January 4, 2021 | « back

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.”