James Vernon Taylor was instrumental; pun intended; in
sparking the singer-songwriter movement that swept the American musical landscape
in the late '60s and early '70s. James' first instrument was
not the guitar, but the cello. He
picked up a guitar in 1960 and found it much more conducive to the kind of
music he wanted to write and perform.
Some of this music was written during a stay in McLean Hospital,
where James, still in high school, was being treated for depression. He was still in hospital when he
received his diploma in absentia.
While on vacation at Martha's Vineyard, James befriended Danny
Kortchmar, and the two of them founded Flying
Machine with Joel O'Brien.
The New York-based band recorded "Brighten Your Night With My
Day" backed with "Night Owl". Neither the band nor the song
succeeded. To make matters
worse, James was fighting a losing battle with heroin. It got so bad that his dad had to
drive from Chapel Hill, North Carolina, to New York, in a frantic attempt to
save him. James'
recollections of that time are reflected in the song "Jump Up Behind
Me". A change of scenery
seemed to be the ticket: James emigrated to London in 1968. He recorded a demo and sent it to
Peter Asher, who had ties to Paul McCartney and Apple Records, and became
the first non-Beatle signed to the label. Not only did they sign him: Paul and Peter both played on the
album, and Paul and George Harrison supplied background vocals for "Carolina
in My Mind". In spite of
all of this all-star support, the album fared poorly, as did James'
ongoing problems with heroin. He
moved back to the States and checked himself into a treatment facility in
Massachusetts. In 1969, he did
some touring, appearing at the Newport Folk Festival, and L.A.'s
Troubadour Club, for six nights.
His career was interrupted again when he got into a motorcycle accident
which resulted in two broken hands.
Warner Brothers signed James soon thereafter and he made the great
egress to California, with Peter Asher in tow. His sophomore effort, Sweet Baby James, fared much better
than his self-titled debut album, yielding the hit "Fire and Rain". Both the song and the album went to
#3 on the Billboard charts.
Listeners were now hungry for James' debut LP, and record
sales put James Taylor and "Carolina
in My Mind" on the charts, as well. In 1971, James appeared in the film Two-Lane Blacktop with Dennis
Wilson, and released Mud Slide Slim
and the Blue Horizon. His
cover of "You've Got a Friend", penned by friend Carole
King, garnered a Grammy and became James' first and only #1 record. Wedding bells rang for James and Carly Simon in 1972. It was a prolific time for both
released a string of albums, including One
Man Dog, Walking Man, Gorilla, In the Pocket, and Greatest
Hits, all between 1972 and 1976.
In the Pocket contained
his remake of the old Marvin Gaye hit, "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved
By You)". Greatest Hits has sold more than
eleven million copies, over one third of James' total sales. In 1977, he switched labels from
Warner Brothers to Columbia and scored another hit cover with "Handy
Man", winning the Best Male Pop Vocal Performance Grammy. A couple of years later, he cracked
the top forty with another Carole King composition, "Up on the Roof". James' recidivistic heroin
habit was hampering his career and marriage, however, and he and Carly were divorced in 1983. In 1985, James was at a crossroads,
contemplating retirement and continuing to deal with substance abuse. His life and career got a shot in
the arm (so to speak) when he opened for George Benson at Rock in Rio. So popular was James, encores
extended his set well past the scheduled time, and George graciously
offered to switch spots with him two days hence. He also married Kathryn Walker, an
actress, and kicked the drug habit once and for good. To cap off a banner year, James
released his first album in four years, That's
Why I'm Here. In
1988, he released the appropriately titled Never Die Young. New Moon Shine, James' first
release in the '90s, went platinum. Two years later, he toured the east
coast, and some of this material is captured on the two-disk set, James Taylor (Live), released in
1993. This kept fans tied over
until 1997's Hourglass, which
won the Best Pop Album Grammy Award the following year. In May of 1997, he had the honour to preside over the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame induction
of Crosby, Stills and Nash.
Just three years later, he would be inducted by one of the people
who helped him get his start:
Sir Paul McCartney. He
was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame the same year. James has been busy in the new
millennium, as well. He married
his third wife, Caroline Smedvig, in 2001. October
Road was released in the same year. James has duetted
a couple of times with Grammy-winning bluegrass singer Alison Krauss, first
in 2002, when they performed "The Boxer" as part of Paul Simon's
Kennedy Center Honors Tribute, and again in 2004, covering "How's
the World Treating You?", originally recorded by The Louvin Brothers.
It appears on the album Lovin', Losin' and Alison Krauss's 100 Miles or More: A Collection. (James would cover Paul Simon's
"Slip Sliding Away" years later.) He also got in the Christmas spirit,
recording James Taylor: A Christmas Album, in
collaboration with Hallmark. The
end of the year was marked by an appearance on The West Wing, performing a cover of "A Change is Gonna Come", the old Sam Cooke song, for a
character played by his wife, no less.
It was not his last foray into television. He teamed up with The Dixie Chicks
on the Country Music Television programme, Crossroads, and even made a cameo as
himself on The Simpsons. In 2006, his Christmas album was
repackaged and redistributed by Columbia/Sony, and nominated for a Grammy
the following year. He was also
named Grammy MusiCares Person of the Year and honoured by a number of his peers, including Jackson
Browne, Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Bruce
Springsteen, Sting, Taj Mahal,
and Keith Urban. A DVD of the
concert is now available. James
also has the honour of being one of a handful of
artists to appear on Ray Charles' last album, Genius Loves Company.
One Man Band was released
on 13th November 2007, and contains live material from a tour
that was carrying over into Europe in early 2008.