Here is the “essential” James Taylor playlist, compiled by Texas-based journalist Amy McCarthy for yardbarker.com.
Fire and Rain
Sweet Baby James
Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight
You Can Close Your Eyes
If I Keep My Heart Out of Sight
One Man Parade
Your Smiling Face
Carolina in My Mind
How Sweet It Is
You’ve Got a Friend
Something in the Way She Moves
Shower the People
Two nights after an appearance in Austin and two nights before he’s on stage in Phoenix, James Taylor and his All-Star Band hit the Rio Rancho Events Center stage Sunday at 8 p.m.
With myriad hits under his belt in his nearly half-century of performing, there’s no way to predict just which “Sweet Baby James” tunes you’ll hear.
Local musician and Rio Rancho High School teacher and coach Tom Gutierrez will bet his favorite guitar that tonight’s attendees will hear “Fire and Rain.”
“I grew up listening to James Taylor,” Gutierrez said. “I play ‘Fire and Rain’ in my set.”
“Fire and Rain” is basically an autobiographical tune, with its lyrics inspired by Taylor’s experiences with drug addiction and mental illness following the death of a longtime friend.
Local DJ legend Bobby Box said “Fire and Rain” is also his favorite Taylor tune, recalling the time he met Taylor, whom he found “charismatic.
“I was mesmerized by his musical knowledge,” Box says, heard Monday-Friday from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. on KDSK-AM in Rio Rancho.
“What a brilliant songwriter he was,” Gutierrez said. “You can sense the respect he gets from all the people he collaborated with – he’s highly regarded by all.”
Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000, although many contend he’s not a rock and roller or a head-banger by any means. Most of his tunes are much slower than a typical rock and roll tune.
Don’t let the lovely, understated tone fool you, notes the R&R Hall of Fame: “James Taylor delivered tales of a tortured soul in a rich, mellow tenor. His confessional singer-songwriter style paved the way for the likes of Joni Mitchell and Crosby, Stills and Nash.”
“That’s the neat part about him. You can go to a concert, sit back and listen to his brilliance, really be present in the music, instead of moving or doing something else – the music does it all,” Gutierrez said. “And I love ‘Sweet Baby James’ too. It reminds me of my dad. He was in Vietnam when it came out.”
Legendary songwriter Carole King, occasionally accompanying Taylor on some tours, says in her autobiography (“A Natural Woman”) that Taylor’s “songs can be deceptive in their apparent simplicity.
“They’re actually quite complex and not always predictable. … I was so impressed by James’s writing style that I began to incorporate it into my own songs.”
Taylor played acoustic guitar and added background vocals for King on her 1971 debut album “Tapestry,” which won the Grammy for Album of the Year in 1972. King wrote “You’ve Got a Friend” for Taylor, another of his most-popular hits.