Los Angeles – When the Beatles signed with American business manager Allen Klein, apparently it was like heaving a boulder into a small pond, with dozens of individuals suddenly being tossed to the water’s edge by the onrushing concentric waves.
One of these was the gentle and articulate singer-songwriter James Taylor, the first artist signed to the Beatles’ Apple label and, as a result of the Beatles’ action, now signed to Klein. He said currents in London worried him.
“I don’t know what’s going on over there,” he explained (in Los Angeles for six nights at the Troubadour). “I know what it was like a year and four or five months ago, when I signed. But it’sdifferent now. That old craperoo, the bullshit music biz thing, is creeping in.
“I think the Beatles have discovered the business trip isn’t fun. You can’t goof off. I get the feeling Apple is like a rich toy. I’m bitter, I guess. I feel they’ve let me down.”
Taylor made this sad appraisal of his situation lying in hot sun, his legs in sawed-off jeans stuck in his agent’s swimming pool, a hundred yards from the Sunset Strip.
He said he was reasonably pleased with his first album, James Taylor—which was received well critically, yet thus far had sold only moderately—but that when he returned to England a few weeks earlier to begin recording his second LP, “nothing was happening.”
“I wanted to record. We were ready to record. They knew I was coming to record. But we couldn’t get moving. So I did two television shows, a radio show, two guest club appearances and came home again.”
He talked of Allen Klein. “That man worries me,” he said. “We all know what his reputation is, right? It’s amazing how he keeps going, it really is. And I can’t understand why the boys ever signed with him. I shouldn’t really knock the man. I don’t know him that well, really. I’ve just met him a couple of times—yet I feel that that is enough.”
Taylor’s evaluation took an angry (and libelous) turn and moments later he added, “I really feel quite badly about saying all this. I do have to maintain a relationship with these people and I want it to be as pleasant as possible. I don’t hate anyone. It’s just that I don’t know what’s going on, and no one’s telling anyone anything.”
Taylor said he hoped he would be able to begin the second album in New York when he returned there a few days later, with Peter Asher again serving as his producer. (Asher, who had been head of Apple’s A&R, was among the many who quit in the wake of Klein’s arrival on the scene.)
“It’s a mess over there,” Taylor said, obviously wanting to get on to something else. “Everybody’s been fired or quit. There’s just Derek Taylor left now. Even some of the Beatles are getting confused. John’s gone away for two weeks, just to get away from it all.”
Taylor rolled a cigarette (using Lloyd’s Old Holborn rolling tobacco, from England) and took another sip from the bottle of beaujolais he’d kept at arm’s reach. His girlfriend Maggie—he calls her Margaret; she calls him James—sat nearby, monitoring the interview and occasionally adding a biting comment.
He talked of many things.
On dope: “People who say they take drugs for a mystical or religious experience are full of shit, man. It gets you high. That’s its only redeeming feature.”
On himself: “I’m a musician and a songwriter, not a soothsayer. I’m certainly not a sex symbol. I don’t want to be a super-star.” Then, realizing how self-conscious he was sounding: “Shucks, folks, all I really want is a horse and a wagon and on weekends we’ll drive to town.” Grinning.
On his music: “There’s a larger and larger translation process that takes place between my making music and it’s coming out on a record. I hope my next album will be simpler. It has to be, because the music is simple and a big production job just buries all my intentions.”
Taylor started telling stories about his childhood in Chapel Hill, N.C., about the time his father, a doctor, went off with Admiral Byrd on Byrd’s last trip to the Antarctic and how that left his mother at home alone to take care of the bees; trouble was, she forgot to put a hat on and about a hundred bees got inside her face mask and she was damned lucky to survive.
His parents were pretty rich, he said, and he went to a fancy prep school in Massachusetts, and then to a fancy mental hospital in the same state, the Austin Riggs Center, written and sung about but not mentioned by name in his song “Knocking ‘Round the Zoo”: “My friends all come to see me, they point at me and stare. Said he’s just like the rest of us, so what’s he doing in there?”
“They have a high school there in the hospital.” Taylor said, “and that’s where I finished. Graduation was really weird. The guy who was making the speech was talking about now that we were men, we had the responsibility of the world on our shoulders and all of that.”
Maggie finished the thought: “And half the people in the graduating class were really eh-eh-eh-eh-ahhhhrrroggghhhh!” She threw her arms around spastically. “They didn’t care about responsibility,” she said. “They’d been through all that and they’d rejected it already.”
Taylor took another sip of beaujolais, smiled, and said the hospital high school was a real tradition in his family; his brothers and sister were graduates as well.
At 18, Taylor went to New York, to live on the lower East Side, where he played guitar and wrote songs for a group called the Flying Machine. Then, in the waning winter days of 1968, he found himself in London auditioning in the white house on Savile Row which the newly formed Apple Record Company had made its home. He was signed almost immediately.
Since then, Taylor has spent most of his time in England. “I learned a lot about America there,” he said. “I learned America has no culture, except that which exists in terms of there being no culture. The philosophy of no philosophy, y’know?”
“That’s the difference between the United States and England. Age. Tradition. People in England aren’t uptight about long hair because there’s still the pub, tea time and the Queen. There are those constants. They’re not afraid. They don’t feel threatened. But here in the United States everything is changing. There aren’t the constants. People are afraid.”
He paused and plunged on again. “There’s no responsibility with power in this country,” he said. “Because power is money and money is available to everyone—even to those who are not responsible; or worse, totally irresponsible.”
Taylor said this didn’t mean he’d had it with his native country. In fact, he said, he was hoping to buy some land on Martha’s Vineyard.
“In a way, it’s all up to Allen Klein, isn’t it?” he said. “He’s got my record contract and now he’s after my writing, I know he is. He’s in charge of my money now. He’s also responsible for my career. And it terrifies me.”