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Music / James Taylor

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He's seen fire, and he's seen rain.

I've seen fire and I've seen rain, I've seen sunny days that I thought would never end.
I've seen lonely times when I could not find a friend, but I always thought that I'd see you again.
"Fire and Rain"

James Vernon Taylor (born March 12, 1948) is an American Singer-Songwriter and guitarist distinguished by his uniquely sweet-sounding voice, and pleasant folk-rock tunes. The second eldest of five children, most of whom are singers, he spent most of his life in both his native Boston, Massachusetts; as well as Chapel Hill, North Carolina.

His eponymous first record for Apple Records (1968) did not do well; he subsequently signed onto Warner (Bros.) Records and released the album Sweet Baby James, which spanned the hit singles "Fire And Rain" and "Country Road" and was significantly more successful than his previous album. He followed it up with Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon in 1971, which was another success, producing the hit cover of Carole King's "You've Got A Friend", and ushered in a more R&B oriented sound which he maintained well into the 70's. Around this time, Taylor starred in the critically acclaimed film Two-Lane Blacktop alongside Dennis Wilson. His next record, One Man Dog, was nearly two years in the making and was ultimately a severe letdown; made up of 18 brief pieces, it failed to reach the success of his previous two records. Walking Man followed in 1974 and did little to change his career. In 1975, he released Gorilla, an album drastically Lighter and Softer than his previous materials but which returned him to the success he'd enjoyed earlier in the decade, largely due to the Silly Love Song hit "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)", which featured backing vocals by Carly Simon, his wife at the time. In the Pocket, the sequel to Gorilla, followed in 1976, in addition to a Greatest Hits Album that became the best selling record of his career.

In 1977, Taylor released his first album on Columbia Records, JT, which spawned the hit "Your Smiling Face" and was a success. This was followed by a rather long period during which Taylor was rather unsuccessful. He was prone to alcoholism and drug abuse. He ended up divorcing Carly Simon in 1983; the title of his 1981 album Dad Loves His Work came, in fact, from the response Taylor gave to an ultimatum Simon had given him if he wanted their marriage to continue. Two years later, he married actress Kathryn Walker. Although Walker helped him overcome his heroin struggles, they eventually divorced in 1996. In 2001, Taylor married Caroline "Kim" Hessberg, who was the Boston Symphony Orchestra's longtime former director of public relations and marketing. Interestingly enough, she was once married to the late trumpeter Rolf Smedvig, who also played in the BSO and was one of the founding members of the Empire Brass Quintet. Taylor has also performed with the BSO's sister orchestra, the Boston Pops Orchestra.

Throughout the 90s and 2000s, Taylor has slowly made a successful comeback to the music industry; some of his most recent efforts include New Moon Shine (1991), Hourglass (1997), and October Road (2002).

He also acted in Two Lane Black Top, and was the music supervisor for Smooth Talk (1985).

His children, Ben and Sally Taylor, are also active singers.

His personal website can be found here.

"You've got a trope":

  • Christmas Songs: October Road includes his cover of "Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas", which was later included on his full-length album of holiday tunes, James Taylor at Christmas.
  • Dark and Troubled Past: His gentle music belies his struggles with depression and heroin addiction as a teen and young adult.
  • Greatest Hits Album: Well, there's his aforementioned one from 1976; he also released one nearly a quarter of a century later (in November 2000) chronicling his Columbia Records career. In addition to those he subsequently released one in 2003 on his old label Warners (despite it being over 25 years since last recording for them) that contained most of his classics (skipping everything from 1988-2002) while adding a brand new song at the end & a decade after that returned to Columbia for the first time since 2006 to release The Essential James Taylor which is a comprehensive double album covering essential classics (some recorded live) from 1970-2007. Ironically both Columbia albums were released at the ends of years (November 2000 & October 2013) during which he'd been on touring hiatus while working on impending new music.
  • He's Back!: He's had two major comebacks:
    • In The '70s, "Gorilla" became a major hit for him.
    • By 1997, Taylor has had another major resurgence in his career.
  • Human Popsicle: "The Frozen Man" tells the story of William James McPhee, a sailor born in Liverpool in 1843 who was frozen in ice after a shipwreck and brought back to life in the 1990s. While McPhee ends up amazed with the progress of humanity, seeing the graves of both his wife and daughter makes him tell the doctors "don't leave nothing to work on" once he dies. It also averts Harmless Freezing, because he mentions that "it took a lot of money" to restart his heart, get him a peg leg, and a new eye. However, he also mentions that he can't even wave goodbye anymore.
  • Intercourse with You: "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" is all about this, albeit trying to seduce the recipient of the song by being sweet and calming. The song I Was Only Telling a Lie. is A more spicy variation
  • Like Father, Like Son: His son Ben is a singer in his own right, as is his daughter Sally. His son Henry is just beginning to start a career.
  • List-of-Experiences Speech: "Fire and Rain" is all about things he himself has gone through. The line "sweet dreams and flying machines in pieces on the ground" in particular refer to old album titles that failed to chart.
  • Livealbum: 1993s Live is a VERY comprehensive double album containing songs from every studio album released up to that point (the last at that point was released in 1991). 2007s One Man Band is another example. He also released 5 video only releases: two titled in concert recorded in 1979 & 1988 respectively, Squibnocket a tour rehearsal video in 1992, live at the beacon theatre recorded at the first stop of his 1998 tour and Pull over recorded in concert in 2001.
  • Minimalistic Cover Art: His 1976 album is distinctly this, only including his name, the album title, and the list of tracks in plan, italic black print over a bland white background. His 2000 one ended up looking nearly identical, albeit with a "2" behind the list of tracks.
  • One-Word Title: Gorilla.
  • Played for Laughs: As his shows for the most part have had an intermission partway through (exceptions being his 2017 North American tour, Part of his 2018 North American tour: With the exception of 3 shows the first leg gained an intermission when touring partner Bonnie Raitt had to be absent for medical reasons, All shows from February-May 2019 & all shows from July 2021-May 2022) before starting the last song of the first set he will joke that he "doesn't know why" they take intermission and make bad jokes about what they do for 20 minutes - in reality (as of 2014) he usually sits at the lip of the stage and takes hilarious photos with fans. The second starts with his backing band doing an instrumental jam before at least one of his four backup singers forcibly grabs him while he's in the middle of a conversation/photo op (Often to a lot of laughter).
  • Pretty Boy: He actually had quite the boyish good looks in his youth. (When he had hair.)
  • Rearrange the Song: He rerecorded "Something in the Way She Moves" and "Carolina in My Mind" for the 1976 Greatest Hits album; these versions ended up becoming better known than those that appeared on his debut. His 2007 live album and tv special One Man Band consists of acoustic versions of his greatest hits (Youve got a friend, Never Die Young, Shower the People albeit with choir over video screen, Copperline among others).
  • Textless Album Cover: One Man Dog