James Taylor is probably the definitive singer-songwriter of his generation.
His confessional lyrics are some of the most affecting in popular music. And, given his way with words, it’s hardly surprising that Taylor is a great interview subject.
With that in mind, we’ve decided to collect some of our favourite quotes from recent James Taylor interviews, ranging from comments on songwriting and addiction to the longevity of his career. They’re great insights into the man, as well as an inspiration to pick up you guitar and write some songs.
On writing hymns for agnostics (via Billboard):
“I came into music during the great folk scare of the early ’60s. You could learn the guitar and pretend to be a songwriter -- and maybe you turned out to be one. I was listening to Bob Dylan, Eric Von Schmidt, Odetta, Tom Rush. I also went away to school [at Milton Academy in Massachusetts], and we had chapel at an Episcopalian church. I’d been raised in an agnostic household. The Church of England hymnal, which I learned on the guitar, that’s the foundation of what I play: “A Mighty Fortress Is Our God,” “Once to Every Man and Nation,” “Oh Come, Oh Come, Emmanuel.” I started playing hymns and interpreting them my way. Then I started writing lyrics. I had assumed that my trajectory would be academic, because my father was dean of medicine at the University of North Carolina.”
On how addiction impacted his playing (via The Telegraph):
“A big part of my story is recovery from addiction. One thing that addiction does is, it freezes you. You don’t develop, you don’t learn the skills by trial and error of having experiences and learning from them, and finding out what it is you want, and how to go about getting it, by relating with other people. You short-circuit all of that stuff and just go for the button that says this feels good over and over again. So you can wake up, as I did, at the age of 36, feeling like you’re still 17. One of the things you learn as you get older is that you’re just the same.”
On watching the Beatles recording “The White Album” (via Blue Railroad):
“It was great. It was unbelievable. I was a huge Beatles fan. I listened to them – as did millions – with absolute utter focus and attention to every note and every word. And just devoured everything that they came out with, and parsed it and learned it and reinterpreted it. So when it turned out that I got the opportunity – when the song “Carolina” says “the holy host of others standing around me,” that’s what it refers to. Just the fact that I was in this pantheon, really being present in Trident Studios in Soho, Leicester Square where they were recording The White Album. It was just amazing.”
On recurring themes in his music (via Billboard):
“I have themes that I keep coming back to. I wish I had my iPad with me, because I went through a list of my songs -- about 170 songs, over the years -- and put them into categories. I keep writing a love song to my wife. There are songs about my father, highway songs, recovery songs. And some of my songs are hymns for agnostics…
I’m the same person I was when I was 17, in many ways -- that’s one of the surprises about being 67. When I was 17, I didn’t think a 67-year-old was the same creature at all. There’s something about being successful that tends to freeze you: If it works, don’t fix it or don’t change it. But that’s fine; I don’t mind writing songs that people have written before in a different way.”
On his longevity (via Mercury News):
“A lot of it is just good luck. But, also, focusing on live music — playing live and touring. Being a member of a musical community that I work with. That, and the good fortune not to have died four or five times when I was really reckless. A lot of it is just the grace of God that I am still around.”
What’s your favourite James Taylor lyric? And how has he influenced your playing? As always, share your stories in the comments.
And yes, we know that James is not using a Thalia Capo in the videos... Anyone out there who can help us get one to him? If so, contact us at email@example.com
Is he really a great guitarist, or do his detractors have it right? Today, I’m going to try and get to the bottom of it.