He was the first non-British act to be signed on by Apple Records. Paul McCartney’s exact words were, “Wow, he’s great!”
As a matter of fact his debut (eponymous) album, released in 1968, was recorded at Trident Studios while the Beatles were recording the “White Album” and both McCartney and George Harrison were (uncredited) backing musicians on one of the album’s tracks. What’s more, the title of another of the album’s tracks, “Something in the Way She Moves” provided Harrison (as he himself divulged) with the starting point for his quintessential song, “Something”.
He was born 20 years before, in 1948, at Mass. General Hospital in Boston, where his father Isaac Taylor was a resident physician. His mother, Gertrude had studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and was an aspiring opera singer prior to getting married. You would be correct if you have concluded that we are discussing the older brother of Livingston (and Hugh and Kate…and the younger brother of Alex), Jams Vernon Taylor.
After moving to North Carolina, where his father served as Dean of the UNC School of Medicine, Taylor learned to play the cello. He later switched to guitar, which he took to effortlessly, and by the summer of ’63 he and his buddy, Danny Kortchmar were playing in coffeehouses around Martha’s Vineyard (where the Taylor family had a summer home), billing themselves as “Jamie & Kootch”.
While a senior at Milton Academy (in Massachusetts) Taylor fell into such a deep depression that he found the need to commit himself into nearby McClean Hospital, where he was treated with Thorazine and earned his high school diploma from the hospital’s association with Arlington High School. He has since referred to his mental health struggles as an innate part of his personality (“I have these feelings…”) and maintains that his nine-month stay at McLean saved his life. Both Livingston and Kate would also become patients/students there.
After checking himself out of McLean, Taylor joined Kortchmar and some friends in New York, where they formed a band called The Flying Machine and played a number of songs that Taylor had written while at McLean (including today’s selection). Unfortunately this was also a time when “I learned a lot about music and too much about drugs,” he later admitted about the heroin addiction that helped to break up his band and left him strung-out and broke.
After receiving a desperate call one night, his father flew to New York, rented a car, and drove through the night with his son, back to North Carolina and six months of rehab. The following year, funded by a small inheritance, Taylor moved to London (variously living in Chelsea, Belgravia and Notting Hill) and managed to present some old demos to Peter Asher (once of Peter and Gordon fame and then A&R head of Apple Records). Which brings us back to “Wow, he’s great!”
Although a critical success, that debut album, “James Taylor” was not initially a commercial success due to Taylor’s inability to promote it after slipping back into addiction, followed by a serious motorcycle accident that left him with two broken hands.
That James Taylor would ultimately be rated as one of the “Top 100 Artists of All Time” by “Rolling Stone Magazine” is no surprise to us today, but first came a time when the man paid his dues in demons.
Sounds of laughter here comes Sunshine
Smiling faces all around
They possess you, bless you Sunshine
Now you can never let them down
I say Sunshine
Is that a cloud across your smile
Or did you dream again last night
It’s best you rest inside a while
As blue doesn’t seem to suit you right
Things ain’t what they used to be
Pain and rain and misery
Illness in the family
And Sunshine means a lot to me
I say Sunshine
But could it be Sunshine is drifting with midnight
And lonely when everyone’s gone
Blue crystal spirits and gardens in moonlight
Leave her weak, alone and bleak
All quiet and grey by dawn
Rising too late to chase the cold
And failing to change the frost to dew
She’s trading her mood of yellow gold
For frost bitten shades of silver-blue
Friends and lovers past and gone
And no-one waiting further on
I’m running short of things to be
And Sunshine means quite a lot to me
I say Sunshine… Sunshine