The embodiment of the American singer-songwriter in the late 60s and early 70s was the frail and troubled James Taylor. He was born into a wealthy family. His mother was a classically trained soprano and encouraged James and his siblings, including future recording artists Livingston Taylor (b. 21 November 1950, Boston, Massachusetts), Alex Taylor (b. 28 February 1947, Boston, Massachusetts, USA), Hugh Taylor (b. 24 July 1952, Durham, North Carolina, USA) and Kate Taylor (b. 21 November 1950, Boston, Massachusetts, USA) to become musical.
The young James Taylor wanted for nothing and divided his time between two substantial homes. He befriended Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar at the age of 15 and won a local talent contest. As is often the case, boarding school education often suits the parents more than the child, and James rebelled from Milton Academy at the age of 16 to join his brother Alex in a rock band, the Fabulous Corsairs. At only 17 he committed himself to the McLean Mental Institution in Massachusetts to undergo treatment for his severe depression. Following a nine-month stay he reunited with "Kootch" and together they formed the commercially disastrous Flying Machine. At 18, now being supported by his parents in his own apartment, the seemingly affluent James drew the predictable crowd of hangers-on and emotional parasites. He experimented and soon was addicted to heroin.
Eventually he had the drive to move out from his family home, and after several months of travelling he arrived in London and found a flat in Notting Hill (which in 1968 was hardly the place for someone trying to kick a drug habit!). Once again "Kootch" came to the rescue, and suggested Taylor take a demo tape to Peter Asher. "Kootch" had supported Peter And Gordon on an American tour, and Asher was now looking for talent as head of the new Apple Records. Both Asher and Paul McCartney liked the work and the thin, drug-weary, weak and by now experienced teenager was given the opportunity to record. James Taylor was not a success when released, even though classic songs like "Carolina On My Mind" and "Something In The Way She Moves" appeared on it.
Depressed and still hooked on heroin, Taylor returned to America, this time to the Austin Riggs Mental Institution. Meanwhile Asher, frustrated at the disorganized Apple, moved to America, and persevering with Taylor, he secured a contact with Warner Brothers Records and rounded up a team of supportive musician friends; "Kootch", Leland Sklar, Russ Kunkel and Carole King. Many of the songs written in the institution appeared on the superlative Sweet Baby James. The album eventually spent two years in the US charts and contained a jewel of a song: "Fire And Rain". In this, he encapsulated his entire life, problems and fears; it stands as one of the finest songs of the era. Taylor received rave notices from critics and he was quickly elevated to superstardom. The follow-up, Mud Slide Slim And The Blue Horizon, consolidated the previous success and contained the definitive reading of Carole King's "You've Got a Friend". Now free of drugs, Taylor worked with the Beach Boys' Dennis Wilson on the cult drag-race movie Two Lane Blacktop and released One Man Dog which contained another hit, "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight". Fortunately Taylor was not lonely for long; he married Carly Simon in the biggest showbusiness wedding since Burton and Taylor. They duetted on a version of the Charlie And Inez Foxx hit, "Mockingbird", which made the US Top 5 in 1974.