Happy Monday. I’m super excited to share a new addition to the site today, Cameron’s 1973 story about James Taylor from Circular magazine. Circular was Warner Bros. promotional magazine and this story profiles James and his latest album, Walking Man. Most of the quotes are from James’ longtime manager, Peter Asher. We hope you like it.
J. Taylor Ends the Wait
It was mid-1970 when America first stumbled onto a gently brilliant, yet fairly obscure album called Sweet Baby James. Seeing it as an oasis in the midst of psychedelia’s dying embers, the public catapulted a somewhat dazed and retiring Carolinian guitarist-composer named James Taylor to superstardom. Gold records, the cover of Time Magazine, adoring throngs . . . it all came in quick succession, and Taylor retreated to write deeply probing and introspective songs that filled infrequent, but well-crafted albums like Mud Slide Slim and The Blue Horizon and One Man Dog.
Not until the recent Walking Man, however, has James appeared content and positive in his work. The mood of the new album is bright and confident, the songs strong and true. In short, James Taylor has presented a solid case against the John Lennon school of thought that “genius is pain.”
MIA. James is very happy right now,” confirms his manager, the red-haired, bespectacled Peter Asher. “He’s having a good time. It would be sort of presumptuous to try and guess why. Obviously there are a million reasons. James has grown much more comfortable with his career than in the past. And as long as that is licked, there you go. I mean, a beautiful wife and baby, a nice house, a successful career, enough money, privacy . . . ” Asher grins broadly, “Christ, what more could you ask for?”
Taylor’s first album in almost two years, Walking Man has enjoyed a leisurely construction that let Rolling Stone to list James as “missing in action” for 1973. “Actually,” says Asher, “the album didn’t take any longer than others to make. It’s always about the same time between albums, about a year and a half; it just seems longer. One reason is that Sweet Baby James took a long time to be successful. The time between that album and Mud Slide Slim didn’t seem so long. Now when his albums come out, they’re on the air – zip – immediately. It makes the next record seem that much further off. ”
But he does take a long time. He takes a lot of time to write and a long time deciding he’s ready to make an album. All the material on Walking Man, you see, was written since One Man Dog. He always has bits of songs that he just can’t seem to finish. Other times it’s just your basic song-writer’s cramp, but James isn’t prolific in the traditional sense of the word. Obviously this is a subjective opinion, but a lot of people write an awful lot of songs and only some of them are good, only some of them are ones you really remember. But mostly, when James does admit that he’s finished a song – and I’ve always got a half a mind that he’s got a bunch of other tunes that he just doesn’t want to play anybody – it’s always a closely honed and crafted effort. And it’s always very good. James Taylor’s has never written a bad song.”
Different Sound. Walking Man also marks Taylor’s first collaboration with a producer other than Asher. Living in New York with wife Carly Simon and newborn child Sarah, James opted to record in close family proximity rather than traveling to Los Angeles, where past albums were cut. With Asher staying behind to conduct business out of his Los Angeles management office, Taylor joined forces with well-respected young East Coast guitarist-producer David Spinozza. ”
James met David when they were both playing on Carly’s album (Hotcakes),” explains Asher. “They really liked each other. James was very impressed with his musicianship and ability. So when he decided to work in New York this time around, he began to go after a different sound and feel. He wanted to use new musicians whom he’d worked with and liked. It seemed logical to go with David.”
And where does that put James’ former backing unit, The Section? “It puts them where they are,” says Asher. “While it removes a certain type of exposure they were getting by recording and touring with James, it’s good for them, too. If finally cuts them off from being permanently labeled a back-up band. So far as they’re concerned as individual musicians, they’ve all been doing a lot of good stuff. Danny (guitarist Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar) was on the Bill Wyman solo album. Russ (drummer Russ Kunkel) is going out with CSNY won their summer tour. As a band, they’re back in the studio recording right now. They still exist, I’m just not sure what their plans are.”
Avedon Calling. One apparent aspect of Spinozza’s influence at the production helm is the more lush setting he’s created for James’ music. There is a tasteful, yet liberal use of strings as well as a conscious effort to flesh out Taylor’s usually spare arrangements. Asher notes the approach, but treads gingerly in discussing the differences between his and Spinozza’s production techniques. “We’re all incredibly happy with the album,” he says. “All of us.”
Several interesting features of Walking Man include Taylor’s reading of Chuck Berry’s “The Promised Land” (“Chuck Berry is his favorite lyricist. James is a huge fan.”), the intriguing Avedon cover shot of James with an open pocket watch (“It’s not a prop, the watch is James’; at one point in the session, Avedon saw him looking at the time and was really taken with the image.”) and the Mellotron-like Vox Humana exhibited on “Daddy’s Baby.”
“As far as I know it’s James’ invention,” says Asher. “But every time you say that, someone always pops out of the woodwork saying ‘Oh no, I did that 1945’ and they probably did. I think the idea was his. Basically he wanted the power of a choir but under more exact control. By having it all on individual notes of a Moog keyboard, you can hit a G and get all these very fine singers singing a G until you stop playing the key. It was quite an operation, utilizing two 16s and one eight-track machine. He really loved the effect.”
Bigger Gigs. And if all that weren’t enough, Taylor’s recent Walking Man tour of America’s most intimate and acoustically perfect halls was an overwhelming’s success on all counts.
Another short tour, beginning July 13 and lasting through the month, will take Taylor to larger outdoor facilities. “My feeling was that in the major cities we should play the concert halls, which we enjoy most anyway,” says Asher, who booked the tour. “We’ve done arenas the cities, but mostly the bigger gigs have been at colleges. The first tour was laid out to hit the best hall in every city whenever we could. This tour is a summer event. I mean we’re not playing the big, big, big, league. The extremely big summer circuit of CSNY or The Allman Brothers Band, where people really are making a couple hundred grand in an afternoon by drawing amazing numbers of people . . . We’re not even close to that. The basis of this tour is to play really nice outdoor places. I got whatever dates I could get at the medium-sized, comfortable fields that can be set up for music. They sound bigger than they are. It should be nice.”
What kind of pressure did Taylor feel in making Walking Man a strong effort? In the two years since his last album, much has come and gone in rock & roll. Glam rock as a emerged, Dylan made his return and possibly James’ music has become . . . ”
A little less fashionable? Certainly.” Peter Asher considers the thought. “I’m sure he’s aware of all that. It’s not an overt plan on his part, though. He doesn’t make decisions based on his career, he makes decisions based on his music. James has never sat down, read Billboard and decided to follow its advice as to what’s selling and what he should do with his music. There’s none of that, of course, but every artist who tries to achieve success and gets it wants to keep it. So there’s no doubt he knew this album had to be good. But that would be running through his mind anyway. James’ major pre-occupation has always been to make good music.”
Courtesy of Circular – Cameron Crowe – July 15, 1974