James Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame last week, for more than 30 years of creating soothing, introspective folk-rock. Some of his tunes, including "Fire and Rain" and "Sweet Baby James," have became classics of the '70s singer/songwriter genre.
He was born March 12, 1948, into a wealthy musical family in Boston. The family moved to Chapel Hill, N.C., where Taylor's father became dean of the University of North Carolina medical school. The Taylors also lived in the wealthy enclave of Martha's Vineyard, off the coast of Cape Cod.
Taylor played the cello but soon moved on to the guitar, which he played in his brother Alex's rock band. He spent time at the McLean Psychiatric Hospital, in Belmont, Mass., where siblings/fellow musicians Livingston and Kate also would commit themselves. There, Taylor began writing songs.
After discharging himself from the hospital, following a 10-month stay, Taylor went to New York and met an old friend, guitarist Danny Kortchmar, who was assembling a band called the Flying Machine. They played coffeehouses and cut two Taylor songs: "Night Owl" and "Brighten Your Night With My Day." The band split when Taylor became addicted to heroin.
Taylor moved to England, where he gave a demo of his songs to Peter Asher, formerly of Peter and Gordon, who became an A&R man for the Beatles' Apple Records. Asher encouraged Paul McCartney to sign Taylor, who released his eponymous 1966 folky debut on Apple. When the album stiffed, Taylor returned to the U.S., to battle his drug addiction in another mental institution.
Asher remained with Taylor as his manager and signed him to Warner Bros. Records. Taylor began playing L.A. dates and the Newport Folk Festival (where he met future girlfriend Joni Mitchell). He released Sweet Baby James, which many critics still consider his best album, in 1970. It featured the #3 hit single "Fire and Rain" (RealAudio excerpt), which made him famous. In 1971, Time magazine put Taylor on its cover, as a symbol of pop music's return to restraint. Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, featuring Mitchell, yielded Taylor's chart-topping cover of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend."
Following his split with Mitchell, Taylor married pop singer Carly Simon, in 1972. Two years later, he and Simon had the hit duet "Mockingbird." After a few less popular albums, Taylor scored a top-five hit with his cover of "How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You)" (1975). He then issued one of his best-selling LPs, J.T. (1977), which featured his top-five smash version of "Handy Man" and "The Secret of Life."
In 1978, Taylor joined Paul Simon and Art Garfunkel for a top-20 version of Sam Cooke's "Wonderful World." His 1981 LP, Dad Loves His Work, yielded a hit duet with J.D. Souther, "Her Town Too."
After his divorce from Simon — with whom he had two children who would grow up to be musicians, Ben and Sally — Taylor toured internationally.
In 1997, Taylor won a Grammy Award for Best Contemporary Pop Album, for Hourglass, featuring "Jump Up Behind Me." The following year, he won the Billboard Century Award for lifetime achievement.
Last year, Taylor sang at his friend Sting's annual New York benefit to preserve the rainforests. He also appeared on daughter Sally's eponymous 1998 debut LP.
Other birthdays on Sunday: Al Jarreau, 60; Paul Kantner (Jefferson Airplane), 59; Liza Minnelli, 54; Mike Gibbins (Badfinger), 51; Bill Payne (Little Feat), 51; Steve Harris (Iron Maiden), 43; Marlon Jackson (Jackson 5), 43; Graham Coxon (Blur), 31; Leonard Chess, 1917–1969.