Born in Boston and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, James Taylor is the son of a physician-turned-medical school dean and aspiring opera singer. He learned to play cello as a child and took up guitar at the age of 12. During summer holidays in Martha’s Vineyard, he met another great guitarist in the making, Danny Kortchmar, and the two performed at local coffeehouses.
In the early ’60s, Taylor was sent to a boarding school in Massachusetts, but dropped out, returned home and joined his brother’s band The Fabulous Corsairs on electric guitar. His late teens were difficult years as he fell into depression and then voluntarily spent time in McLean psychiatric hospital.
After checking himself out in 1966, Taylor moved to New York, where he formed a band with Kortchmar and their friends called the Flying Machine. They played songs he’d written while in McLean and landed gigs at popular Greenwich Village joints alongside other rising bands. The group recorded several songs including the single Night Owl, but with nothing concrete materialising and debts steadily growing, they broke up. Shortly after Taylor spiraled into depression, fell in with a rough crowd and became addicted to heroin.
Rescued by his father and driven back to North Carolina, Taylor decided to try life as a solo artist in London. Kortchmar helped out by introducing him to Peter Asher, who headed up The Beatles’ newly formed label Apple Records. This led a then 20-year-old Taylor to record his debut self-titled album at Trident Studios at the same time The Beatles were recording their White Album.
James Taylor came out in 1968 and was Apple Records first release from a non-British artist. Among its critically acclaimed songs were Carolina In My Mind – with Paul McCartney on bass and George Harrison singing backing vocals – and Something In The Way She Moves, which inspired Harrison to pen The Beatles’ No.1-charting hit Something.
Even with that as his launching pad, tragedy still followed Taylor as he got into a motorcycle accident in 1969 and broke both his hands. After recovering he moved to California with Asher in tow as his producer, and released his sophomore album Sweet Baby James on Warner Bros in 1970. Recorded while Taylor was essentially homeless and sleeping on friends’ sofas, he scored one of his all-time most successful singles with Fire And Rain. He’d also enlisted Carole King to play piano and provide backing vocals.
As the decade went on, Taylor’s music career skyrocketed. His next album, 1971’s Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon, contained his No.1-charting cover of You’ve Got A Friend written by King for which he scored his first Grammy.
Taylor released four more well-received albums – 1972’s One Man Dog, 1974’s Walking Man, 1975’s Gorilla and 1976’s In The Pocket – before achieving massive success with 1976’s James Taylor’s Greatest Hits, which earned diamond certification, and was followed by 1977’s multi-platinum JT, featuring his top 10 cover of Jimmy Jones’ Handy Man.
In 1978, he wrote the music and lyrics for several songs – including Millwork and Brother Trucker – in the Broadway musical Working.
Over the next four decades, Taylor continued to release studio albums as well as compilations and live recordings. Among the highlights were 1983’s Never Die Young and 1991’s New Moon Shine, which both received gold status. His introspective 1997 album Hourglass won a Grammy for Best Pop Album.
A towering American troubadour, Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, plus he was given the Library of Congress Gershwin Award in 2004 and awarded the National Medal of the Arts by President Barack Obama in 2010.
His extensive back catalogue of songs comprises Copperline, Celebration, Country Road, Her Town Too, Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight, Steamroller Blues, Ladies Night, Your Smiling Face and Take My Heart, among many others. In addition to his intensely personal lyrics that often tell tales of heartbreak and depression, Taylor is known for his soft, soothing voice and finger-picking guitar work.
Taylor took home his sixth Grammy for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album following the release of 2020’s American Standard.
In July 2021, he announced that James Taylor & His All-Star Band, who last toured the UK in 2018, would perform seven dates across the country in January and February 2022.