King, Taylor together again

Without James Taylor and Carole King, there would be no Taylor Swift, Jack Johnson or Norah Jones. Or Garth Brooks or Rickie Lee Jones or Tracy Chapman.

Bob Dylan may have invented the job, but it was Taylor and King who established the blueprint for the sensitive singer/songwriter.

With his acoustic guitar, Taylor didn't rock like Dylan, he didn't need a singing partner like Paul Simon, and he didn't leave you scratching your head like Neil Young sometimes did. He was perceptive, soothing and tuneful, but never corny.

King was a piano-playing songwriter from the old school, literally and figuratively. Working in the New York song factory known as the Brill Building, she and her husband, Gerry Goffin, churned out dozens of 1960s teenybopper hits, including Little Eva's "The Loco-motion," the Drifters' "Up on the Roof" and the Monkees' "Pleasant Valley Sunday."

But who knew that Carole King had dreams of being a serious singer/songwriter?

After divorcing Goffin, she moved to Los Angeles and, in 1970, released an album called "Writer." The album went nowhere but it did feature Taylor on backup vocals, and she returned the favor, playing on his "Sweet Baby James" album that year. For a few nights in November, they shared the stage at the Troubadour, a small club that was the hub of the L.A. singer/songwriter scene.

Four months later, King released "Tapestry," a landmark album that established her as one of America's foremost singer/ songwriters, sold 25 million copies worldwide, stayed on Billboard's chart for nearly six years and led to four Grammys, including album and record of the year.

Although they were fast friends and musical soul mates in the 1970s, Taylor and King never toured together — until now. Their three-month North American Troubadour Reunion Tour is under way, with St. Louis and Denver the closest stops to Wichita.

This tour was sparked by a reunion concert in 2007 to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the club where they made their debut together. That event is captured on a new and lovingly nostalgic CD/DVD package, "Live at the Troubadour."

Since their heyday, Taylor, 62, and King, 68, have traveled down different roads. She continued to record albums with limited commercial success, became an environmental activist after moving to Idaho in 1977, wrote songs for others (Celine Dion, Mariah Carey), acted on TV and on Broadway, and performed a few small-room concerts.

Taylor blossomed as an interpretive vocalist and live performer. When he wasn't penning soft-rock hits like "Shower the People" and "Your Smiling Face," he was turning rock and R&B oldies ("How Sweet It Is," "Handy Man") into lite-soul radio favorites. Not only is he a best-selling recording star, but he's an inveterate, crowd-pleasing road warrior who fills arenas and amphitheaters year after year.