One of, if not the, most prominent singer-songwriters of the 1970s, James Taylor is revered for both his intimate, self-referential work and his intuitive covers, flipping through the songbooks of everyone from Burt Bacharach to Carole King. Early on, the musician's confessions about drug addiction and depression were made even more compelling when juxtaposed with his signature soft vocals and understated playing style. Over the past 40 years, Taylor has evolved from an introspective artist to a socially aware citizen, lending his talents to several political causes.
Carolina on his mind
The second of five children, Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts and raised in the town of Carrboro, North Carolina after his father took a position at the University of North Carolina's School of Medicine in 1951. Taylor studied the cello as a child and picked up the guitar at age 12. Three years later, in 1963, he met fellow budding guitarist Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar while vacationing on Martha's Vineyard and formed a folk duo.
At 16, Taylor dropped out of high school and started a band with his older brother Alex. The two moved to New York, but James soon began to suffer from depression and checked into a psychiatric hospital in Massachusetts. The experience would eventually serve as inspiration for the young songwriter.
In 1966, Taylor returned to New York and formed the band the Flying Machine with Kortchmar and drummer Joel O'Brien. However, the trio broke up the following year after releasing one record.
In 1968, the musician moved to London in an effort to overcome his recent drug habit. That same year, he signed with the Beatles' Apple Records (making him the first non-British act to appear on the label) and released his self-titled solo debut. Instead of promoting the album, however, Taylor retreated to a hospital in Massachusetts to cure his increasingly serious heroin addiction.
Just when he was on the road to recovery, the musician broke both his hands in a motorcycle accident, preventing him from playing for several months. In 1970, after moving to California and signing with the Warner Bros. label, Taylor released Sweet Baby James, featuring the hit autobiographical singles Fire and Rain and Country Road.
The personal turmoil he expressed on the album mirrored the growing cynicism in the United States at that time, when the idealism of the 1960s was starting to fade. Time magazine put Taylor on its cover, hailing him as the leading figure of the singer-songwriter era.
Taylor's newfound success sparked an interest in his earlier music, launching his single Carolina in My Mind to climb the charts once more. Meanwhile, his second album, Mudslide Slim and the Blue Horizon, reached the Top Ten soon after its release in 1971. Taylor won his first Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for You've Got a Friend.
In November 1972, Taylor married singer Carly Simon and released One Man Dog. Although it featured the popular track Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight and eventually went gold, the album was considered to be a disappointment compared to his two previous recordings.
The 1975 hit single How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You) set the lighter tone for Taylor's sixth studio effort, Gorilla, while his follow-up, In the Pocket, saw the musician take on darker issues in his song writing. In 1977, Taylor gained critical and commercial acclaim with JT, his debut album with Columbia Records that won the Grammy for Best Male Pop Vocal Performance for a cover of the Jimmy James single Handy Man.
A series of collaborations in studio and on stage kept the artist busy for the next few years. During the 1980s, he toured extensively and gained greater international renown, most notably with the Brazil-only release Live in Rio. In 1993, Taylor offered American audiences his first ever live album, simply titled Live. His next studio effort, Hourglass, was awarded the Grammy for Best Pop Album in 1998.
Following a string of successful retrospective compilations, two Christmas recordings and a covers album, as well as inductions into both the Rock n' Roll and Songwriter's Hall of Fame, Taylor had apparently done it all. Everything, that is, except appear at the Festival. In 2008, the singer-songwriter par excellence performed for one night only alongside his Band of Legends.
The musician returned four years later to play two concerts at Place des Arts. He received the Spirit Award from the hands of Festival organisers Alain Simard and André Ménard.