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Sweet Baby James

24 Mar

James Taylor Time Magazine Cover 1971

James Taylor Time Magazine Article 1971

 

For most of my life, the original JT – James Taylor – has been a very deep and strong musical influence for me. Although a soft-spoken soul, James has been very vocal in the music industry for nearly 40 years, influencing many modern day artists. He was inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 and was recently honored by a PBS Tribute featuring Sting, Natalie Maines (of the Dixie Chicks) and Bonnie Raitt. The Time article is an interesting read, having been written at the beginning of his career and at the advent of a “Rock seachange” to a more acoustic sound, without the benefit of hindsight to know just how much of an impact his music would have on music.

His story is an interesting one. In his teens, he suffered from depression and was actually committed for a short time. He actually got his high school diploma while in a psychiatric hospital. Shortly after being released and moving from his North Carolina home to NYC, he became a heroin addict. Here’s an early ‘70’s YouTube of James and Lee Sklar, the great bass player, doing Steamroller.

 

 


Dedicated to Texan

At the tender age of 19, he was signed by the Apple label of the Beatles. He moved to London and recorded the self-titled James Taylor. Included on this album is the now famous Carolina in My Mind.


Today’s Trivia: Paul McCartney and George Harrison played back-up on this tune… Sir Paul introduced James at his induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, completing the circle.

Here’s a wonderful early performance of “Carolina”.

 

Of course, Fire and Rain, off of the Sweet Baby James album is one of his most well-known recordings. While many speculate that the song was written about a girlfriend in a plane crash, the truth is that the song is about a friend who was a drug addict, like himself, who committed suicide. The “flying machine” reference is his defunct band The Flying Machine and not an airplane. The title track is also a personal favorite.

Recent AOL Sessions version of Fire and Rain

 

There are other hits like Carole King’s You’ve Got a Friend, How Sweet it is to be Loved by You, and Handy Man among the most well known. My brother (who is 9 years my elder) gave me JT’s In the Pocket album (yes, LP – you know, vinyl) for Christmas in ’76. I fell in love. At 12, I began a life long love affair with James’ music. I love the sweet, acoustic melodies and rich harmonies that he intertwines in songs. For my next birthday (13), my brother sprung for Gorilla, which includes the wonderful Mexico.

 

Married to Carly Simon for 9 years, he had two children, Ben and Sally but their marriage couldn’t survive his drug use. They collaborated on many songs but the BEST is Mockingbird.

 

I would vote Terra Nova way up there, as well. However, I HAVE to give props to my friend, Shelley’s favorite…Close Your Eyes.

At 58, James is still relevant in music but does it on his own terms now, when and how he wants to. Married to his 3rd wife and the father of 5-year old twins (God Bless You, brother), he resides in the glorious Berkshires of Massachusetts that he lovingly sings about in Sweet Baby James.

This recent San Francisco Chronicle article touches on James’ career, philosophy and the experience of working on what was likely Ray Charles’ last recording, Sweet Potato Pie. Of particular interest, he mentions first meeting Ray Charles (a major influence to him) in that same psych ward back in 1966 when Ray was there as part of his probation resulting from his 1965 heroin possession arrest.

Small world, no?

 

JamesTaylor.com – Very nice, very “James”.

Discography

 

Note: Temporary music files deleted.

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8 Comments

Posted by on March 24, 2007 in Influences, james taylor, music, Music History

 

8 responses to “Sweet Baby James

  1. Shelley

    March 25, 2007 at 1:00 am

    DD…this was a fantastic look at James’ life.

    I’ve been a fan since I was a child…pretty much claiming ownership to my parents’ “Greatest Hits” album.

    I never knew his childhood history and was fascinated by this.

    “Fire and Rain”…I had never known the story.

    Yes, “Mockingbird” is great…but you know my fav duet between JT and Carly is “You Can Close Your Eyes.”

    Other favorite songs of mine are…

    “Smiling Face”
    “Sweet Baby James”
    “Bartender Blues”
    “I Was Only Tellin’ a Lie”
    “Millworker”
    “Gorilla”
    and perhaps my all-time fav
    “Chanson Francais”

    Great post. Thanks.

     
  2. music maven

    March 25, 2007 at 2:20 am

    Shelley — LOVE Chanson Francais! as well as the others you mentioned. I like alot of his relatively “unknown” stuff. In particular,

    Traffic Jam
    Money Machine
    Junky’s Lament
    Woman’s Got to Have It
    Shower thee People
    Golden Moments
    Slow Burning Love (With Carly)

    I may post a few more of these for listening.

     
  3. nolagirl

    March 25, 2007 at 2:45 am

    I jacked my dad’s JT greatest hits album when I was a freshman in college, and I remember burning a copy on my roommates’ computer. I still have that copy, actually. Yeah, so that was only 7 years ago, long after JT’s “hey day,” but I’m pretty sure not many other freshman sorority girls were into ol’ JT! I had heard him growing up, as my dad is a huge music lover, so it was only once I was “on my own” that I took it up for myself, so to speak.

    I don’t know how to explain why I love his music , but I have come to feel the same way about Amos Lee’s music, and also can’t explain that. I think it’s partly the lyrics, partly the “calming” tone they both tend to have at times.

    I’m so glad JT didn’t fall completely prey to the drugs, and that he is still around today. And how freaky is his Ray Charles run-in story?! That is nuts.

    And lastly, I must say I prefer his look in the “Carolina” clip. So cute!

     
  4. music maven

    March 25, 2007 at 3:08 am

    James Taylor’s music seems to be the kind that “grows” on folks. I think you’re right, nolagirl, that many people just like it (like Amos) and can’t really nail exactly why. Soothing? Easy? Clean? dunno….but I do love it so.

    Glad to know that there are younger peeps who know JT. Spread the word.

     
  5. music maven

    March 25, 2007 at 3:36 am

    Very interesting that both James and Carly came from very affluent families yet chose a more “bohemian” lifestyle. Guess it was sort of the way for the “Vietnam” generation.

     
  6. shrewspeaks

    March 26, 2007 at 11:55 pm

    What I find so compelling about James Taylor was he really explored a new meshing of Soul and Folk. Throughout the years has really played with world beat dimensions,spinning tales in a folk lore tradtion like no other.

    Somehow, I couldn’t see Jimmy Buffett or Jack Johnson having the creers they have without James Taylor leading the way.

     
  7. Hickstyeria

    March 28, 2007 at 9:54 am

    DD (or MM) I’ve just caught up with your blog so this is my first visit and I am so pleased I have followed the link! This was such an interesting piece about James Taylor. I can’t exactly remember when I first heard him but I liked his voice instantly and played ‘Steamroller’ so many times I thought I’d wear the LP out! I’d love to hear Taylor sing that song and put his own special spin on it – maybe one day.

    Keep up the good work.

     
  8. sandy

    July 19, 2009 at 2:26 pm

    I adore JT, his voice,his music,his soul.
    One of my very very favorite ones is Blossom.
    But i love Fire & Rain, You’ve got a friend, I know them ALL !!! and i like them ALL!

    GOD BLESS YOU SWEET BABY JAMES!
    sr

     

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