Wednesday, December 17, 2014

James Taylor, The #23 Artist of the Seventies*

James Taylor began playing the cello while growing up in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, then switched to the guitar in 1960.  James went to Milton Academy in Massachusetts in 1961, and met guitarist Danny Kortchmar.  Taylor wrote his first song at age 14, and by 1963, he and Kortchmar were playing coffeehouses around Martha's Vineyard.

Taylor returned to North Carolina to finish the year at Chapel Hill High School.  He and his brother Alex were in a band called the Corsayers.  But as James had lost touch with his friends in North Carolina, he finished to Milton for his senior year.

After graduation, Taylor moved to New York City to form a band with Kortchmar called The Flying Machine (not to be confused with the U.K. group that recorded "Smile A Little Smile For Me").  Soon, the group played at the Night Owl CafĂ© in Greenwich Village with other acts such as the Turtles.  The group recorded Taylor's "Brighten Your Night With My Day", which received airplay in the Northeast, but the group broke up shortly afterwards.

But Taylor was in dire straits, addicted to heroin, out of money, and abandoned by his manager.  He called his father, who flew to New York City, rented a car, and drove back to North Carolina with James and all of his possessions.  It took Taylor over six months of treatment to make a tentative recovery, and he also had to have a throat operation to fix damaged vocal chords.

Taylor began a solo career, and in 1967, moved to London.  He recorded a demo and gave it to Peter Asher of Peter & Gordon, who was the new A&R man for the Beatles' label Apple Records.  Asher gave the demo to Paul McCartney, who loved the sound, and Taylor became the first non-British act signed to Apple.

Taylor recorded songs at Trident Studios in London at the same time the Beatles were recording The White Album.  In fact, McCartney and George Harrison were guest musicians on Taylor's "Carolina In My Mind".  But Taylor fell back into using drugs, underwent treatment in Great Britain, and returned to New York.  Taylor was hospitalized in New York, before committing himself to the Austen Riggs Center in Stockbridge, Massachusetts.

Meanwhile, Apple released his album James Taylor.  But Taylor was unable to promote it because of his treatment, and the album did not do well.  Allen Klein was brought in to clean up Apple Records, and Asher, who did not like Klein, resigned.  He did, however, offer to manage Taylor, and this he did.

In 1969, Taylor headlined a six-night performance at The Troubadour in Los Angeles, then performed at the Newport Folk Festival.  He continued to write, and later in the year, signed a new deal with Warner Brothers Records.

Taylor then moved to California and began recording his second album.  With help from Carole King, Taylor released the album Sweet Baby James in 1970.  The single "Fire And Rain" rocketed to #2 in Canada and #3 in the U.S. 

Taylor's next single stalled at #67, but it has become a favorite among his fans, and it continues to receive good airplay.
Sweet Baby James sold over 1.5 million copies its first year, and has now topped three million in the United States alone.  It was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards, and went to the #3 position on the Album chart in both the U.S. and Canada and #6 in the U.K.  The single "Country Road" only made #37 overall, but #9 on the Adult chart.
"Sweet Baby James" has become J.T.'s signature song.

Another fine track is "Mud Slide Slim".

Taylor appeared in the movie Two-Lane Blacktop, and was featured on the cover of Time magazine in 1971.  James then released the album Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.  His single "You've Got A Friend", written by friend Carole King, became his biggest career hit, going to #1 in the United States, #2 in Canada, and #4 in the U.K.

The album reached #2 in the United States and #4 in the U.K.  Taylor won Grammy Awards for Song of the Year and Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male for "You've Got A Friend".  The album has now sold over 2.5 million in the U.S. alone.  Taylor released the single "Long Ago And Far Away", which went to #4 on the Adult chart.
Another great Taylor song is "You Can Close Your Eyes".

In 1972, Taylor released the album One Man Dog, a #4 album that was certified Gold.  The single "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight" reached #3 on the Adult chart and #14 overall.

Later in the year, Taylor married Carly Simon.  He released the album Walking Man in 1974.  Taylor and Simon recorded the duet "Mockingbird" for Carly's album Hotcakes--it went to # in Canada and #5 in the United States.

The following year, Taylor released the album Gorilla, which went Gold and went to #6 on the Album chart.  Carly must have been good for James because Gorilla was his best effort since Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon.  The single "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)" rose to #1 in Canada, and #1 on the Adult chart and #5 overall in the United States.

The follow-up, "Mexico" was a #5 Adult smash.

Gorilla by James Taylor on Grooveshark
The title song, "Gorilla", is another solid album track.

You Make It Easy by James Taylor on Grooveshark
If we can impart one thing on you, it would be this.  Superstars don't get that way merely because of hit songs you hear on the radio.  This great artist has incredible depth, which is why we feature album tracks during this major music special.  Here is James with "You Make It Easy".

Angry Blues by James Taylor on Grooveshark
"Angry Blues" is another track which stands out on the album.

In 1976, James released the album In the Pocket.  Many friends helped on the album, including Stevie Wonder, Art Garfunkel, David Crosby, and Bonnie Raitt.  The important song "Shower The People" was a #1 smash among adults in both the United States and Canada, and reached #22 overall in the U.S.

In the Pocket went Gold.  Taylor released his Greatest Hits album, which has now topped 11 million in the U.S. and over 20 million copies worldwide.  

In 1977, James chose to sign with Columbia Records, and released the album JT that summer.  The cover of Jimmy Jones's "Handy Man" became Taylor's biggest hit in years, rising to #1 in Canada and #4 in the U.S., and was nominated for a Grammy Award for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance.  

JT reached #2 on the Album chart in Canada and #4 in the United States, sold over one million copies, and was nominated for Album of the Year at the Grammy Awards.  The single "Your Smiling Face" peaked at #11 in Canada and #20 in the United States, and #6 on the Adult chart.

Secret O' Life by James Taylor on Grooveshark
Another amazing track is "Secret O'Life".

Taylor  then hooked up with Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel in 1978 for "What A) Wonderful World".  It became one of The Top Adult Songs of the 70's*, a #1 smash in both the United States and Canada, and reaching #13 overall in Canada and #17 in the U.S.  

In 1979, James released the album Flag, which went Platinum, and went to #9 on the Album chart in Canada and #10 in the U.S.  Taylor's remake of the Drifters hit "Up On The Roof" went to #7 on the Adult Contemporary chart and #28 on the Popular chart in the United States.

Taylor appeared with his wife Carly at the No Nukes concert in Madison Square Garden in New York City, which was later released on both the No Nukes album and film.

Taylor continued to record and perform, releasing his last album in 2008.

In 1997, James received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from the Berklee College of Music in Boston.  In 2000, Taylor was inducted into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame.  In 2003, the Chapel Hill Museum in Chapel Hill, North Carolina opened a permanent exhibit dedicated to James.  The highway bridge over Morgan Creek on US Highway 15 near the site of the Taylor family home was named in honor of James.  Taylor performed "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Game 2 of the World Series in Boston in 2004 and again in 2007, and "America" before the game in 2013.

In 2004, Taylor received the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement.  In 2009, Taylor received an Honorary Doctorate of Music from Williams College in Williamstown, Massachusetts.  In 2012, Taylor was named "Chevalier de l'Ordre de Arts et des Lettres" by the Ministry of Culture & Communication of France.

Taylor sold 21.5 million albums in the U.S. alone in the Seventies.  He scored 17 hits, with four Top 10 songs and one #1.  James had 14 hits on the Adult chart, but an incredible 11 of them went Top 10, and he had four #1's among adults. 

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