Tuesday, December 31, 2019

James Taylor - 50 Years Ago

For recovering addicts, moving to another locale to escape the confines of substance abuse is called a "geographic cure." That the case or dumb luck, James Taylor, battling an addiction to heroin, was probably looking for that geographic cure when he moved to London in 1968.  The young singer-songwriter had a  lot to prove. He'd come from a wealthy and talented family: his mother a classically trained soprano and his siblings – Livingston, Alex and Kate – were finding various degrees of success in popular music. At 15 he became friends with Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar and the two formed a band that would eventually become The Flying Machine. However, JT's musical progress was interrupted when, at 17, he committed himself to a mental hospital in Massachusetts for treatment of depression. When he was released, he said, "I got involved in 'junk.'"

One of My Father's Billboards

When he arrived in London, Taylor's friendship with Kootch was his ticket to ride to audition for Peter Asher, of Peter & Gordon fame. Asher was then an A&R rep for the fledgling Beatles record label, Apple. While the Beatles were still under contract to EMI and Capitol Records, Apple Records had big plans to sign other artists and James would become the first non-British act to be signed by Apple.

With Asher producing, the album was recorded from July to October 1968, at Trident Studios, the same time The Beatles were recording The White Album at EMI (Abbey Road). Paul McCartney played bass and her and George Harrison provided back-up vocals on the album's single, "Carolina In My Mind." For the song "Something in the Way She Moves," Taylor wanted to title the song "I Feel Fine," after a dominant line in the chorus. That title was taken, of course, by The Beatles. And everyone knows the first line to the George Harrison song, "Something," from The Beatles' Abbey Road ("Something" was also taken). So, "Thanks, James," said George, though who borrowed from whom is a mystery.

The critical reaction to James Taylor was positive, but the LP didn't sell, in part due to Taylor's hospitalization for drug addiction: "I kicked junk for about a half a year and then spent a while in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. I was clean. Then I started to take a lot of codeine. I went to Europe and started to take opium and then got into smack heavy for about nine months. I got into it real thick there. I came back to this country and kicked…"

Management changes at Apple were in the wind by the time of the LP's release. A bad guy, (Beatles' lore is seeded with bad guys) who'd ripped off The Rolling Stones would reappear in the Beatles inner sanctum, and Taylor's fate was sealed. Allen Klein had manipulated the band into signing over the copyrights of all Rolling Stones songs recorded before 1971. (A messy 17-year legal battle was won by Klein, which Keith Richards called "the price of an education.") In 1969, Allen Klein became Apple's president, based on his three-to-one support from the Beatles, Paul McCartney being the only group member to oppose his involvement. McCartney's subsequent withdrawal from Apple decision-making would give Klein free rein to purge the label of alleged antagonists. Peter Asher, the brother of Paul's at the time girlfriend, Jane, was let go, and Taylor followed him out the door.

James Taylor is a tour de force in one respect: it is pure, unadulterated James at 19 years of age. While Mud Slide Slim and Gorilla, show the artist in his prime, and Hourglass displays the incredible maturity of life experience, this is young James, the hangin' around with Joni and Mama Cass James, the Laurel Canyoner who had to get away from L.A., city of the fallen angels.