Mix Interview: James Taylor

Jan 1, 2012 9:00 AM, By Gregory DeTogne


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With sales of more than 40 million albums posted over a lengthy career dating back to 1968, when he signed with Apple Records, James Taylor remains at the top of his game. Lionized by fans, respected by his peers and solidly committed to the art of his craft, the singer/songwriter calls his life his music. Despite all the Gold, Platinum and multi-Platinum accolades, all the Grammys and all the fame, he still finds comfort and purpose on the road, where he continues to set records for ticket sales and simultaneously cultivates an uncanny knack for connecting with his audiences on an intimate level, even in large venues.

His songs need no introduction: “Carolina in My Mind,” “Fire and Rain,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Country Road,” “Shower the People.” The melodies, lyrics and harmonies reveal emotions that are at once both subjective and shared on countless levels. If there is any key to his success and longevity, perhaps a hint of its discovery can be found in his unwavering baritone and singular guitar playing. Beyond that, we’re left with a large degree of genuine honesty and spirit, which reveal themselves here in “The Mix Interview.”

As we all dive into a new year, once again you’re marking the occasion by preparing yourself for more touring. Does the road really go on forever?
Touring is a natural and vital part of what I do. Given the current economic climate, live music is really where the money is now. Record royalties clearly belong to another time.

Much has been said about the romance and allure of the road. What are the realities for you?
A touring show is an interesting entity of its own. It’s a very functional existence, it’s very clear what the priorities are. Despite the punishments of having to be away from your home for long periods, you learn to get enough sleep, exercise, eat the proper foods and pace yourself. Every day you’re dealing with multitudes of people. It’s like being part of an organism, living in a pod of dolphins or a school of fish. You’re constantly moving through the country, different cultures, the world. It’s always fascinated me and still does.

You’re known for traveling with top-notch people—the best of the best in terms of the musicians and crew supporting you.
They are indeed a crack bunch. Everyone approaches their job from a perspective of the whole, not just their special area of expertise. There is a spirit of unity and cooperation that allows us to accomplish a lot with fewer numbers.

How has the touring life changed over the years?
Back in 1968, when I committed myself to being an itinerant entertainer, I wouldn’t go as far as saying there wasn’t a methodology established for getting these shows on, but as far as many of us were concerned, we were clearly making a lot of it up as we went along. There weren’t clear ideas on how to do certain things: monitors, for instance. Or how to make an acoustic guitar speak properly in front of 10,000 people. These were things we had to experiment with and develop our own techniques for. Beyond the gear, the same thing could be said about how we traveled and where we stayed. On many levels, we were learning how to book a tour efficiently. As we went on, we got good at playing the summer venues. We were a shed act, and for many, many years, the core of my touring experiences revolved around the summer tour.

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