Let’s leave behind the acid rock and heavy metal of the 1970s, and visit the lyrical genius of a true storytelling music man.
James Vernon Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts on March 12, 1948, and raised in the picturesque countryside of Carrboro, North Carolina. He first learned to play the cello as a child and took up the guitar by age 12.
Taylor came from a very musical family with his mother being an opera singer and several of his siblings singing and playing various instruments.
Taylor developed his own musical style while incorporating those of music mentors such as Woody Guthrie. While spending summers with his family at Martha’s Vineyard, Taylor met aspiring teenage guitarist, Danny Krotchmar.
The two began playing in coffeehouses around the Vineyard and called themselves “James and Kooch.” Taylor wrote his first song at age 14.
The young Taylor suffered from depression in his teenage years and bounced from school to school in his later years of high school. He began to withdraw and was sleeping more than twelve hours a day.
He finally checked himself into the McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts in 1965, which Taylor has attributed to being a life-saving experience. Admitting that depression has always been a part of his life, it seemingly has served as a reflective aspect of his poignant lyrics.
By the summer of 1966, Taylor, Krotchmar, and two other childhood friends moved to New York, formed the band. “The Flying Machine”, and were playing at the high-profile Night Owl club in Greenwich Village.
Playing songs that Taylor wrote about his experiences at McLean Hospital, the group was well-received. The talented artist, unfortunately, began experimenting with drugs and was soon addicted to heroin. This addiction eventually led to the band’s breakup.
Capitalizing on some past connections that he made through Krotchmar, James moved to London. He was introduced to Apple Records exec, Peter Asher, who in turn gave Paul McCartney to listen to. McCartney loved Taylor’s sound. Taylor became the first non-British act to sign with Apple Records. His first album, James Taylor, was released in December of 1968.
A breakthrough came for the artist in July of 1969 when he performed at the famed Troubadour Club in Los Angeles. In October of that year, Taylor signed on with Warner Bros. Records and moved to Los Angeles.
Sweet Baby James, Taylor’s second album, was released in February 1970. The album featured the vocals of Carole King and ended up selling over 3 million copies in the US. The mega-hit Fire and Rain came from that album.
Fire and Rain were written about Taylor’s experience in psychiatric institutions and the suicide of his friend, Suzanne Schnerr. The album was nominated for several Grammy awards and would be listed as one of the top 500 best albums of all time by Rolling Stone magazine.
In 1971, Taylor’s biggest hit single, You’ve Got a Friend was released. The song, previously recorded by Carole King, included backup vocals by Joni Mitchell.
Taylor married singer-songwriter, Carly Simon, in 1972. He experienced some career ups and downs over the next couple of years. In 1975 he released Gorilla, which produced another mega-hit for Taylor, in which his wife accompanied him on vocals. How Sweet It Is, topped the Billboard charts at number 5.
Exemplifying his melodic folk-rock style, Taylor once again found success with his release of JT in June of 1977 after signing with Columbia Records. From that album came a number one hit on the Adult Contemporary charts with, Handyman.
In 1983 his divorce from wife Carly Simon was final. He was one again revisited by his lifelong demons of depression and drug abuse. Over the next several years Taylor would put out successful albums.
But it wasn’t until he kicked his drug habit for good towards the end of 1983, did he achieve such purity in his music. James Taylor is a five-time Grammy Award winner, and he was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.
A save-the-planet activist, Taylor has added his musical support to causes such as Greenpeace, No Nukes and Vote for Change. He is currently married to his third wife and their twin boys. He also has two children with first wife Carly Simon. Taylor continues to tour and showcase his unique American folk-rock talents to an existing as well as a new generation of song lovers.