He could have easily been a tragic figure, but James Taylor found his voice and his place in the world -says Jaime Babbitt.
Nothing can prepare a young singer for those epochal moments when they realize that they just heard an artist that will change their life and its trajectory.
These moments hit out of the blue and hit hard; it feels like the climate right before a tornado warning: an eerie quiet descends, and time feels like it’s standing still for just a moment.
I imagine many of you who have experienced this may know exactly where you were, the song, the day, perhaps even what you were wearing.
When Did You First Hear That Voice?
James Taylor was the second artist/vocalist I felt this way about. I was in fifth grade. (The Jackson Five, with Michael singing ‘ABC’ came first.)
When “You’ve Got a Friend” came over the radio waves inside my parents’ 1964 Chevy Impala SS, I froze.
The song itself, of course, was stellar (written by Carole King)…but that voice. It was sad and soothing and commanding and liberating all at the same time.
His voice has been described as a warm fireplace, a pair of your favorite slippers and an amaretto bubble bath. Here he is live from 2017; you be the judge…he starts at 1:25:
So how did the voice of a 70-year-old physician’s son born in Boston and raised in North Carolina grab such a hold of our hearts?
Lessons from His Voice to Ours:
1. Take Care
He knows the importance of taking amazing care of his instrument, i.e., his body and voice.
A quick overview: James Taylor was hospitalized for suicidal depression as a teenager and later heavily addicted to drugs (and had to have vocal surgery as a result of issues relating to this), went through rehab several times and has now been clean and sober for 35 years.
He still attends meetings and strives to make peace every day with his addictive personality.
Music was his salvation, his way to express himself…and we are the grateful benefactors.
He also tours on a regular basis and keeps physically active by riding a bike, cross-country skiing, rowing and (drum roll, please..) warms up his voice every day (even when there are no gigs, ahem) citing the “use it or lose it” philosophy and following in the footsteps of his vocal idol, Tony Bennett.
James Taylor understands the importance of the ‘giving’ aspect of a musical life and the responsibility it entails.
Before talking about the emotional gifts he showers onto his people (see what I did there?) his shows have always been top-notch tour de forces, with stellar bands and side-people:
Rosemary Butler, Arnold McCullers, Kate Markowitz, Andrea Zonn…all amazing singers in their own right, Steve Gadd, Danny Kortchmar, etc…nothing but the best for his fans.
He also takes wonderful care of his band mates (Arnold has been with him over 30 years), making sure they have everything they need, from union benefits to comfortable travel arrangements.
And on his website, www.jamestaylor.com, he gives free video guitar lessons, so you can see how he does what he does.
As for what he gives his audiences, concertgoers can attest that he still puts on amazing, rousing shows.
During his May 2018 performance in Tampa, James not only kept the hits coming, but during his 20-minute intermission between sets, he stayed at the foot of the stage, signed autographs and took photos with his fans.
Can you imagine possessing the stamina, or the open, nurturing heart required for this?
If you can, good for you. If not, it’s never too late to start practicing gratitude and love for your fellow man/woman.
Yes, it has everything to do with singing better.
3. Know You’re Enough
And probably the biggest singing/life-lesson of them all, one we could all do well to embody: James Taylor is very, very, very comfortable in his own skin.
Well, I guess if you’d been wildly successful for almost 50 years singing and playing music you would be, too..but c’mon, that’s reductive.
I saw him perform songs all by himself with his acoustic guitar in Nassau Coliseum. That’s comfort, my friends.
Look, I can’t possibly know what goes on inside his head, but here’s a man who doesn’t jump through hoops or rely on vocal pyrotechnics.
He’s very clearly speaking his truth and, guess what? It sounds like he’s speaking when he sings, doesn’t it? Listen:
Seriously. He’s speaking his truth to you.
He’s not being anyone he isn’t. And vocally, he understands that one can have lots of impact doing way less than one may think one needs to do.
If it comes from the heart and it’s real, you’re golden.
He rests in the knowledge that he’s enough.
Yes, I know, if you sounded that awesome, you might feel that way more easily, too, but…you might not.
I can think of many troubled souls with songs like precious diamonds and voices like angels who did not, may they rest in peace (Michael Jackson, Kurt Cobain).
Given his past, James could have easily been a tragic figure. But he found his voice and his place in the world.
I hope his story–and sound–can inspire many more vocalists for years to come.
Here’s to you, Sweet Baby James…!