Six-time Grammy Award winner James Taylor has a voice unlike any other and lends additional depth to songs where he’s a guest.
There’s nothing like a Saturday night with his charming vocals accompanied by his skilled guitar work. Such an easy treat for the ears.
Taylor’s guest appearances embellish other artists’ songs too. From country to folk and blues, we’re reviewing seven memorable collaborations.
Let’s take a look!
The Story of James Taylor
Born in 1948, James Taylor is an American singer-songwriter and guitarist. He’s a six-time Grammy Award winner and a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. You probably know him best for some of his hit songs, like You’ve Got a Friend and Shower the People.
Taylor’s mother was once a trained, aspiring opera singer. Her five children, including James, were musically inclined. James began his training on the cello before learning the guitar. He wrote his first song on guitar at age 14.
Ups and downs with drug addiction, depression, and very public failed marriages interlace James Taylor’s musical career. Despite it all, his innate talent and mastery of music continued to shine through in his numerous awards and recognitions. One of the best-selling music artists of all time, he has sold more than one hundred million records worldwide.
Taylor has a unique lyrical quality to his voice that’s easy to identify. He mainly sings folk, blues, and soft rock. His versatility makes him a compliment to many genres. Other musicians often seek out Taylor to join them as a guest.
Here are seven of our favorite guest appearances.
#1 Bartender’s Blues with George Jones
About the Song: Taylor wrote Bartender’s Blues as an early attempt on his part to write outside his usual genre, stepping into country music. He took a different slant with the lyrics than the typical country songs of the day. The unhappy bartender gets to tell the story instead of a lamenting customer.
George Jones sang the song with Taylor in the background for his album titled by the same name. When you listen, it’s a nice blend of Jones’ country and Taylor’s soft rock.
We enjoy the chorus of the song. The “honky-tonk angel” gets it right.
But I need four walls around me to hold my life To keep me from going astray And a honky-tonk angel to hold me tight To keep me from slipping away
First Appearance: Taylor first released the song on his 1977 album JT. It was on the B-side of the lead single, Handy Man. If you listen closely, you’ll recognize Linda Ronstadt on background vocals.
#2 California with Joni Mitchell
About the Song: Joni Mitchell wrote the song California when she lived in Paris. She longed to be back in the U.S. The song is like a travelogue narrative. The lyrics tell of trips to different European countries, each ending with her desire to return to California.
James Taylor was the guest guitarist in the song. Knowing this, we can really hear his style as he picks and strums.
We know just how Joni feels with her high-octave lament.
Oh, California, I'm coming home Oh, make me feel good rock 'n roll band I'm your biggest fan California, I'm coming home
First Appearance: California first appeared on Mitchell’s 1971 album Blue. She released it as a second single from the album.
#3 Don’t Try So Hard with Amy Grant
About the Song: Ben Glover wrote Don’t Try So Hard with Amy Grant. The faith-based ballad features harmony guest vocals with James Taylor. Grant invited Taylor to collaborate, and he worked on the song from home.
“I’ve loved his voice forever,” Grant told Billboard magazine.
The voices complement each other flawlessly. Taylor’s smooth folk sound blends easily into Grant’s deeper register.
There’s a musical refrain that Amy sings. It’s something we all need to remind ourselves of sometimes.
Don't try so hard Don't try so hard
First Appearance: Grant released Don’t Try So Hard with her 2013 album How Mercy Looks From Here. It was the first single released.
#4 Hard Times Come Again No More with Yo-Yo Ma
About the Song: Stephen C. Foster originally wrote the popular folk song Hard Times Come Again No More in 1854. It was a favorite in both America and Europe at the time. The song is relatable even today, striking a balance between celebrating good fortune and sympathy for those who are impoverished.
Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, and Mark O’Connor released the classical/chamber folk album Appalachian Journey in 2000. They brought in James Taylor to sing lead vocals with guitar on Benjamin and Hard Times Come Again No More.
It’s an unexpected accompaniment that poignantly makes sense. What’s old is new again in this incredibly beautiful rendition.
There’s a song that’ll linger forever in our ears Oh, hard times come again no more
First Appearance: The first audio recording of this folk classic was a 1905 wax cylinder by the Edison Company. It’s now in the public domain and recorded by various artists such as Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, and Mary J. Blige.
#5 It’s Gonna Work Out Fine with Linda Ronstadt
About the Song: Linda Ronstadt released her eleventh studio album, Get Closer, in 1982. It’s Gonna Work Out Fine is the seventh track with James Taylor as guest vocalist. Rose Marie McCoy and Joe Seneca (Sylvia McKinney) wrote the song.
The lyrics are a bit of a tease as a couple flirts back and forth about their love. Ronstadt and Taylor play off each other in a sexy way.
James’ ability to get into the upper registers works well as Ronstadt controls her explosive vibrato. Together, their voices cross country with a bit of soft rock. So fun.
Your lips set my soul on fire You could be my one desire Oh darling (yes yes) I think it's gonna work out fine (It's gonna work out fine)
First Appearance: The R&B duo Ike and Tina Turner first released the single in 1961 from their 1962 album Dynamite! It was their first Grammy-nominated song.
#6 Mockingbird with Carly Simon
About the Song: Mockingbird is a 1963 song written by Inez and Charlie Foxx. It’s based on the old childhood lullaby, Hush Little Baby.
Singer-songwriters Carly Simon and James Taylor recorded Mockingbird in 1973. It was the lead single from Simon’s fourth studio album, Hotcakes (1974), and an instant hit. The fresh approach was natural for the husband-wife duo, who married in 1972.
Taylor came up with the idea to remake the song after remembering the Foxx’s performance at the Apollo Theatre. He and his sister sang the song together as teenagers.
Simon and Taylor take turns leading the verses and chorus, but Simon’s vocals outshine Taylor’s, who sounds like he’s always in the background. There’s a fantastic break with Bobby Keys on the sax.
And if that mockingbird don't sing He's gonna buy me a diamond ring
First Appearance: Inez and her brother, Charlie Foxx, initially recorded the Mockingbird single in 1963. It was a great success and rose to number two on the U.S. Top Black Singles / Rhythm & Blues chart and number seven on the U.S. popular music singles chart.
#7 The Thanksgiving Song with Garth Brooks & Trisha Yearwood
About the Song: The Thanksgiving Song is the last track on Garth Brooks and Trisha Yearwood’s 2016 album Christmas Together. This was their first joint album, and it featured covers of classic holiday songs. They invited James Taylor to join them on guitar and as a guest singer.
The Thanksgiving Song has subtle spiritual references. A peaceful, emotional song that’s a lovely blending of the three voices, no single personality outshines the other.
The trio and Taylor’s wife Kim sang the song at the 2016 White House Christmas Tree Lighting. The message of hope really resonates today.
Yes, I'm thankful for the Lord above The gift of His unending love The promise kept that there is something more These are the things I'm thankful for
First Appearance: What I’m Thankful For first appeared in 2016. Brooks and Yearwood wrote the original track.
James Taylor Is Still Keeping Us All Chill
James Taylor is still around and happily settled with his third wife, Kim. His versatile, smooth style enriches many songs and complements artists of all genres. Easy listening is the best way we can describe him. Kick back with a glass of wine and chill or sing along.
What’s your favorite James Taylor song? Let us know in the comments!