With a combined sale of more than a 100 million copies throughout his career, James Taylor is a sensitive and deep-rooted singer-songwriter who rose to fame during the 1970s. His songs were the reflection of troublesome society he was living in and he became an inspiration to many musicians from all around the world. In the 60’s, the state of the society in the U.S. was stressful and frustrating, his music, however, paved the way for more stability and civility. His music was primarily a mixture of folk and jazz. The lyrics of the songs he wrote early in his career were a description of the personal problems he was facing at that time. There was a certain vulnerability in his songs which made the fans feel secure and connected to him. He had a unique style of playing the guitar which inspired and influenced numerous musicians all over the world. His life has been full of addictions, marriage and career problems, but James Taylor has shown an incredible strength in fighting off the world and doing what he does best which has resulted in his everlasting popularity. His first hit album ‘Sweet Baby James’ was just the tip of the iceberg of James Taylor- the legend.
Childhood & Early Life
James Taylor was born in Massachusetts, Boston. His father, Dr. Isaac M. Taylor was a resident physician who came from a well-off family of Southern Scottish ancestry. His mother, Gertrude Woodward was an aspiring opera singer.
He had three brothers, Alex, Livingston and Hugh, and one sister, Kate. His siblings all became musicians and recorded albums of their own.
At the age of three, James and his family moved to Chapel Hill, North Carolina when Dr. Taylor was appointed dean of the Medical School at the University of North Carolina.
He started attending a prep school called Milton Academy in 1963 where he met fellow guitarist from New York, Danny ‘Kootch’ Kortchmar. Both began listening to blues and folk music.
He wrote his first song when he was just 14 years old and started performing at local coffeehouses with Kortchmar, and formed a band with his brother Alex, called The Corsayers.
He fell into a depression when he started applying for colleges and checked himself into McLean Hospital in Massachusetts in 1965, a stay that inspired many of his early songs. He moved to New York after being discharged.
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In 1966, he formed a new group called The Flying Machines, with Kortchmar and Joel O’ Brien. The band played some of Taylor’s songs that he had written in the hospital like ‘Knocking 'Round the Zoo’, ‘Don't Talk Now’, and ‘The Blues Is Just a Bad Dream’.
They released one single, ‘Brighten Your Night with My Day’ written by Taylor but it did not do well and the band broke up in the spring of 1967.
He became addicted to heroin and moved to London to recover where he got in touch with Peter Asher who was working for Apple Records.
He released his debut solo album, ‘James Taylor’ in the U.K in 1968 and in U.S. in 1969 but it did not do well.
After an unfortunate accident in July 1969 which forced him to take a break from playing music, he signed a new deal with Warner Bros. Records.
His next release called ‘Sweet Baby James’ (1970) resulted in a major success triggered by the hit single ‘Fire and Rain’ which was a song about his experiences in the psychiatric institution.
The album ‘Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon’ (1971) featuring the hit single ‘You’ve Got A Friend’ sold over two and a half million copies in the U.S. alone.
The next few albums like ‘One Man Dog’, and ‘Walking Man’, didn’t do well, but Taylor bounced back with ‘Gorilla’ in 1975. It contained one of his biggest hit singles, a cover of Marvin Gaye's ‘How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)’.
In 1977, he signed with Columbia Records and released ‘JT’ which gave him a Grammy nomination for The Album of the Year.
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During the 1980’s he became embroiled in several personal problems which kept him away from the musical scenario. He released only a few albums during the decade including ‘Dad Loves His Work’ (1981).
His career saw a resurgence in 1997 with the release of ‘Hourglass’. The album focused on his troubled past and received the best critical reviews in two decades.
He released two albums during the new millennium—‘October Road’ (2002) and ‘Covers’ (2008)—both of which reached No. 4 in the U.S. Billboard 200.
In March 2010, he commenced on the Troubadour Reunion Tour with Carole King and members of his original band, including Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, and Danny Kortchmar.
He also performed ‘America the Beautiful’ for President Obama’s second inauguration.
His first commercially successful album ‘Sweet Baby James’ featuring the hit single ‘Fire and Rain’ hit No. 3 in the Billboards. The album sold around 1.5 million copies in the first year and almost 3 million eventually in the U.S. It was received as a folk-rock masterpiece.
His 1971 album ‘Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon’ was a even bigger hit than ‘Sweet baby James’. The hit single ‘You’ve Got a Friend’ became No. 1 in the Billboards and the album surpassed its predecessor by reaching the No. 2 position.
‘JT’ was a triple platinum success with more than 3 million copies being sold in the US alone. His hit cover of Jimmy Jones and Otis Blackwell's ‘Handy Man’ hit No. 1 on Billboard's Adult Contemporary chart and reached No. 4 on the Hot 100. The song also topped the Canadian charts
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Awards & Achievements
He is a five time Grammy award winner, of which three were for Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male in 1971, 1977 and 2001.
He was presented the George and Ira Gershwin Award for Lifetime Musical Achievement in 2004.
Personal Life & Legacy
Taylor got married to his fellow singer-songwriter Carly Simon in 1972. They have two children, Ben and Sally who are also aspiring musicians. The couple divorced in 1983.
He remarried in December 1985 to actress Kathryn Walker in New York. They got divorced in 1996.
In February 2001, Taylor wed for the third time marrying Caroline ‘Kim’ Smedvig. They presently live in the town of Washington, Massachusetts with their twin sons, Rufus and Henry.
A permanent exhibit was dedicated to him in the Chapel Hill Museum in North Carolina in 2003.
He was the first non-British to be signed by the Beatles’ Apple Records label .
He performed Randy Newman's song ‘Our Town’ for the Disney animated film ‘Cars’.
He was the last musician who performed in the final episode of ‘The Tonight Show with Jay Leno’ on May 29, 2009.