A successful musician by the time he was a teenager, Taylor was the first non-British act signed to The Beatles’ Apples Records label at age 20, with hits like “Fire and Rain” and “You’ve Got a Friend” and screaming fans in North America and the U.K. by his early 20s.
You might excuse him if he had taken the Bieber-style view of early fame and let it go to his head — but it appears he hasn’t. On stage at Mile One Centre in St. John’s Friday night, Taylor was chatty and friendly and personable, coming across as just a really nice guy.
With no opening act, he walked out onto the stage alone and unassuming, taking off his cap and giving the audience a deep bow, earning a standing ovation just for being there before even picking up his guitar. Explaining that he’s had a couple days off and calling his time in St. John’s “remarkable” so far, Taylor launched into a medley of “Wandering” and “Secret O’ Life”.
His songs, mainly gentle, sensitive tunes from a simpler time, remain relevant today and his audience of baby boomers were appreciative, standing up to applaud no less than six or seven times through the show.
“This one is about having that special connection to nature, kind of that hippy bullshit from the ‘60s. I love that,” Taylor said before starting “Country Road.”
“Giv’er!” shouted a male voice in the audience.
“Don’t give that man any more Screech. Don’t do it,” Taylor joked back.
Now 68, Taylor is a five-time Grammy winner and a longtime rock ‘n’ roll hall of famer, as well as one of the best-selling artists of all time, selling more than 100 million records. His most recent release is last summer’s “Before This World,” and his voice has remained remarkably unchanged over the years, both on the album and in person Friday night.
Taylor’s passion for his lyrics seemed evident; incredible given the length of time he’s been performing songs like “Sweet Baby James” and the amount of touring he’s been doing lately. He seemed genuinely happy to be on stage, spending most of the two-and-a-half hours he was on stage smiling.
The troubadour was backed by a 10-piece band of stellar singers and musicians, including bassist Jimmy Johnson, two-man horn section Walt Fowler and Lou Marini (of Blues Brothers and Saturday Night Live band fame), percussionist Luis Conte, guitarist Michael Landau, pianist Jim Cox, drummer Steve Gadd, and backup singers Andrea Zonn (who also played fiddle), Kate Markowitz and Arnold McCuller — who earned a standing ovation of his own for an incredible vocal bit during “Shower the People.”
Before starting his homesick ballad, “Carolina in my Mind,” Taylor gave some of the background behind it. 1968 was one of the best years of his life, he said.
“I convinced my parents to buy me a ticket to England. I didn’t intend for it to be a career move, but I took my guitar.”
Taylor told of meeting Peter Asher, a head of The Beatles’ newly-formed Apple Records label, and of having an audience with Paul McCartney and George Harrison.
“I was one nervous puppy,” Taylor said. “I was surrounded by this heavenly host of my idols, and I knew how lucky I was.”
Taylor played a dozen songs before taking a 20-minute intermission but no break: admitting he was only going to use the time to stand behind the curtain and keep an eye on his watch, he instead sat on the edge of the stage, signing autographs and taking selfies with fans. His second set was a little more rock ‘n’ roll than the first, and included a playful blues parody, “Steamroller” (complete with fun background screen graphics), the Caribbean-inspired “Snowtime,” and encores of Eddie Floyd’s “Knock on Wood” and “How Sweet It Is.”
Taylor is playing a second show at Mile One tonight.
“Today Today Today”
“Carolina in my Mind”
“Up On the Roof”
“Fire and Rain”
“Shed a Little Light”
“You’ve Got a Friend”
“Shower the People”
“Angels of Fenway”
“Sweet Baby James”
“Your Smiling Face”
“Knock on Wood”
“How Sweet It Is”
“Wild Mountain Thyme”
email@example.com Twitter: @tara_bradbury