James Taylor needs no real introduction. One of the greatest singer-songwriters of all time, whether it be ‘Carolina in My Mind’, ‘Fire and Rain’ or otherwise, he’s produced many stellar moments that retain a timeless quality. He’s had a career quite like no other, and he even featured on two of the most iconic cuts on Neil Young’s 1972 masterpiece Harvest, ‘Old Man’ and ‘Heart of Gold’.
However, apart from being a genius songwriter and one of the entertainment world’s ultimate lotharios, Taylor is also renowned for another reason, his connection to The Beatles.
Famously, Taylor was the inspiration for one of The Beatles’ best ballads, ‘Something’. Taylor’s 1968 self-titled debut album was released through The Beatles’ Apple Records, which was a momentous achievement, as he was the first outside artist signed to their label.
What a lot of people don’t know is that to get the deal, the 20-year-old Taylor had to audition just with his guitar in front of George Harrison and Paul McCartney. Unsurprisingly, the audition was a success, and Harrison and McCartney both went on to play on his debut LP, which was recorded at Trident Studios in London, the same place where The Beatles recorded a significant part of The White Album.
In a 2021 interview with Guitar World, Taylor looked back on that life-changing experience. Asked what it was like as a young and unknown artist auditioning in front of George and Paul, he responded: “It was just otherworldly, because I was a huge Beatles fan. And they were at the very height of their powers. They just kept going, kept growing. So, to be in London, the first person signed to their label in 1968, was really like catching the big wave. It was unbelievable.”
Looking back on that day, he recalled: “I had been in the Flying Machine, a New York band with Danny Kortchmar, and when that crashed and burned, I just decided to go to London. I arrived with my guitar and some songs and no plan at all, beyond trying to get some work in clubs and travel around Europe and see what I could see. I’d met some friends who were very encouraging about my music and got me into a little demo studio I found in the phone book.”
Explaining how the meeting came to fruition, Taylor said: “Danny knew Peter Asher, who had a new gig signing acts to Apple and I asked if he thought Peter might be interested in my stuff. And it turned out that it was just the right time. I had some kind of competence and the arrogance of youth when auditioning for George Harrison and Paul McCartney, without which nobody would ever do anything, because you’d hedge your bets”.
“Peter and his wife really heard something in my music. And he took me to Apple, where I played for George and Paul. And they said to Peter, you know, if you want to record this guy, sign him to the label. It was that simple”, the American songwriter concluded.
The focus then switched to how confident Taylor was in what he was presenting and the quality of his songwriting.
“What a great question! No one ever asks that. I had some kind of competence and the arrogance of youth, without which nobody would ever do anything, because you’d hedge your bets”, he said. “There’s a stage in our development where you’re allowed to do impossible things, which is why the military looks to people about that age. You can talk people into doing things that if you were asked when you were 35, you’d say, ‘No thanks, I’ll pass on that.'”
The uber-confident songwriter concluded: “I also knew that it was somehow good. It worked for me, and I was a music connoisseur. I thought, ‘This stuff could go somewhere. I want somebody to hear this.’ I’ve had that feeling a few times, at different points in my life.”
Listen to ‘Carolina in My Mind’ below.