Back in 1990, Carole King entered the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame as a non-performer along with her former husband and songwriting partner, Gerry Goffin. It’s taken 31 years, but she’ll finally join the Hall of Fame this year as a performer. She’s not only the third double female inductee after Stevie Nicks in 2019 and Tina Turner this year, but the first woman to join as both a performer and non-performer.
Just two hours after she learned the news, King called up Rolling Stone from her home in Idaho to talk about the honor, her plans for the big night, the possibility of an all-star jam, and why she never sees herself touring again.
Thank you. It’s big. It’s really big.
How did you hear the news?
I’m in Idaho, so I’m two hours earlier than East Coast. I got a text from my friend. We usually text back and forth to check up on each other: “How are you doing?” We’re both morning people. I got two texts from her and was like, “Oh, OK. Let me check this out.” She’s the one that told me.
What was your first reaction?
I was surprised. There were so many worthy nominees. I looked over the list and was like, “Well, I’m already in as a songwriter. I’ll be OK if I don’t get in. There are so many other people. They should get in.” And here I am. Apparently, there is some kind of milestone that I was trying to figure out. I may be the first woman inducted both as a songwriter and performing artist?
That’s true. You’re also a rare double inductee in general, only the third woman along with Stevie Nicks and Tina Turner.
Well, I’m in great company, let me just say, with those women. That’s good company to be in. It’s a great honor; it really is. It’s great. Also, I want to make sure I acknowledge my fans. I don’t live in the world of my fans. In other words, I’m not out in the world. My life is usually not in my career. My career has been a part of my life. For many artists, it is their life, for better or worse. I’ve tried to keep that balance.
When I do meet my fans or read the socials or I do pay attention, it’s remarkable how many people my music, my albums, my performances, have touched. It’s a lot to take in, which is why I don’t live there all the time. But for every person who has come up and told me their story, I really listen to it as though I’m hearing that story for the first time, because I am hearing it for the first time from that person. And when you think of how many “that persons” there are, it’s quite overwhelming, and I’m really, really grateful for them.
Back in 1990, you were inducted as a songwriter by Jon Landau. Do you have pleasant memories of that evening?
It’s funny. I know it was a fun night. I know it was joyous. I was inducted with … he was no longer my husband then, but with my co-writer, Gerry Goffin. I remember that being a good night because he was recognized. It’s very often that the lyricist — in music, the composer is the performer and the lyricist gets less attention, and particularly since I recorded a lot of the songs as an artist.
I think after Gerry died in 2014, he got the recognition. He got a lot of recognition. It was like it was asleep and his death awakened everybody to how much they valued him. But the night we got the songwriter award, he did get the recognition and that made me very happy.
Does this mean something different to you since it’s for you as a performer?
Yes. That’s because I never set out to be a performer. I set out to be a songwriter. That’s all I ever wanted to be. I don’t want to say I was pulled in, but as a songwriter, you sing your own songs in order to present them. And so I was a performer of my own songs, but for a very limited audience. And then James Taylor and then Lou Adler encouraged me into being a performer of those songs for a wider audience. I just had no idea how wide it would be.
It’s a great crew this year with you, Tina Turner, the Go-Go’s, Todd Rundgren, the Foo Fighters, and Jay-Z. Are you fans of these people?
I’m fans of each and every one of them. Yes, I am. [Laughs] Whoever is sitting on the board or choosing who is going to be inducted, I’d be daunted by the list of nominees. I love all those people. I’m just so proud, and so honored to be one of them.
Are you going to perform at the ceremony?
It depends on how much performing. But yeah, I could do a song or two.
They usually do about three songs.
Well, maybe I can do three! [Laughs] I’m getting up there. But I’m proud of my age. I own my age. I’m 79. I don’t feel it. I’m told I don’t look like it. But I’m happy to be alive and well. If I am able to perform, I will.
Your voice still sounds great. It’s incredibly well-preserved.
I work at it. James Taylor sets the bar because James has always had the attitude that if you don’t use it, you’re going to lose it. And so when I sit at home, I put together a playlist and I sing along. If I can’t make the notes, I sing harmony. But I do sing every couple of days just to make sure I use my voice. And so far, so good. Knock on wood. There’s notes I can’t make and then I say, “OK, I can’t make this note now. But I’ll go for it again.” And it comes out like a bell. I don’t understand how that works, but OK! [Laughs.]
There tends to be a big jam at the end of the night. Are you able to imagine yourself playing with all the other inductees?
Oh, my God, yes. Absolutely. That would be just amazing. As I’ve said, I respect them all and I admire them all. That will be so much fun.
I would love to see you and Jay-Z together.
Well, OK. I think that would be great. My question about that … do they rehearse that? Do they work that out?
They do. It’s worked out ahead of time.
Well, if they do, then Jay and I are going to figure something out, I assure you.
It’s in Cleveland in front of 20,000 people. How do you think you’ll feel at that podium?
I’ve done it before. I played before about 100,000 people, I think, in 1973 in Central Park. They got a little rowdy and started rocking the speakers way back on the meadow. It got a little scary. But I’ve done that and I played Hyde Park in July 2016 for 65,000 people. So this will be easy.
You have Grammy Awards, the Gershwin Prize, and you’re in the Kennedy Center and the Songwriter’s Hall of Fame. How does this rank next to those?
You don’t rank them. You just treasure them. Every one. It’s like your children. You love them all.
You mentioned your Hyde Park show. You did Tapestry straight through for the 45th anniversary. I know a lot of fans in America were jealous that they didn’t get to see it here. Is there any chance you’ll play it again this year for the 50th?
No. [Laughs] I think that was, what I’d say, my last big show. It was fitting. It was a fitting way to say, “OK, I’ve done this.”
You don’t miss touring?
I never was a big fan of the road. I really tried to balance my life. That said, of course I miss some things about it. I miss playing onstage with a band, which I’m obviously going to do at the Rock Hall. And I miss the camaraderie of being on tour. You’re a little family. I’ve toured with James and that was great. I had my team and he had his, but then they were blended. It was pretty amazing.
When you go on tour — I know I did a shout-out to the fans, but can I give a shout-out to the crew and everyone who makes a tour happen? The public doesn’t know who they are, but I just want everyone who has ever been on the road as crew to know that I know you and I love you and I appreciate you.
Well, I’m really looking forward to the big night in Cleveland. It’ll be a very special evening and it’s long overdue.
Well, thank you. To me, there’s no “long overdue” about it. I feel like I’ve had an amazing life and an amazing career and I’m just grateful. If this comes along with it, it’s a pinnacle.