TORONTOSUN.COM — James Taylor talks Canadian tour, Joni Mitchell, new music and retiring
By Jane Stevenson
James Taylor has been walking down a country road for more than five decades now, but the 74-year-old singer-songwriter can still see the horizon in the distance.
In fact, Taylor is currently in Canada on a 12-date trek that includes a May 1 stop at Toronto’s Scotiabank Arena, with Jackson Browne opening.
“I guess once you sort of start reaching these lofty figures, you start thinking about, ‘How long can this go on?’ ” said the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, down the line from his Martha’s Vineyard home while in pre-tour mode.
“But it’s my main thing. The centre of my life is touring and playing for my audience. I still love doing it and the band is in great shape. I’ve never had any realistic thoughts about (retiring). I know it’s somewhere in the mix.”
Taylor also points to having “role models like Ray Charles and Tony Bennett, people who continued to (make music) — in Tony’s case through his 80s and into his 90s. Same thing with Ray Charles. It’s the most consistent thing — along with family — in my life, and I’m not really quite ready to let it go yet.”
Taylor’s original Canadian trek was supposed to happen in 2020 with Bonnie Raitt opening, but it got sidelined twice by COVID-19. He was able to still get in some U.S. dates with Browne, a pal from their early ’70s Laurel Canyon days. The two are playing in each other’s sets.
“It’s been so great working with Jackson and I think our audiences are a good blend,” said the six-time Grammy winner.
“We were born in the same year (1948), came up around the same time. I never really lived in L.A. I was always an East Coaster myself. But my band was always out there and I recorded out there. So, yeah, there were a couple of intersections such as the Troubadour Cafe, and places where it was sort of predictable that both Jackson and I would end up. And we shared a band for a while. We recorded with the same people and it was a very tight-knit and close group of artists and people in those days.”
Back then, Taylor also dated Canadian Joni Mitchell, whom he was supposed to honour at her recent MusicCares event held in conjunction with the Grammys, which were moved from January in L.A. to April in Las Vegas due to the pandemic.
“I was due to play it when it was in January, but my twins turned 21 that same weekend (in April), so I had to keep our plans to have their birthday celebration,” said Taylor, who shares twins Rufus and Henry (who sang and played on Taylor’s fall tour in the U.S.) with third wife Caroline Smedvig.
“I was scheduled to play her song, The River, her song about Christmas in Los Angeles, such a great tune, and that’s a song I have recorded on a Christmas album I did. And then on that Joni album Blue (1971), which people have been focusing on at its 50-year anniversary, I played on four of those songs — A Case of You, Carey, California, All I Really Want — and the tracks on that album were very sparse, very little instrumentation, so working with Joni … it’s wonderful to listen to that album and sort of relive those days, in the early ’70s.”
As for playing in Canada, the Boston-born Taylor said his daughter Sally, from his first marriage to Carly Simon, and her husband are trying for Canadian citizenship.
“Coming from New England, it’s familiar,” said Taylor. “But at the same time it’s definitely a different place. I don’t know … in many ways, I envy Canadians. Canada has done a better job with so many things. It’s absurd to generalize about it. I can’t really pretend to be an expert or anything, but I love my Canadian audiences. I love the experience of going there, and travelling there. It feels good to me.”
During any COVID-19 lockdowns, Taylor said while it was “awful” not to be able to perform, he enjoyed spending time with his family and did write some new songs. His last album was 2020’s covers album, American Standard.
“I’ve got a bag full of new ideas and songs, musical ideas I’m working on,” he said. “I don’t have particular project in mind yet.”
Taylor, who’s been open about his struggles with depression and heroin addiction (he overcame the latter in 1983), says it probably hasn’t been easy for others who are isolated during the pandemic.
“It’s sort of like a spell was broken,” he said. “I didn’t find that it woke any demons up in me. Always the best cure for me for depression, has been exercise, to get your blood moving. Early on, I found that, particularly for opiate addicts, just physical exercise, get up, take a walk, take hike, go to the gym. It’s easy to say, hard sometimes to do. It definitely was what saved me.”
James Taylor’s remaining Canadian tour dates (He launched his tour April 21 in St. John’s, Nfld.):
April 24 Halifax Scotiabank Centre
April 25 Moncton Avenir Centre
April 27 Ottawa Canadian Tire Centre
April 28 Montreal Bell Centre
April 30 London Budweiser Gardens
May 1 Toronto Scotiabank Arena
May 5 Winnipeg Canada Life Centre
May 7 Calgary Scotiabank Saddledome
May 9 Edmonton Rogers Place
May 11 Victoria Save-On-Foods Memorial Centre
May 12 Vancouver Rogers Arena