Artist: James Taylor
Genre: Folk, Folk-Rock
Title: Sweet Baby James
Label: Warner Bros
Musicians:James Taylor – guitar, vocals, Chris Darrow – fiddle, violin. Carole King – piano, vocals, Danny Kortchmar – guitar, Russ Kunkel – drums, John London – bass, Randy Meisner – bass, Red Rhodes – steel guitar, Bobby West – double bass
The horn players are uncredited.
Producer: Peter Asher
Engineer: Bill Lazerus
Mastering Engineer: Darrell Johnson
Sweet Baby James is the second album by American singer-songwriter James Taylor, and his first release on Warner Bros. Records.
From Wikipedia: “The album, produced by Peter Asher, was recorded at Sunset Sound, Los Angeles, between 8 and 17 December 1969 at a cost of only $7,600 out of a budget of $20,000. Taylor was “essentially homeless” at the time the album was recorded, either staying in Asher’s home or crashing on a couch at the house of guitarist Danny Kortchmar or anyone else who would have him.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Sweet_Baby_James
The copy I have happens to be the green label version which in the Warner Bros hierarchy of the time was and is considered the better pressings. My copy also came with the original fold-out lyric sheet as well. That’s called pure luck folks. I bought the record used of course and did not realize that it still had what would normally be long gone until I went to listen and review this LP. Got to love it when that happens for it happens very seldom.
1. “Sweet Baby James” – I always have thought the song was about, or additionally about, Taylor himself — a “self lullaby” being a reasonable interpretation given the name and “singing works just fine for me” lyric — and so Taylor is often referred to in the press by the nickname “Sweet Baby James”. However, according to Wikipedia: The song was written by Taylor for the son of his older brother Alex, who was also named James (and indeed was named after him). Deliberately a cross between a cowboy song and a lullaby, it was first thought up by Taylor as he was driving through Carolina to meet his infant nephew for the first time.
2. “Lo and Behold” – This is a gospel style song because it is a gospel song and while I am not a fan of gospel, this song is quite good. It was not written by James Taylor, but written by Jack Christopher Allsopp and Andrew Wyatt.
3. “Sunny Skies” – Taylor wrote “Sunny Skies” during his treatment at the Austen Riggs Center. The melody is cheerful, which is ironic given the lyrics. Taylor accompanies himself on acoustic guitar. The title “Sunny Skies” actually does not refer to the condition of the sky, but to the title character of the song. The title character of the song “sleeps in the morning,” “weeps in the evening,” “doesn’t know when to rise” and has no friends. The last verse of the song links the title character to the singer, who sings that he looks out his own window to see snow and trees, and wonders if he should let the world pass him by, just like the title character. The singer, just like Taylor himself at the time, wonders if his accomplishments were worth the suffering he went through to achieve them. Perrone also notes that, like the title character, Taylor had gone through a period where he was too depressed to get up in the morning.
4. “Steamroller Blues” – “Steamroller Blues” (a.k.a. “Steamroller”), is a blues parody written by James Taylor, that appeared on his 1970 album Sweet Baby James. It was intended to “mock” the inauthentic blues bands of the day. The song later appeared on two of Taylor’s compilation albums and has been recorded by a variety of other artists. Taylor and Danny Kortchmar, both playing electric guitars, laid down the track in one night at Sunset Studios, the rhythm section being added later. A tight budget and production schedule forced Taylor to record the song despite suffering from a head cold.
The song was included on Taylor’s diamond-selling Greatest Hits 1976 compilation using a live version recorded in August 1975 at the Universal Amphitheatre in Los Angeles, which in my opinion is one of the best versions.
5. “Country Road” – The song references Somerset Street in Belmont, Massachusetts, a wooded road running adjacent to the land owned by McLean Hospital, where Taylor had committed himself in 1965 to receive treatment for depression. According to Taylor’s friend Danny Kortchmar, “Country Road” captures the restless, anticipatory, vaguely hopeful feeling that plays a large part on James’ character. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Country_Road_(song)
6. “Oh, Susanna” (Stephen Foster) – This is a good version of this traditional song, but the best version in my opinion, is Neil Young’s rendition, it’s crazy.
1. “Fire and Rain” – “Fire and Rain” is a folk rock song written and performed by James Taylor. The song follows Taylor’s reaction to the suicide of Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend, and his experiences with drug addiction and fame. Taylor said the song was about several incidents during his early recording career. The second line “Suzanne the plans they made put an end to you” refers to Suzanne Schnerr, a childhood friend of his who committed suicide while he was in London, England, recording his first album. In that same account, Taylor said he had been in a deep depression after the failure of his new band The Flying Machine to coalesce (the lyric “Sweet dreams and Flying Machines in pieces on the ground”; the reference is to the name of the band rather than a fatal plane crash, as was long rumored).
In 2005, during an interview on NPR, Taylor explained to host Scott Simon that the song was written in three parts: The first part was about Taylor’s friend Suzanne, who died while Taylor was in London working on his first album after being signed to Apple Records. Friends at home, concerned that it might distract Taylor from his big break, kept the tragic news from him and he found out six months later.
The second part details Taylor’s struggle to overcome drug addiction and depression.
The third part deals with coming to grips with fame and fortune, looking back at the road that got him there. It includes a reference to James Taylor and The Flying Machine, a band he briefly worked with before his big break with Paul McCartney, Peter Asher, and Apple Records.
Carole King played piano on the song. Drummer Russ Kunkel used brushes rather than sticks on his drum kit and Bobby West played double bass in place of a bass guitar to “underscore the melancholy on the song”.
King has stated that her song “You’ve Got a Friend,” that Taylor recorded, was a response to the line in the refrain that “I’ve seen lonely times when I could not find a friend.”https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Fire_and_Rain_(song)
3. “Anywhere Like Heaven” – To me this song is about his home town and how connected he feels to it. It’s almost like a sanctuary to him. He probably wrote this on some tour or something as the song seems to be about him missing home while on the road.
4. “Oh Baby, Don’t You Loose Your Lip on Me”
5. “Suite for 20 G” – The song “Suite for 20 G” was so named because Taylor was promised $20,000 (US$130,617 in 2017 dollars) once the album was delivered. With one more song needed, he strung together three unfinished songs into a “suite”, and completed the album.