Wandering Early and Late … With James Taylor

Beatlefan Contributing Editor Tom Frangione got to take part in a Sirius XM session with James Taylor on June 19 and talked with the star about what it was like to be on The Beatles’ Apple Records label early in his career. …

James Taylor and Tom Frangione

James Taylor and Tom Frangione

Rock and Roll Hall of Famer and former Apple Records recording artist James Taylor has hit the road with a vengeance to promote his superb new album “Before This World.” Capping off a week which saw his widely hailed appearance on the Jimmy Fallon “Tonight” show and a satellite concert broadcast from New York’s famed Apollo Theater, JT was on hand to do a Town Hall session for Sirius XM radio and a rare in-store signing appearance.

The Town Hall was part of Taylor’s monthlong celebration on Sirius XM, where he had a dedicated channel playing loads of familiar favorites, deep album tracks, demos and of course, the new album. Specialty programming included “Top 10” shows hosted by artists such as Sheryl Crow, and a simulcast of the Apollo concert. The Town Hall (similar to ones done by Billy Joel and others) was hosted by Bob Costas, a great choice given one of the new album tracks is “Angels Of Fenway,” chronicling the live struggles of Red Sox nation.

Lanyard for JT's Sirius XM apperaance.

Lanyard for JT’s Sirius XM apperaance.

The ever savvy Taylor was keenly aware of his surroundings, the hometown of the “evil empire” that is the New York Yankees. I didn’t have the heart to tell him I was a Mets fan; citizens of Red Sox nation still get a twitch when they hear that, harking back to the 1986 World Series.

Our baseball “bond” was strengthened by his regaling of the 2004 ALCS where the Sox rallied from a 3-0 deficit to take the series from the Yanks — in the Bronx, yet — a game I was lucky enough to attend (the sight of Yankee fans throwing garbage at their own as they came off the field is forever emblazoned in my memory, but I digress …)

About 30 fans were invited guests for the session, about 10 of whom, myself included, got to ask JT a question as part of the broadcast. Of course, I framed it within the context of the new album, whose opening cut “Today, Today, Today” is about establishing ones’ self, and planting a flag, and as JT recalled in the liner notes, took him back to his own 1968 journey to London. I asked him to share what it was like to record under The Beatles’ auspices, and come out of it knowing he “birthed” one of his mentors’ all-time greatest love songs, as his “Something in the Way She Moves” clearly made a mark on one George Harrison.

In the Sirius XM studio.

In the Sirius XM studio.

Taylor recalled his audition for Paul McCartney and Harrison at Apple being arranged by Peter Asher. Recording at Trident, concurrent with the Beatles own White Album sessions in the summer of 1968, was clear in his memory, as he cited certain sessions he attended (but didn’t play on), including those for both “Hey Jude” and “Revolution”.

As for “Something in the Way She Moves,” JT graced us with a little guitar demonstration to show how he copped The Beatles’ own “I Feel Fine” for the hook in his song’s chorus (“she’s been with me now for a long long time and I feel fine”).

"Number One" by Hoke Simpson.

“Number One” by Hoke Simpson.

Another highlight of the session was Costas asking JT about the first record he ever bought, which turned out to be “Number One” (no, not the Rutles number) by Hoke Simpson in honor of the 1957 North Carolina Tar Heels college basketball championship, which he had long ago lost track of. Sirius XM’s resident programmer extraordinaire Lou Simon, who handled the specialty channel for Taylor, knew of this in advance and managed to track down a copy (mint, yet!) to present and air during the broadcast, visibly a touching gesture for the sentimental Taylor.

Heading downtown after the broadcast, Taylor did a rare in-store signing at Barnes & Noble in Union Square, where there were about 500 eager fans in attendance. There was no Q&A or musical performance, but Taylor did take the time to chat with each fan he met. The store did a brisk business in sales of all five formats of the new release, as purchase of any and all would qualify for a bracelet granting admission to the event. He would sign one of each format (CD, CD/DVD, deluxe book edition, LP or “exclusive” clear vinyl). Ever on top of my JT-ness, I’d brought along a 6th edition, available through the Target chain, which contained three bonus tracks. He was gracious enough to sign that even if it was not a Barnes & Noble purchase.

Beatlefan contributor Nikki Denett (Tom's cousin) meets JT.

Beatlefan contributor Nikki Denett (Tom’s cousin) meets JT.

When I got to the signing table, he flashed a grin of recognition from our chat earlier in the day, and I broke the ice with, “Hey, where do I know you from?” and was sure to let him know how much his music has meant to me (things that would’ve been a bit out of place during the Q&A on the live broadcast), which he seemed very appreciative of.

I will forever treasure the inscription he took the time to write in the book of my deluxe edition: “for Tom, on a great day …. James Taylor (dated) 19 June ’15”.

Taylor and his All Star Band (where have I heard THAT moniker before?) are touring the US throughout the summer in support of the new album. Don’t miss it.

Tom Frangione

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