. The corporate structure should serve humanity and the greatest number of us, not divide us into haves and have-nots. That’s common sense.

Q: How do you view your role as a performer after 50 years of recording and touring?

A: When we give a concert, I feel a community that convenes and reconvenes, without an agenda or political force. It feeds itself, a mutually beneficial thing, and our concerts are one of the ways this happens. That’s a real privilege, the blessing of a lifetime that we have this audience. I’ll be there for them as long as I possibly can.


Thursday, April 2

THINKNUM.COM — James Taylor topped Amazon’s best-selling music for March, beating Pearl Jam and Joe Exotic

By Julia Gray

Music has been a welcome reprieve this month as Coronavirus continues to spread and reshape our lives. Amazon’s ($NASDAQ:AMZN) CD & Vinyl best-sellers for March accounted for a healthy dose of escapism, including classic rock, glitzy dance pop, and novelty country tunes about a tiger.

If the top three best-sellers are any indication, Americans have been feeling nostalgic this month. James Taylor’s 17th studio album American Standard jumped to number one this month, up from its number two spot in February. Up next is Pearl Jam’s eleventh album Gigaton, which came out late last month. Ozzy Osbourne’s new LP Ordinary Man ranked at number two for nine days in March.

The Frozen 2 soundtrack remains in the same slot as last month. Dixie Chicks recently announced their first album in 14 years, Gaslighter, with its excellent title track. The album comes out next month, but the pre-sales put it among March’s best-sellers.

K-pop sensations BTS averaged at number 10 with Map Of The Soul: 7, down from number one last month. Perhaps the most exciting albums are in the final four.

The Weekend and Dua Lipa’s great new albums — After Hours and Future Nostalgia — both made the cut. Plus, Bob Marley and a newcomer by the name of Joe Exotic. Exotic is the star of Netflix’s ($NASDAQ:NFLX) hit Tiger King docuseries. And his tiger-themed country record I Saw A Tiger is the most insane thing we’ve heard all year.