Wanker Acid Jazz: An Interview With The Other James Taylor
By Brian L. Knight
The James Taylor Quartet came to Burlington last week. No this wasn't the master of the Martha's Vineyard Sound and the writer of folk classics like Sweet Baby James and You Got A Friend. This James Taylor comes from the United Kingdom and he is all about acid jazz instrumentals. This James Taylor does not use life experience, poignant lyrics about life as a musical expression, he uses a Hammond B-3 organ and a whole lot of Heinekens.
The English James Taylor may be a mystery to the people of the United States, but he is pop star back across the Atlantic. He has released 15 albums since 1987 and the band is on tour supporting the newest album, Creation. Like so many albums before, James Taylor recorded some cover tunes. Creation opens with a funky version of The Theme From Starsky and Hutch and the previous albums have had tunes like 2001: Space Odyssey and Theme from Dirty Harry.
The James Taylor Quartet, which in reality is a Sextet, was on the final leg of United States tour when they stopped in northern Vermont. The boys from the U.K. had never been to Burlington and they were apparently psyched to party down. Each musician had a stockpile of beers by their amplifiers and microphone stands while James Taylor came out on stage with two freshly opened bottle of white wine. They obviously caught on to the Vermont spirit of things right away.
Before James Taylor graced the stage and jammed out tunes like Simon and Garfunkel's Mrs. Robinson and Led Zeppelin's Whole Lotta Love, The Southern Vermont Review got a chance to talk to Mr. Taylor about acid jazz, fishing and James Bond movies.
BK: I need to get this out of the way immediately. Have you had any cases of mistaken identity while in the United States?
JT: I haven't ant particular anecdotes about that. It obviously happens a lot in America. It doesn't hardly happen at all in England or Europe. You get a lot of cases of " No, it's not James Taylor, it is some guy who plays the organ." Our first big gig in England was full of Americans. It was sold out show and it was definitely a case of mistaken identity. The promotion of the show was done a little differently.
BK: What were the repercussions of that show?
JT: We had a great night. There was a bit of confusion, but we didn't have anybody walking out.
BK: Do you ever play of the American James Taylor's tunes?
JT: No. I though about doing an album covering his stuff. James Taylor plays James Taylor. It just occurred to me on this tour. That well may be the way to crack into America, an instrumental version of "I've seen fire, I've seen rain".
BK: You seem to like to do cover tunes.
JT: I have always been into that. It is the band's sound that is actually more important than the actual material we play. I am always happy to flirt with cover versions. Always have been. I love other people's stuff. In England, there is this big thing that you mustn't do cover tunes or you are a cabaret band. I totally throw caution to the wind on that one. Yeah, we are a cabaret band if you want us to be that.
BK: It only remains a cover song for so long. You definitely put your signature on those tunes.
JT: People are so scared about breaking rules.
BK: Why the James Taylor Quartet when you are actually a sextet?
JT: The only reason is that we were a quartet for years and years and years. We got known as that in the pop charts. When we started to expand, the companies said it couldn't change.
BK: In Vermont, they say "If it ain't broke, don't fix it".
JT: Yeah, exactly. Not just Vermont. Also Rochester and Kent.
BK: Is that where you are from?
JT: Yeah, 30 miles southeast of London. We are on the river Medway where it meets the Thames.
BK: Good fishing there?
JT: The fishing is good....bass. Nothing like Salmon and Trout. It turns fresh water about 10 miles upstream and there is pike. It is the biggest sport in England.
BK: In the United States, there is a developing rift between the bait fisherman and the fly fisherman. Does that exist in the United Kingdom?
JT: In England, fly fishing is incredibly expensive. And all the salmon rivers in the north of Scotland and they are owned by royalty and very rich people. It costs ridiculous sums of money. Thousand of pounds for just a day's fishing. You can't get access to a river unless you know someone. Fly fishing does not exist for the layman.
BK: Is there any difference between your fans in England and in the United States?
JT: Yeah there is. I have been thinking quite a bit about it. I think it got more to do with we are a bit of an enigma here. In England, it is our stomping ground. They know what we are going to do and how to respond. The gigs in England are like a celebration. When we are in England, we let it rip. Where as here, we are preaching to the unconverted. We are trying to put our best foot forward. We are finding it a little bit difficult because we got lazy and a bit spoiled with English audiences. Having said that, we have nothing but totally positive response everywhere. It is hard to gauge. I think we are ten years further down the road in England.
