Friday, December 8, 2017

James Taylor

James Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts in 1948. His father was a wealthy doctor and his mother a former opera singer. James was the second of five children and grew up in the university town of Chapel Hill, Carrboro, North Carolina. The family enjoyed playing music and James learned to play the cello as a child. He later mastered the piano. Each summer the family went to Martha's Vineyard, Chilmark where James befriended Danny Kortchmar who played guitar. They both shared an interest in blues and folk music and were soon jamming together. After they won a local hootenanny competition at Martha’s Vineyard the duo now called Jamie & Kootch earned pocket money playing coffeehouses around the Vineyard. Aged 14 James was beginning to write songs which he accompanied himself on guitar. Back at school James was experiencing bouts of anxiety and eventually left boarding school to return home to finish his schooling at a local high school. Soon he joined his brother Alex in a band called The Corsayers (later The Fabulous Corsairs), playing electric guitar. The band made the grade and James skipped school to play. In 1964 they made a record with the B Side a song penned by James entitled “Cha Cha Blues.” Despite the change of school James’s melancholy continued until he fell into deep depression. He spent the next nine months at the McLean Hospital in Belmont Massachusetts for treatment. In 1966 Danny Kotchmar convinced James to check out of hospital and they moved to Greenwich Village, New York. There they formed Flying Machine with Joel O'Brien (drums) and Zachary Wiesner (bass) and the band performed many of the songs James had written whilst in hospital. Soon the group had a loyal following and was playing at the Night Owl Cafe alongside with The Turtles and Lothar and the Hand People. James Taylor still had issues and became addicted to heroin. The group did go onto record an album but due mainly to bad management eventually they broke up, penniless. Concerned about his health and welfare his father took James back to North Carolina where he underwent rehab. Now recovering six months later and after a throat operation to fix damaged vocal chords James decide to follow a solo career. He moved to London in 1967 and recorded some demos which came to the attention of Apple Records A& R man Peter Asher (formerly Peter and Gordon and brother of Jane Asher). After Paul McCartney gave the thumbs up Apple Records signed James Taylor as the first non UK act. James put together a new band and wrote some new material including the autobiographical Carolina in my mind. The album James Taylor was recorded in 1968 and featured Paul and George in an unaccredited capacity.

Unfortunately, James was still leading an unstable life style and fell back into drug abuse. Despite treatment in the UK he eventually returned to New York and committed himself to the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The album met critical acclaim but little else mainly due to the absence of James Taylor to promote his work. Apple Corps at the time were in severe financial strife and when Peter Asher resigned he offered to manage James Taylor. Now recovered James accepted and started playing live gigs at key clubs and venues until a motorbike accident found him once again laid up. While recovering he continued to write songs and in 1969, signed a new deal with Warner Bros. Records and moved to California. He formed a new band that included Kortchmar and Carole King (piano) and they started on a new album.

Sweet Baby James was a classic and blend of sweet melancholy proved an instant success. The single ‘Fire and Rain’ which was a song about his experience in psychiatric institutions and the suicide of his friend, Suzanne Schnerr enters the Billboard charts and peaks at #3.

The success of Sweet Baby James would herald the launch of the singer/songwriter movement. Renewed interest in his earlier works saw "Carolina in My Mind," back into the charts. A year later in 1971 he released the upbeat Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, featuring Joni Mitchell.

Carol King’s You’ve got a friend gave James another international # 1 hit.

By the time One Man Dog was released in 1972 arguably his best song writing efforts were on the decline and it took until the release of Gorilla, before he seemed to return to form.

The cover version of Marvin Gaye's "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You) sang by James and his wife Carly Simon was a massive hit.

By the middle of the decade James Taylor switched label to Columbia Records and released JT. By this time his style had changed into something smooth, predictable and reassuring.

He took a two-year break before reappearing in 1979 with Flag, which featured a Top 40 version of the Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Up on the Roof."

Throughout the 80s the singer maintained a body of competent works but these did not quite match the brilliance of his earlier endeavours. Despite this he continued to have a large following. By the end of the eighties James Taylor was touring regularly and performing songs from throughout his career. His albums continued to sell well and in the process he re-recorded many of his earlier songs. After the millennium change James Taylor became involved with several collaborations as well continued to be visibly active in environmental and liberal causes. He still tours and records.

Worth a listen
Carolina in My Mind (1968)
Fire and Rain (1970)
Sunny Skies (1970)
Country Road (1970)
Sweet Baby James (1970)
You’ve got a friend (1971)
How sweet it is to be loved by you (1975)
Up on the Roof (1979)
Everyday (1985)

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