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 James Taylor - In His Own Words

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James' success at the outset of the Seventies set a tone for the singer-songwriters that followed in great numbers for the next several years. His fame and troubles and marriage and everything else about him made for great media fodder.

James Taylor came out of the scene that Waddy Wachtel calls, "The great folk scare of the Sixties." It was a period of time that formed me. I listened to other music, mainly country, rhythm and blues, the white and black gospel they played on the radio down south, and whatever my older brother, Alex, exposed me to. But the music I connected with most was coffee house music, the folk scene.

Folk music was a very portable music. It didn't use piano, just guitar, maybe banjo. I remember spending long hours playing guitar in North Carolina. I felt relatively alienated. Maybe it was adolescence, maybe it was a combination of the way I was, and just being in North Carolina, but I knew how to isolate. And when I did, I turned to the guitar.

James Taylor's Seventies
Billboard Top 40 Singles

"Fire And Rain"  9/70  #3
"Country Road"  3/71  #37
"You've Got A Friend"  6/71  #1
"Long Ago And Far Away"  10/71  #31
"Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight"  12/72  #14
"Mockingbird"  2/74  #5
"How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)"  7/75  #5
"Shower The People"  8/76  #22
"Handy Man"  7/77  #4
"Your Smiling Face"  11/77  #20
"(What A) Wonderful World"  2/78  #17
"Devoted To You"  9/78  #36
"Up On The Roof"  6/79  #28

At the time, I didn't think my songs were personal. Generally speaking, the songs to me seemed like love songs. "Fire and Rain" is a very personal song which drew a lot of attention, and therefore people connected me with that kind of song, but I didn't think of my songs as being particularly personal or autobiographical. Years later, I don't deny it. The stuff I write does come from an autobiographical place.

I suppose it was my good fortune to be in London just after Brian Epstein's death, when Allen Klein was taking over Apple, and the place was wide open. The Beatles were listening to everything, doing everything they could. A lot of it was misspent and wasted time, but the idea of what the Beatles wanted Apple to be was still fantastic. Peter Asher became the head of A & R, and he listened to everything that came across his desk.

I had made a demo tape and was trying to take it around to various people. Peter heard it and liked it. He played it for McCartney, who said he liked it, and suddenly I was signed, and now I'm up in their offices with them, sharing time in the studio with them. I even tried the studio where the Beatles recorded The White Album.

It was amazing to be around that, and have all that available to me. And then acceptance by the public on top of that, which leads to public scrutiny, which then changes what you do and how you think of yourself. It changes your motivation, it shifts your focus. In my case, I went from the very interior kind of process of making music and finding a personal outlet to thinking of how to best prepare for a huge audience. That process can be very disruptive, especially to musicians and songwriters who in many cases are ill-adapted to that kind of public life.

In a way, that is why we've seen so many burnouts. You can count the people who went down. I'm not saying it was because they were popular and successful and commercial and marketable and incorporated into a larger capitalistic system, but it certainly couldn't have helped them. It is very hard to make that shift. That is another one of the miracles about the Beatles. In spite of the fact that everything they did was accompanied by wave after wave of public and press onslaught, they continued to come up with more and more meaningful stuff. That's amazing to me.

James Taylor

"Sometimes I wish I was less conflicted about the past. I wish I was more capable of saying, 'Look at this,' and enjoy it because it was a flower."

I turned to a lot of these things. I got into drugs extremely heavily for a long period of time. That is something of its own progression, and it's also familiar, but it has happened to a lot of people in this kind of work. Drugs were always around. Being a musician and working late hours in a lot of bars, you're going to see a lot of drugs consumed. It started out recreationally, the rule rather than the exception. At least where I was.

When you give somebody millions of dollars and millions of fans, and amazing press, and incredible support form all areas, when you're twenty years old, you feel as though you can have everything you want. At that age, you haven't necessarily figured out how to find it. You just expect to be able to feel good and have what you want. It is never abut finding peace of mind, or serenity, or just finding your proper place in your own skin. All that takes time. It doesn't happen overnight just because a celebrity machine turns its powerful glance on you. So it's easy to want to buy a pill or a vial or a syringe, or twist up a joint.

James Taylor's Seventies
Billboard Top 10 Albums

Sweet Baby James  10/70  #3
Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon  5/71  #2
One Man Dog  1/73  #5
Gorilla  8/75  #9
JT  8/77  #4

At that age, you're looking for instant gratification, instant life, instant arrival, instant feelings. You're out there thinking, "I can buy it all." After all, the music business had always been a maverick choice to take. It wasn't an acceptable profession. It wasn't acceptable to be a DJ, or in record promotion, or managing a rock'n'roll band, or promoting a rock'n'roll concert. Just as it wasn't acceptable to want to play rock'n'roll or blues or folk or whatever. If your parents had any aspirations for you, they did not run in those directions.

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I didn't meet with a whole lot of resistance from my folks when I left school and went to New York City. But I am sure it caused them lot of deep concern. It wasn't exactly what they had in mind.

As to the years I was with Carly, ours was a very public marriage, and in that sense it suffered because it was so public. I think I dealt with it mostly unconsciously. We just took it as it came. Carly had here own agenda to follow, and her own feelings on how she wanted to deal with the publicity and the press. I feel she was more comfortable and more capable to deal with it than I was.

But I'm remarried now, and I'm in the time of my life when things become real. When you're twenty, there are lots of possibilities. Everything is wide open. No matter if they're romantic feelings or fear or enthusiasm or anxiety, when you're in your twenties and thirties, there's always a conceptual view of what your life is going to be like.

By the time you're forty and fifty, your life is largely what it is going to be, and I think that's a crushing blow to a lot of people once they find that out. Your job is what it is, your kids are who they are, your home is where you made it, you have a mortgage, and you became what you were going to be. Physically you may be losing your hair, slowing down a little bit, and in need of some major dentistry, but basically a lot of the mystery doors have been opened and the contents are clearly there. Unfortunately, a lot of people look at that and fold up.

I look back and say, "Well, they were hot days, but they couldn't last forever." Sometimes I wish I was less conflicted about the past. I wish I was more capable of saying, "Look at this," and enjoy it because it was a flower. 

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