BK: There must be a difference in the size of venue you play as well?
JT: In London, we play to 5,000 people and in New York, we play to 500.
BK: Which do you prefer?
JT: When you play in front of 5,000 people who have paid to see, you start to get frightened about four weeks before. You start thinking about what you can do to make the concert extra special and it never ever lives up to your expectations. Playing in front of 500 people is great. You have a lot of respect for the crowd. I prefer smaller gigs but I like big festivals. There are thousands of people there, but they are not there just for you, it is for lots of people.
BK: You have a song on the soundtrack to Austin Powers. What do you think of that movie?
JT: It made me chuckle, it made me laugh. It started dying in the middle. By in large I liked it, though Elizabeth Hurley was a bit boring. I am big fan of Mike Meyers. The first time I saw Wayne's World, I was knocked out. He is genuinely very talented like Jerry Lewis. He is going to be around for a long time.
BK: Austin Powers was pretty much a spoof on England's biggest hero, James Bond. What is your favorite James Bond movie?
JT: Live and Let Die
BK: That is probably the most Americanized of the James Bonds.
JT: Yeah, that is probably why. Its got all those ghetto scenes. I do not think Roger Moore is the best James Bond. I think Connery is. Live and Let Die was the first one I saw. My mom and dad brought me to see it when I was six.
BK: Not to mention, Jane Seymour is the leading lady.
JT: That is the reason. She is amazing in it.
BK: Everybody is trying to give your style of music a name. How do you describe it?
JT: It is so hard. I usually leave that up to other people. It is jazzy, it is funky. Its got rock in there. Soul. Gospel. All the things that I love. Even bits of hip-hop. It is led by a Hammond B-3 organ. It is all live. It is instrumental. These are the sort of terms that I would use to describe.
BK: Who did you grow up listening to?
JT: All those things. When I was a teenager, I listened to white English rock and roll. Then I discovered this whole world of organists.
BK: How have you progressed since your first album in 1987?
JT: The band has gotten stronger and stronger. Since 1987, we have been through about 40 musicians. By 1990, I found the right guys. More than anything, the band has gotten tougher and tighter. You define your sound a bit more closely as the years go by. You discover your own identity more.
BK: You mentioned the "Americanized" Live and Let Die as your favorite James Bond movie. You also cover the Theme from Starsky and Hutch and you have described your music as being influenced by the American "Blaxploitation" movies of the late 1970s. Being from across the Atlantic, how come you have so many influences in American media?
JT: Well, Starsky and Hutch was the biggest program during the 1970s in the United Kingdom. It was a big deal on Friday evenings. When I was 12 years old, I had a Starsky jumper. American influence is a big thing in Europe. I focus on what I think is America's biggest export - the music. To me, the best music in the world was being made here. I don't listen to that many UK artists.
BK: When did you decide that you first wanted to be a musician?
JT: That was late. I was shaped up and ready to go to university to be an engineer. In fact, I was at university, becoming an engineer. My heart strings pulled to hard and I stayed with the band that I joined at school. I decided that music was the thing that was making me happy. Follow your heart. I starved for four years. My mother and father told me to leave. They gave me a week to get out and I got out.
BK: There are a lot of musicians who claim to be the "father of acid jazz" or the "godfather of acid jazz". Who do you think deserves that moniker?
JT: Roy Ayers comes to mind. So does Donald Byrd. You really have to give it to James Brown because he is the jazz meets funk.
BK: What do you think of the direction that Acid Jazz is heading in now?
JT: I think it has splintered and splintered. You have to look at the bands individually. The Brand New Heavies are playing romantic soul music now. Jamiroquai are setting bucket loads of records with their formulated business. Everyone is going in totally different direction which is brilliant. Which is exactly how it should be.
BK: If you were stuck on a desert island, what would be the three albums that you would bring with you?
JT: Gears by Johnny Hammond, Brandenburg Concerto and Innervisions by Stevie Wonder.
BK: What book would you bring?
JT: The complete works of Shakespeare.
BK: To finish it off, what do you think of the Spice Girls?
JT: Really, really unattractive. When you get up close to those girls, they are rough, really hard women. I think there phenomena all has to do with their manger Simon Fuller. He manages Annie Lennox and Cathy Dennis. For some reason, he knows how to sell records. He is a manic depressive. He is the most depressed person I have ever met but he is just about one of the richest. The Spice Girls will be gone with six months.