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EXTRA! James Taylor

Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley
The Truth Network Radio
February 5, 2020 12:00 am

EXTRA! James Taylor

Sunday Morning / Jane Pauley

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This broadcaster has 296 podcast archives available on-demand.

February 5, 2020 12:00 am

This week’s Extra! is an extended version of Jane’s conversation with James Taylor.

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Let's partner for all of it. Learn more at Hi, I'm Jane Pauley, and this is our Sunday Morning Extra, our podcast featuring a memorable story from our most recent show. It's a conversation that offers insights beyond the broadcast. In this episode, a conversation with James Taylor.

You know, I don't sit still very well, and so I need to have something to occupy me, particularly if I'm trying to concentrate on getting some work done or something. Before James Taylor can kindle the flames of his imagination, he's done that before, I guess. He likes to split kindling for his own little fire in the wood stove in his studio in Lenox, Massachusetts.

Where'd you learn to do that? I too grew up in the sticks, so didn't you have fires as kids? James, I had a suburban childhood. We were girls. We didn't start fires.

This is cheating. Sometimes he uses a little blowtorch to get the fire going. At 71, James Taylor is as busy as ever. If we're recording, we sort of set up in this space behind us. Whether it's recording and producing his own albums.

You can see our list of songs that are on Mac and Standard's album. There was something about the actual thing of having an echo chamber. Or building his own echo chamber. Here's the key, I think. From an old shipping container. Oklahoma weather.

Hello. Another project, a deep dive into the wellsprings of his own creativity. Before long, my folks bought a piece of land down on Morgan Creek. An audio-only memoir out this week on Audible about his early days and growing up in North Carolina with his parents and four siblings. We were kind of isolated out there. As kids, we seemed to have hours of empty time. A fantasy could last all afternoon. I don't think I would have become a songwriter if I had not had all of those free days to let my imagination roll.

James Taylor was 19 when he wrote Carolina in my mind during a trip to Spain where he met a girl named Karen. As the sun came up, the first verse came to me. Karen, she's a silver sun. Walk her way and watch it shine.

Watch her, watch the morning come. Did you say Karen, do you have a pencil? Yeah, right. I may have.

I may well have. When did the music catch up? I don't know. I can't remember the timing of that song.

Probably later that day, I sat down with it and worked at it a little bit. It's hard for me to imagine they're separate. The music and the words arrived simultaneously. They usually do. And certainly my songs aren't to be taken literally.

They have points, touchstones of reality, but then they have their own life, too. They head off in their own direction, a song does. Another song he wrote during those very early years. There is a young cowboy. Sweet baby James. Biz on the range.

His horse and his cattle are his only companions. I have lived with James Taylor and singing along and the harmonies. And sometimes I now realize I wasn't paying close attention to why you are such a respected musician and song writer. There was a lot, lot going on. That's a song I'm proud of.

I think it came out really well and I worked hard on it. How old were you? I guess I was 20.

Might have been 21. I wrote the first, both halves of it, both verses were written behind the wheel of an automobile and the first case driving down to North Carolina after returning from London and recording my first album. I was driving south to see my family in North Carolina and to see my older brother's baby named after me, little baby James. And I wanted to write a song that I could sing to him, a cowboy lullaby.

Because back in those days, cowboys were a big thing. And that's what you sort of gave a little buckaroo, you know, so go to sleep. And then the second half was written driving on the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston. And looking at, in that case, I become Sweet Baby James and I take a look at what's in front of me and, you know, and talk about music and spirituality and, you know, it becomes more cosmic. It starts being a, you know, but the thing about the song is that it, you know, I can't make any claims for it musically. It just came out the way it sounds.

There's no directing that. Those are like found items on the beach, you know, those harmonic structures and the melody that fits with them. I've never found anything like that on a beach, but okay. But Sweet Baby James has a very demanding rhyming scheme. It rhymes in about 10 different places as the song goes by. There is a young cowboy living in the middle of the bay. There is a young cowboy who lives on the range, waiting for summer his pastures to change. His horse and his cattle are his own companions.

He works in the saddle for cattle and he sleeps in the canyons for companions, waiting for summer his pastures to change. So it's each verse has has six internal rhymes and those I keep true to those throughout the song, which is sort of like a game of, you know, like it's like a crossword puzzle. Wow, if you'd gone to college that would have been your junior year. I think you would have probably gotten an A in English 301 writing something, but you didn't go to college.

You mean for that song? Yeah, because while you weren't in college, you went to London, you signed with the Beatles, you recorded an album, Carolina on My Mind is on that album, You Came Back, and you write Sweet Baby James, and now it's huge. Only there's the matter of the drug thing.

Sure. And I'm a little concerned that you were on the road driving to North Carolina and you probably had a drug thing at that point and on the to Stockbridge, Boston. You probably shouldn't have been driving.

No, that's probably true. I mean, I probably shouldn't have been driving, but, you know, it's a matter of taking the right drugs at the right time, actually. What would I know? Nothing.

No, it's, you know, it's, you know, truck drivers have been known to take drugs and there are a lot of them out there. So it's just, I feel much better. Thank you. Well, but you survived it.

You survived it all. And my goodness, to be a pop star, a rock star, it's kind of hard to get out of your 60s alive these days. You know, I certainly never saw myself being this old when I was you know, I have a song called Copper Line that repeats the line, I'm only living till the end of the week. And I think that when you're that age, you're a combination of feeling like you're immortal and you also feel as though you have no future, you know.

