James Taylor - Biography
By J Poet
James Taylor was born in Boston, but he carries himself like an old time Southern gentleman, soft spoken, but able to dazzle with his guitar technique and understated singing. The first non-Beatle signed to Apple Records, his début for the label included songs that are still in his set today including “Carolina in my Mind”, “Brighten Your Night With My Day”, and “Rainy Day Man.” He’s credited with launching the pop singer/songwriter movement, and has had as many hits covering the songs of others as he has with his own songs. Taylor has 40 gold, platinum and multi platinum albums, and one diamond for James Taylor’s Greatest Hits (1976 Warner). He has a Lifetime Achievement Award from Billboard magazine, and five Grammys. He was given an honorary doctorate of music from the Berklee College of Music in 1995. He’s still singing, writing and touring, with a voice and personality that’s as youthful as it was when he first stepped on stage in 1963. He was into both the Rock 'n' Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 2000. He received the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement in 2004.
Taylor was born in Boston in 1948 and grew up surround by his musical siblings Alex, Livingston, Hugh, and Kate. The family moved to Chapel Hill, NC, when his father became Dean of the University of North Carolina/Chapel Hill Medical School. At five he was sent to the Milton Academy, a Boston prep school. He studied cello at eight, but wanted to play guitar more. In 1960 his parents got him a guitar and by the time he was 15 he was playing in a folk duo with future LA super session guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar. He dropped out of Milton to start a band with his brother Alex, The Fabulous Corsairs. In 1965 he moved to New York City, but soon fled to Massachusetts to check himself into the McLean Psychiatric Hospital for depression. He stayed for 10 months, graduated from the hospital’s high school, and then left for Russia.
Taylor was back in New York City in 1966, playing with Kortchmar in a band called The Flying Machine and shooting heroin. He moved to London and met Paul McCartney who signed him to Apple Records. His debut album James Taylor (1968 Apple UK, 1969 Apple/Capital US) got little attention. While waiting for the US release he entered rehab at the Austin Riggs Psychiatric Hospital in Maryland. James Taylor did better in the US. He played the Newport Folk Festival and got signed by Warner Brothers. Sweet Baby James (1970 Warner) took off and stayed on the album charts for two years. The singer “Fire and rain” went gold and the album platinum. That success pulled James Taylor back onto the charts and it eventually went gold.
Taylor appeared as a stoned hippie in Monte Hellman’s existential road flick Two Lane Blacktop, then finished recording Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon (1971 Warner). His touring band was Jo Mama with Kortchmar on guitar and Carole King on piano. The albums hit single “You've Got A Friend”, won him a Best Male Vocal Grammy. In 1972 he met and married Carly Simon. In 1974 they had a gold hit with their duet on “Mockingbird” which was on Simon’s album Hotcakes (1974 Elektra).
One Man Dog (1972 Warner) and Walking Man (1974 Warner) let up to his commercial smash Gorilla (1975 Warner) which included another gold single, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s “How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)”. In the Pocket (1976 Warner) continued the winning streak with “Shower The People,” one of his own songs, and “Don’t Be Sad ‘cause Your Sun Is Down”, a co-write with Stevie Wonder. Warner knew he was leaving the label for Columbia and put out James Taylor’s Greatest Hits (1976 Warner). The album continues to sell well in 2008. It won a Diamond Record for sales in excess of 10 million copies.
Taylor signed with Columbia Records for JT (1977 Columbia, 2000 Columbia Legacy) which won a Best Male Pop Vocal Performance Grammy for “Handy Man.” The combination of dark Taylor originals and the “Handy Man” smash drove the album to platinum sales. Flag, featuring a Top 40 version of Gerry Goffin and Carole King's "Up on the Roof." Taylor also performed at the No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden and appeared on the album and the film from the concert. Flag (1979 Columbia, 2000 Columbia/Legacy) a low key album of R&B covers scored with a remake of the Drifters/Goffin/King oldie “Up on the Roof.”
In the early 80s Taylor was struggling with drugs again, and his marriage was rocky. Carly Simon complained about the time he spent on the road and many saw the title of Dad Loves His Work (1981 Columbia, 2000 Columbia/Legacy) as a jibe at Simon. The album was all original work, with “Her Town Too” his biggest non-cover hit in almost 20 years. He divorced Simon, remarried and cut That's Why I'm Here (1985 Columbia, 2000 Columbia/Legacy) another combination of covers and originals. It sold slowly on its release, but eventually went platinum thanks to hits with Buddy Holly’s “Everyday” and his own “Only One” and “That's Why I'm Here”.
Never Die Young (1988 Columbia, 2000 Columbia/Legacy) was a dark album addressing aging and mortality. He toured widely and the album went gold. In the late 80s, he kicked his habit and made two great albums, New Moon Shine (1991 Columbia) which quickly went gold and stayed on the charts for a year and Hourglass (1997 Columbia, 2000 Columbia/Legacy) an album of all new James Taylor songs. It won 1997’s the Best Pop Album Grammy. In between he released Live (1993 Columbia) a mellow, greatest hits in concert disc.
Taylor entered the new century with October Road (2002 Columbia) which won another Best Pop Album Grammy and went platinum. He contributed a duet with Alison Krauss on “How's the World Treating You?” to the Louvin Brothers tribute album Livin’, Lovin’, Losin’: Songs of the Louvin Brothers (2003 Universal South). The track won a Best Country Collaboration with Vocals Grammy in 2003. He finished his residency at Columbia with James Taylor at Christmas (2006 Columbia) and sand Randy Newman’s “Our Town” on the soundtrack of Cars (2006 Disney). The song was nominated for a Best Original Song Oscar.
In 2006, Taylor singed with Hear Music, Starbuck’s music logo. One Man Band (2007 Hear) is a CD/DVD document of a live concert recorded at the Colonial Theater in the summer of 2007, with Taylor and his “one man band” keyboard player Larry Goldings roaming through the singer’s extensive back catalogue. Covers (2008 Hear) is just what it says, mellow recollections of the tunes associated with Elvis, Buddy Holly, George Jones and Leonard Cohen. In 2010 he joined up with Carole King to release the hihgly successful Live At The Troubador.