7 Jan 2017

James Taylor: A life on the road

From The Weekend, 9:45 am on 7 January 2017

James Taylor, who emerged in the early 1970s as a star of the singer-songwriter movement, is coming to New Zealand next month.

James Taylor.

James Taylor. Photo: Timothy White

Taylor has spent much of the past few decades on the road, and despite this it hasn’t palled and he says his heart sings when he’s heading out on tour.

“I get very excited about hitting the road, and particularly about travelling to the other side of the world and finding my audience there. It really is the main appeal, the main reward of a life in music.”

The writer of classics such as ‘Fire and Rain’, ‘Carolina On My Mind’ and ‘Sweet Baby James’, he says bringing them to an audience after all these years is still a pleasure.

“When you put them in front of an audience and when you feel the response that you get to a familiar song, that the audience knows and loves, then it has an energy to it – you can’t beat it.

“It reanimates it for me, it takes me back to where I was when I wrote the song. I oftentimes find myself re-experiencing the things that caused the song to come into existence in the first place.”

Some themes in his songs are perennial Taylor says - his parents, conflict, touring and his recovery from drug addiction.

“Since the early 80s I’ve been writing recovery songs, songs about my recovery from addiction - that’s a theme that I keep coming back to.”

And an ongoing theme of spirituality is ever-present, he says.

“My problem is that I have too many religions, I believe in all of them, but I still have strongly spiritual side.”

Cutting his teeth as a musician during the 1960s folk boom, five-time Grammy Award winner and inductee into both the Songwriter and Rock & Roll Hall's of Fame, Taylor told Lynn Freeman he’s grateful to have learnt the ropes in simpler times.

“I think it was an exceptionally good time to be a musician.

“The popularity of folk music and the fact there were so many clubs and cafes to get in front of an audience you just needed a guitar and a voice and it was a very accessible form.”

And the demise of the record business makes it hard for contemporary artists find an audience, he says.

“In my day if you could get a record deal your chances of having a career were good. There no longer is that sort of record business to support and promote and make new artists.”

James Taylor is playing Vector Arena on Saturday 4 February and Napier’s Church Road winery on the 5 February.