So I never saw certainly being this age and still doing what I do at this age. That's remarkable, too. Life these days is pretty sweet for James Taylor. His two oldest children, Ben and Sally, are established musicians. His twins, Rufus and Henry, who were married in the early 90s, are now applying to college.

His twins, Rufus and Henry, who were six when Sunday morning last visited with the Taylors, are now applying to college. And he's been happily married to Kim for nearly two decades. Kim makes a cameo appearance on one of his ventures, In Progress. Now would you say that fringe was made of silk? I corralled her into singing on surrey with a fringe on top. She sings a little. Does she sing that, are they really white? Yes, that's right. That's her? Yeah, that's Kim. She's really good. She is really good. Has it really got a team of snow white horses?

He did that, just knocked it off in an afternoon, too. The new album is called American Standard, a collection of songs he grew up with and still loves. Every time it rains, it rains, pennies from heaven. When you were a little guy, music was a big part of your family life?

How so? Well, I think my mom was, she loved music. We had a record player and a family record collection that sounds very much like the one that you grew up with. It was just always playing in the house. Were you a kid who had the album cover and you knew the album cover and the liner notes and maybe the lyric sheet? Were you looking at all of that?

You'd lie on the floor, usually on a carpet, look out the window, look at the, say you're listening to Tom Lehrer, and you'd look at the album cover and read about, read it through a couple of times, but then just gaze at the art and just listen to the music. That's how it got imprinted. It's permanently engraved.

It really is. Someone I know who I am married to, as a matter of fact, made an observation about you that a lot of artists own their own music. They don't own their work, but from James Taylor, a song from James Taylor is a gift. I love that, but I think I know what he means. There's a generosity, an affability, a humility that says, I've got this song and now would you like to have it?

Right. There's a guitar sitting so close to you. I'm tempted to think that it's not just decor. It is a fine, this one is the first of this type of guitar that I had and I've had it long enough now that it looks like something from the 1700s.

It looks like it was made in Venice or something. I once heard a tape of myself of a live concert that I gave at Syracuse. I sat there and tuned my guitar. Nobody cut it out for some reason. I sat there and tuned my guitar for easily 10 minutes on the stage, longer than any song I played. I just don't know how the audience could stand it. This was in a hotel room in Minneapolis, Minnesota when I went there to do a benefit, to raise money to reintroduce wolves to Yellowstone National Park, which has happened.

It happened and I think they're still there, doing pretty well. It's contribution. Very well. But I came to town, I checked in my hotel and a guy named James Olson had left this guitar in my room and I picked it up and I've never put it down since.

Do you know James Olson? I do. You tune that for what purpose? Well, it's not really tuned.

It's the reason I was putting it down. You know what? We're not patient?

Are we patient? This guitar's neck is just slightly wider than the typical steel string guitar, like a Martin. And it's easier for me to play, but the tolerances are very close, so it doesn't take a lot of strength or a lot of finger pad to push the strings down. What's the thing you do with your thumb? Your thumb is doing bass and your... Yeah. I don't know. Yeah.

I play a bass line mostly with my... It's like the thumb is the left hand of a piano player and these three fingers are the right hand. You taught yourself that technique? Yeah. I mean, I don't think that there's anything unusual about it there. There was a guy named Merle Travis and he had a kind of a... Kicking style. You know, that sort of folk music kind of thing, and I learned that. And some people do it with two fingers and a thumb, but I just always did it with three. And from that, when I went to boarding school, I discovered church music, you know, because I had never... You know, I came from a family of pretty staunch atheists, and I don't know, not atheists, but very skeptical about organized religion.

And so I had never had any introduction to it at all. And when I went away to school, we had chapel three times a week, and on Sundays you had to go to church, you know, and the nearest one was an Episcopal church that had this great hymnal. And I learned all these songs that I found in the hymnal. And that really, I think, gave me the basis of my... When I learned to play O Come, O Come, Emmanuel, or God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen, or, you know, whatever, Good King Wenceslas, or something like that, then in learning those, it sort of laid down a kind of a foundation for Western music, I guess.

Yeah, that was it. Those playing those hymns, and like Jerusalem. You know, it just... You learn those songs, and it teaches you a lot about chords. You couldn't get a better primer for Western music than the Protestant hymnal. You know, it really is... It's all there. I had no idea that hymnals were going to enter your musical development.

It really was important to me. Another early influence, Saturday morning cartoons. Rolling off a log. It's a song from a cartoon that we used to see as kids. We used to see... How often did you see this? I don't know. It was one of those Mary Melody cartoons that would see on Saturday morning. Yeah, that's right.

Yeah. And this one was from a cartoon called Kitty Cat College. Something like that. Anyway, it was about these cats who were going to college to learn how to swing. And the professor is teaching the class how to swing, and sadly there's one cat who has no rhythm at all.

You know, can't get it. And he's made to sit in the corner and wear the dunce cap while everyone goes out to jam. And he's sitting there in his stupid corner, and he starts to follow the clock like this, and he gets the rhythm, and he says, you know, I've got it now. And he splits and goes down, pulls out a trumpet, and blows everybody away.

This spring, he'll be out on tour again. A troubadour who still loves what he does. It's undeniably revitalizing to have the audience react to a song that they came to hear, you know. So some people love it, and other people are sort of worn down for it.

But for me, it feeds me. Hi, podcast peeps. It's me, Drew Barrymore.

Oh my goodness. I want to tell you about our new show. It's the Drew's News Podcast. And in each episode, me and a weekly guest are going to cover all the quirky, fun, inspiring, and informative stories that exist out in the world because, well, I need it.

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Whisper: medium.en / 2023-01-28 08:00:56 / 2023-01-28 08:07:58 / 7

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