When James Taylor picked up his Best Male Pop Vocal Performance trophy at the 44th Annual Grammy Awards ceremony (for "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," a track from Michael Brecker's Nearness Of You collection), it was the latest in a string of Grammy wins for the artist going back three decades. Taylor earned his first Grammy (Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male) in 1971 for his recording of Carole King's "You've Got A Friend." After moving to Columbia Records in 1976, Taylor claimed his second Best Pop Vocal Performance, Male Grammy in 1977 for his wry interpretation of Jimmy Jones' "Handy Man." JT, his Columbia Records debut, has since gone on to hit triple platinum. In 1998, his platinum Hourglass album snared Grammys for both the "Best Pop Vocal Album" and "Best Engineered Album, Non-Classical". His contribution to In Harmony, a Sesame Street album, helped that album win a "Best Recording For Children" Grammy at the 1980 ceremony.
James has often cited the disparate but complementary influences of Sam Cooke, Stephen Foster, Aaron Copland, John Hurt and George Jones. Like them, he is the architect of a style of American music all his own -- one that lifts the spirit, soothes the soul, and speaks the truth. And like most magicians, he makes what he does seem effortless. Part of the brilliance of James' work lies in the mere simplicity, familiarity and ease it communicates amidst its erudite musicality and lyrical splendor. His songs mirror our own life and times, offering a consistency that has never let us down, through his and our own trials and tribulations.
James Taylor not only set the precedent for solo singer/songwriter/instrumentalists achieving success as recording and touring artists, he made it a cool and desirable role -- one to which millions of earnest singer/songwriters have since aspired. His warm and inviting tenor instinctively seems to attract the inflections and embellishments that grace his unforgettable melodies. His distinctive voice is among the most recognized and beloved in popular music. Another facet of his prodigious talent is his guitar playing, which significantly raised the standard for singer/songwriters accompanying themselves with six strings.
But above and beyond all else, there are the songs: "Fire and Rain," "Country Road," "Something In The Way She Moves," "Mexico," "Shower the People," "Your Smiling Face," "Carolina In My Mind," "Sweet Baby James," "Don't Let Me Be Lonely Tonight," "You Can Close Your Eyes," "Walking Man," "Never Die Young," "Shed a Little Light," "Copperline." His songs reflect his passion for music and a dedication to the constant evolution of his craft; and they have had a profound influence on both songwriters and music lovers of all generations and from all walks of life. Today it is no surprise to see children discovering his songs through their parent's record collections and immediately falling in love with the sound of his voice.
James started writing music in the mid 1960's as a student at a New England boarding school, far removed from his family and friends in the Piedmont Hills of Chapel Hill, North Carolina. After early episodes of depression and restlessness, James decided to pursue his own path as a songwriter and musician, moving to New York City joining a band. Subsequently moving to London to further his career, James was introduced to Paul McCartney by his soon to be producer/manager, Peter Asher, and signed to the Beatles' Apple record label. Although Taylor's 1968 self-titled debut was critically well received, offering the future classics "Carolina In My Mind" and "Something In The Way She Moves," Apple records suffered from poor financial management and soon went bankrupt.
Undeterred, James packed up his notebook and guitar and headed home back across the Atlantic. He was quickly picked up by Warner Brothers Records, for whom he recorded six albums. His first release in 1970, Sweet Baby James, was his introduction to the music world at large, and it proved to be a truly monumental recording, containing the title track "Sweet Baby James," "Country Road" and his most enduring hit, the sadly cathartic "Fire and Rain."
Over the course of his career, James Taylor has earned 40 gold, platinum, and multi-platinum awards for a timeless catalog running from 1970's Sweet Baby James to 1997's Hourglass to 1998's platinum-selling Live At The Beacon Theatre DVD/VHS release. Taylor's first Greatest Hits album earned him the RIAA's elite Diamond Award, given for sales in excess of 10 million units in the United States. In 1971, Taylor was featured on the cover of Time magazine, who heralded him as the harbinger of "the singer/songwriter era." For his extraordinary achievements, James Taylor was honored with the 1998 Century Award, Billboard magazine's highest accolade, bestowed for distinguished creative achievement. The year 2000 saw Taylor's induction into both the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and the prestigious Songwriter's Hall of Fame.
James Taylor's music embodies the process of songwriting in its most fundamental art. He transforms introspective meditations into emotionally revealing lyrics, melodies, and harmonies that comfort and reassure the listener with the idea that these sometimes painful, sometimes celebratory moments in life are shared by us all.