The dictionary defines a troubadour as “one who composes or sings verses or ballads.”
History has been littered with them. Some better than others. But to dismiss James Taylor or Carole King as merely troubadours would be like saying a Ferrari is merely a car… a Lear Jet is merely an airplane.
Few recording artists have sold more records. Even fewer songwriters have had a greater impact on the lives of the boomer generation.
Carole King had already been established for a decade before James Taylor hit the scene. Together with her then-husband Gerry Goffin, King was responsible for many of the Top 20 hits of the Pre-Beatles era, including songs for Little Eva (“The Locomotion”), and her first hit composition (at the tender age of 18), “Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow”) by The Shirelles.
As the 60s progressed, so did her songs, which were recorded by such groups as The Beatles, The Monkees, Blood Sweat & Tears, Dusty Springfield, Steve Lawrence, Aretha Franklin and others. In fact, from 1955 through 1999, King penned or co-wrote 118 songs that made it into the Billboard Top 100, making her the most successful female songwriter of that era.
By the late 60s, however, musical styles were changing. King divorced Goffin and went out on her own. By 1971, she had updated her songwriting to reflect the changing times and recorded the landmark albumn, “Tapestry” which remained number 1 on the Billboard charts for 15 weeks. It also remained on the charts for 6 full years making it one of the best-selling albums of all time.
The album spawned a number of hits for her (“It’s Too Late,” “I Feel The Earth Move,” “So Far Away”). But the song that was supposed to be her first single was delayed by King so a young singer she had met could release his own rendition first. The singer: James Taylor. The song became one of his trademark tunes: “You’ve Got A Friend.”
This began a bond of friendship that has lasted over 40 years. Taylor, of course, has been a prolific songwriter on his own, writing from (by his own admission) a self-centered position. But it’s his introspective angst that has yielded his most lasting songs. From the tormented “Fire and Rain” to the biorhythmic high of “Whenever I See Your Smiling Face,” it turns out that many of us shared the same angst and the same highs. His music chronicled our lives as did King’s.
Over the years, the paths of Taylor and King have crossed musically and socially. Two and a half years ago, the two agreed to do a concert together to mark the 50th anniversary of Hollywood’s Troubadour night club where (as Taylor puts it) they “had played repeatedly, evidently.”
The two were accompanied by Taylor’s original backup musicians, Lee Sklar (Bass Guitar), Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (Guitar) and Russ Kunkle (Drums):
When all was said and done, Taylor and King enjoyed themselves so much, they decided it was time to tour together. And it’s turning out to be one of the most successful tours of the year. Several charities are benefitting tremendously from the tour as well. According to Ally Schweitzer of The Washington Post, Taylor and King have announced they have raised $1.5 Million for The Natural Resources Defense Council, The Alliance for the Wild Rockies as well as other groups.
James Taylor and Carole King are currently touring the United States. It’s an evening to remember. Literally. You will remember where you were and who you were with through all the sounds and music these two icons have provided for over 4 decades. This is an opportunity that may not come again. A great concert by two great music icons, with a portion of the ticket prices going to charities we can all feel good about. That makes it a win-win-win, in my book. You can check the tourdates and cities at www.jamestaylor.com or www.caroleking.com (remember she spells her name with an “e” at the end).
For those of you who can’t wait to see them or can’t get to a city where they are performing, you can purchase a CD and/or a DVD of the acclaimed “Troubadour Reunion Concert” through either web site. Also, PBS is airing the concert throughout the month of June. Check your local listings for dates and times of the broadcast.
Photos: Screen shots from the concert DVD “Live At The Troubadour” (see above for ordering information)