Carole King is backstage at Cleveland’s Rocket Mortgage FieldHouse, glowing with excitement over being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame minutes earlier. Taylor Swift inducted the songwriter and her speech sent King through a whirlwind of emotions: One minute she’s crying, and the next she’s laughing over Swift giving a shout-out to the cat featured on the Tapestry album cover. “That was hilarious,” King says in sparkly black attire. “An inspiration to all cats that they too can be on the cover of an album!”
Congratulations! What was it like out there?
It was amazing. I mean, just to feel the love, just from the minute the film started rolling. I’m watching my life flash before my eyes, literally. I think I have a very solid place in music history that most people know — young people know who I am.
The inductees are diverse, which is lovely. It’s really nice that people from all walks of life and all ethnicities and all styles of music are being incorporated into the quote Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. It’s rock & roll, yes, but rock & roll has its roots in rhythm & blues. Country music was a separate thing, and now it’s part of what rock & roll embodies. I think the phrase rock & roll now, it just embodies this whole vast array of everything from hip-hop and rap to jazz. We’re not celebrating jazz necessarily every time, but I’m definitely informed by jazz.
Thirty-one years ago, you were inducted into the Hall of Fame as a songwriter with Gerry Goffin. What is it like to be recognized as a performer?
It’s a different thing. When I was inducted with Gerry, I was really happy because we were recognized together. A lot of times as the singer of the song that Gerry had written the lyrics to, I was often credited and they might overlook him. And that’s hard when you’re married to them [Laughs]. We were an amazing songwriting team and I think we made each other better.
You were initially reluctant to step out as a performer. How did James Taylor inspire you to do that?
He said, “Well, tonight you’re going to sing ‘Up on the Roof.'” I was his sideman at the time. That’s fine. I’ll own it. I was a woman sideman. Fine. And I was playing piano, and he just kind of sprang that on me… “No, no, please don’t make me do that.” And then he started talking about the songs that Gerry and I had written, and everybody was like, “Oh, I know that one! I know that one!”
I was really timid, and by the time I got to like the second bridge, I was really feeling it and just not thinking about the audience or whether I was good enough. I was just like, “Yeah, this is my song. I’m going to sing it.” He broke that barrier, and he also broke the barrier for me about performing. I didn’t know how to do it. And he just went out there and was authentically himself. I was like, “Oh, that’s how you do it. You feel authentically yourself.” I can do that. Yes. And that’s how I got here.
You got pretty emotional during Taylor Swift’s speech. How is she carrying the torch as a female songwriter?
Well, first of all, she’s a really good songwriter. As a performer, she just gets up there. She owns the song and the stage and she just carries herself, and she’s a tall woman. She carries herself with the full grace of her stature, and she knows what the audience wants, and she loves the song and she loves bringing it to them. And she loves her fans. That is like, the foundation of who she is. She loves her fans and they know it.
But she just brings this great sensibility to, “I’m a woman, and that is not in the least a barrier. I’m not even thinking about that. I’m thinking, ‘How can I make this show better? I’m going to do it this way. I’m going to do it that way.'” She is a woman in control with no barriers. I said in my speech tonight — when I grew up, my father never uttered the words, “You have to be careful because girls can’t do certain things.” Never said that. He just told me I could do anything. So I did not bring to my work the feeling of, “I couldn’t do it.” I was like, “Yeah, here’s what I want to do.” To be able to set that standard for women in the future? Yeah, that’s an amazing thing. And it happened. I want to say quite by accident. I didn’t set about doing it.
Seeing your longtime session musicians up there tonight with you — like Leland Sklar and Russ Kunkel — was pretty incredible.
I was going to perform “You’ve Got a Friend” myself, and I said, “No, I have to have the cats.” Because they always lift me. One of the things that I brought to the table from the time I was a kid is, “This is how I hear it.” And I would walk into a room with an orchestra. It wasn’t even my orchestra, and they were doing something, and I would say, “No, I hear this. Can you change this chord?” I had the musical language. I don’t know how I do it. It’s just what I do. And they in turn, they’re there to serve the song, which is why they’re the Section, why they are the great cats.
In 11 years, Taylor Swift is going to be eligible to join the Hall of Fame. Would you return the favor and induct her?
Oh my god, yes. In 10 years, I’m going to be 90. So if I’m here and I can walk, I would be honored to present it to her.