42 years ago today, February 17, 1971, James Taylor made his USA Television debut on the Johnny Cash TV Show.
The song was from the album entitled “Sweet Baby James” that was produced by Peter Asher. The album was recorded between 8 and 17 December 1969 for $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 fellow guitarist and freind Danny Kortchmar.
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. “Sweet Baby James” has been played at virtually every Taylor concert since its release. It is often saved for near or at the end of shows, where it serves as the emotional climax with Taylor performing it as the last encore coming back on stage without his band, or perhaps with just a keyboard player accompanying his guitar.
The Johnny Cash TV music variety show hosted ran on ABC television for 58-episode series from June 7, 1969 to March 31, 1971. It was taped at the famous Ryman Auditorium in Nashville. It was one of the first network television shows to feature many folk, country and rock musicians including Joni Mitchell, Bob Dylan, Linda Ronstadt, Kris Kristofferson, Neil Young and others. It also featured other musicians such as jazz great Louis Armstrong. who died eight months after appearing on the show.
Above you see James performing this song in 1971, below he performs the song more recently in 2007 along with fellow singer/songwriter Carole King (who wrote Taylors’s big hit – You’ve Got A Friend.)