The best thing about attending a James Taylor concert, as the artist proved when he last visited Wichita in May 2011, is listening to his silky voice and hearing his iconic hits, including “Carolina in My Mind” and “Fire and Rain.”
The second best thing about attending a James Taylor concert, though, is listening to the charming, personable 66-year-old music legend tell stories about his life and career and explain the meanings behind some of his best-loved songs.
Taylor told several of those stories during his last Intrust Bank Arena concert and also in countless interviews conducted during his almost 50-year career. The following are a few stories behind Taylor’s songs:
‘Something in the Way She Moves’
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Taylor frequently opens his shows with this song, which was included on his debut album, 1968’s “James Taylor.”
The album was released by the Beatles’ record label, Apple Records, and at the time, it was the only album by a non-British artist they’d released. It’s been said that the opening line to the song, “Something in the way she moves, or looks my way, or calls my name that seems to leave this troubled world behind,” inspired George Harrison to write the Beatles’ hit song “Something” from “Abbey Road.”
“That was my big break,” Taylor said during his 2011 show at Intrust Bank Arena.
“And I feel fine anytime she’s around me now, she’s around me now almost about all the time.
And if I’m well you can tell she’s been with me now.
She’s been with me now quite a long, long time and I feel fine.”
‘Carolina in My Mind’
This hit also is from Taylor’s debut album.
During his 2011 concert, Taylor, who grew up in Chapel Hill, N.C., talked about writing the song while on vacation in Ibiza, Spain, with friends in the late 1960s.
While visiting, he said, he grew homesick for the state where he was raised.
“In my mind I’m going to Carolina. Can’t you see the sunshine? Can’t you just feel the moonshine?
Ain’t it just like a friend of mine to hit me from behind? Yes, I’m goin’ to Carolina in my mind.”
‘Jump Up Behind Me’
During his 2011 show, Taylor told a long and moving story about the inspiration for his song “Jump Up Behind Me,” which appeared on his 1997 album “Hourglass.”
In the late 1960s, Taylor was a young man living in New York City, and his band The Flying Machine had just fallen apart. Things weren’t going well, especially financially. He wasn’t eating much, and the apartment where he lived was barely inhabitable.
His father, Isaac, came and rescued him, driving him back to North Carolina.
“He showed up in a rented station wagon and moved me the hell out of there,” Taylor said before he performed the song. “I wrote this song about it.”
“Jump up behind me, my love, jump up behind me.
Old Dan can bear us both, jump up behind me.
We follow this road till we reach the sea, jump up behind me.
We’ll catch the tide and set Dan free, jump up behind me.”
‘Sweet Baby James’
Taylor almost always performs “Sweet Baby James,” one of his most popular songs, at his shows.
The cowboy lullaby is from his 1970 album “Sweet Baby James,” and during his 2011 show, he said he wrote it about the oldest son of his older brother, Alex, who was named after him. He came up with the lyrics while driving to Richmond, Va., to see the boy.
“Goodnight you moon light ladies, rock-a-bye sweet baby James.
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, won’t you let me go down in my dreams?
And rock-a-bye sweet baby James.”
‘Enough To Be on Your Way’
This song from 1997’s “Hourglass” also has to do with Taylor’s brother, Alex – but in a much more tragic way.
Taylor has said in interviews that he wrote it after his brother, also a musician, died of alcoholism in 1993, on James Taylor’s birthday.
His family was in Florida for a service, and Alex was cremated. The day after the family flew home, a powerful hurricane hit the Carolinas. (Taylor later changed the name in the song from Alex to Alice and the location to Santa Fe.)
“They brought her back on a Friday night, same day I was born.
We sent her up the smokestack, yes, and back into the storm.
She blew up over the San Juan Mountains, she spent herself at last.
The threat of heavy weather, that was what she knew best.”