James Taylor’s Apple Debut a Triumph Despite Secret Life

James Taylor with ex-wife Carly Simon.

Even the glow of Apple and Beatles greatness couldn’t deter JT’s drug dependence.

In the recovery business, moving to another location to escape a substance addiction is called a “geographic cure.” I’ve heard people say that it hardly ever works.

James Taylor, battling an addiction to heroin, was probably looking for that geographic cure when he moved to London in 1968. That, and a desire to succeed in the music business.

The young man had a lot to prove. He had come from a well-to-do musical family: his mother was a classically-trained soprano, and siblings Livingston, Alex and Cate were finding varying degrees of success in popular music.

All In the Family

“There’s a mysterious sort of darkness in my family tree,” Taylor confided to Oprah Winfrey during a recent appearance on Oprah’s Master Class. Taylor described his father as a “functional and brilliant alcoholic” and said he had a brother who died from the disease of addiction.

“There’s definitely that gene in my family,” Taylor said. “Whether it’s nature or nurture, we tend to be addicted.”

At the tender age of 15, Taylor made friends with Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar and the two formed a band. However, JT’s musical progress was interrupted two years later when he committed himself into a mental institution for the treatment of depression. When he was released, according to Taylor, “I got involved in junk.”

Taylor's hit song was a remembrance of his time in rural North Carolina, when his father headed a medical school there.
Taylor’s hit song was a remembrance of his time in rural North Carolina, where his father headed a medical school there.

When Taylor arrived in London, his friendship with “Kootch” was his ticket to audition for Kortchmar’s buddy Peter Asher, of Peter & Gordon fame. Asher was then an A&R rep for the fledgling Beatles record label, Apple Records.

While the Beatles were still under contract to EMI and Capitol Records, Apple Records had big plans to sign other artists. James Taylor became the first non-British act to be signed by Apple.

Apple Records had big plans to sign artists other than the Beatles.
Apple Records had big plans to sign artists other than the Beatles.

From the liner notes in Taylor’s debut album, Asher remembers the audition:

I still remember my utter astonishment and delight. These were not traditional rock ‘n’ roll songs. They had elements of folk to them but with an R&B groove. The guitar parts had the elegance of classical Spanish guitar playing, but used occasional jazz chords. The vocals were intense and soulful but introspective and thoughtful at the same time. The songs were brilliant blends of poetic elegance, humor and precision. I was overwhelmed.

The cover of James Taylor's self-titled debut album on Apple Records.
The cover of James Taylor’s self-titled debut album on Apple Records.
Mysterious Trips to the Bathroom

In a 2015 biography, Taylor freely confesses that he was addicted to heroin during his breakthrough sessions at Apple records. “I was stoned in most of the sessions,” Taylor admits. “Peter didn’t know…I guess he thought I was sleepy or something.”

Asher: I was far too naive to recognize the symptom for what they were.” Asher recalls JT “disappearing into the bathroom for long periods” during the Apple sessions, but having no idea why they were occurring.

Rubbing Elbows with the Beatles

With Asher producing, the album was recorded from July to October 1968…at the same time The Beatles were recording The White Album. Many Beatles ironies abound: Paul McCartney played bass and back-up vocals on the album’s biggest hit, “Carolina In My Mind.” For Taylor’s song “Something in the Way She Moves,” he wanted the song title to be “I Feel Fine,” after a dominant line in the chorus. Well, that title was taken. And that first line to the George Harrison song, “Something,” from The Beatles’ Abbey Road album: “Something in the way she moves…

The critical reaction to James Taylor’s first record was positive. Jon Landau gave it a rousing review in Rolling Stone. But JT’s Apple release didn’t sell as well as expected, in part due to Taylor’s hospitalization for drug addiction. In a January 1973 interview published by Rolling Stone, James Taylor had this to say about his junk obsession:

I kicked junk for about a half a year and then spent a while in Chapel Hill, North Carolina…I was clean. Then I started to take a lot of codeine. I went to Europe and started to take opium and then got into smack heavy for about nine months. I got into it real thick there. I came back to this country and kicked…

James Taylor
Clean and sober for 35 years.

Andrew Goutman

Andrew Goutman is the editor of The Record.

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