Livingston Taylor (born November 21, 1950) is an American singer-songwriter and folk musician. Born in Boston, Massachusetts, and raised in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, he is the brother of singer-songwriter James Taylor, singer-songwriter Kate Taylor, musician Alex Taylor (d. 1993), and innkeeper and singer Hugh Taylor. With a career reaching the fifty-year mark in 2017, Taylor is most notable for his Billboard hits “I Will Be In Love With You”, “First Time Love”, and “I’ll Come Running”. He continues to perform over 76 shows a year, nationally and internationally, having shared the stage with performers such as Linda Ronstadt, Jimmy Buffett, and Jethro Tull. In addition, he has been a faculty member at Berklee College of Music since 1989.
At an early age Taylor had a repertoire of folk songs. "From his high chair in the kitchen, little Liv memorised the radio jingle for snuff, chanting 'If your snuff's too string, it wrong. Get Tuberose.'" His mother, Trudy, recounted that Taylor "was always inventing things". "He and James would make a stringed instrument out of a gourd, or a gut-bucket bass from a broom pole and a washtub, or a flute out of a garden hose, or drums out of cans." Family sing-a-longs took place as a way for Trudy to pass the time while her husband was away. During those early family musical performances, James played cello, Alex played violin, Kate dulcimer, and Livingston banjo. As recounted by James, "We sang African songs, union songs, folk hymns and radio jingles. Leadbelly, Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie and The Weavers were the records we most listened to. It was their mother, Trudy, who was the catalyst for the children to create their own songs. One day while in the kitchen, she held up a can of vegetables saying: "Why don't you invent an ad jingle about this can of food?" "Alex, James, and Livingston took up their banjo, cello and harmonica and began to improvise some musical sloganeering as Kate and Trudy joined in." These impromptu performances were christened the "kitchen concerts" by Trudy. They would continue until the children were old enough to leave home for their secondary education at boarding schools.
As a child, according to his mother, Taylor would fill baskets in his room with rocks he had collected.
When Livingston was eight, his mother took him and his siblings to Europe, crossing the Atlantic on the New Amsterdam. Their father, Ike, met them in Europe and they all returned home on the Ile De France. During part of that trip, however, Livingston and his younger brother Hugh were placed in a youth hostel in Switzerland while his parents and older siblings enjoyed a two-week trip to Italy. Livingston said he hated it there and prayed every night that his parents would return and rescue him and Hugh. At around the same age, Livingston was developing into a "literate personality" as evidenced by a letter he wrote to his father who was away from home at the time. Ike wrote back to his son saying: "I can hardly believe that you can write."
Taylor credits his eldest brother, Alex, for inspiring him, at age 13, to be a musician after Alex returned home one evening having earned $20 performing at a fraternity party. Livingston picked up the guitar and became quite accomplished by age 17.
The Taylor family started vacationing on Martha's Vineyard in the early 1950s and Livingston has spent every summer there. His parents bought a home there in 1963, and in 1977 Livingston purchased his own 300-square foot home on the Vineyard for $111,000. He refers to the small home - that sits near a freshwater pond - as "The Camp".
Taylor began playing music in public for pay in 1963. In Chapel Hill, he was part of a folk trio with guitarist Paul Collins and singer Kim Packer. They covered hits by The Kingston Trio and Peter, Paul and Mary. In junior high he was in a rock group for a short period of time. His first serious attempt at songwriting came in 1966 while he was completing his secondary school education at McLean's Arlington School. He says that that first song - "I'm Searching for a Miracle" - was "terrible", but his second attempt - a song titled "Good Friends" - became part of his folk setlist for the next four decades.
In 1968, Manny Greenhill, who had managed Joan Baez for a time, got him a booking at a YMCA in Worcester, which led to some shows at Boston University. It was during one of those shows at BU that he had the opportunity to open for Joni Mitchell. He recounts that evening: "In 1969, I was on the bill for a Joni Mitchell show at Boston University in front of 3,000 people,” Taylor says. “There was an opening act, then it was my turn to go on and the audience was very disappointed as they wanted to see Joni. But it turned out well. After my set they gave me an encore and I was received fairly well. That’s when I really knew my music worked. It was enough validation for me to pursue my dreams." He compared the show with Mitchell to building a car then driving it for the first time. “I built something to carry me, and it did carry me. But I had to refine it along the way."
Around this time Landau suggested to Taylor that he approach the Macon, Georgia-based Capricorn Records founded by Phil Walden and Jerry Wexler.
Taylor was one of the first artists to sign with Capricorn Records in 1970. Landau gathered session players Pete Carr (guitar), Paul Hornsby (keyboards), Robert Popwell (bass) and Johnny Sandlin (drums). "We made a lot of the album in Macon, and then we came up to Boston to finish off a few vocals...and then we mixed it in Detroit because Jon was recording an album with a group called MC5." Taylor's debut album, Livingston Taylor, was produced by Landau (who would later produce Bruce Springsteen) and included the song "Carolina Day". "Carolina Day" - which includes references to his sister, Kate, and brother, James - peaked at #93 on the Billboard Top-100 chart. The debut album included ten originals written by Taylor and one cover: "Six Days on the Road" penned by Earl Greene and Carl Montgomery. In his review for AllMusic, Joe Viglione wrote: "The seeds of future work are here, and Livingston Taylor is a nice start to the singer's interesting career".
By 1970 Taylor's parents, Ike and Trudy, were legally separated. Several of the Taylor children moved north from North Carolina. Livingston and his then-girlfriend Margaret "Maggie" Shea moved into a cottage in Weston, Massachusetts.
The following year, Taylor's second album, Liv, also on Capricorn Records and produced by Landau, was released. It included the song "Get Out of Bed" which peaked at #97 on Billboard. Once again, Joe Viglione penned the AllMusic review, stating that "Get Out of Bed" "is a brilliant and exciting slice of pop music" and that "with the understated production of Jon Landau, Livingston's beautiful heartfelt vocals make this an extraordinary work of art."
Taylor's third and final album on Capricorn, Over the Rainbow was released in 1973 and features guest vocalists James Taylor and Carly Simon on his original "Be My New Horizon". In her album review, Denise Sullivan wrote that the title track was "an inspired vocal version" of a song that has been interpreted by many others.
Taylor left Capricorn Records and released the first of two albums on Epic Records, Three Way Mirror, in 1978. The album featured "I Will Be In Love With You," which peaked at #30 on Billboard, and "Going Round One More Time," a song that was later recorded by his brother James Taylor for his 1985 album That's Why I'm Here. Livingston Taylor promoted Three Way Mirror when he toured with Linda Ronstadt as her opening act.
In 1979, Capricorn Records released Echoes, a collection of songs from Taylor's first three albums that included "I Will Be In Love With You." In Christgau's Record Guide: Rock Albums of the Seventies (1981), Robert Christgau appraised the compilation and Taylor's career up to that point: "Vocally, Liv is almost James's twin but not quite—he adds a touch of depth to the lissome drawl and subtracts all wow and flutter. Since what makes James unique is also what makes him repulsive, I find Liv more likable but less interesting—especially given his songwriting, which this best-of, drawn from his three early '70s LPs, makes the best of. I ask you, what good is a funny voice without a sense of humor?"
During the 1970s, Taylor appeared on several nationally televised variety shows including The Midnight Special, Dinah!, (hosted by Dinah Shore), The Mike Douglas Show and American Bandstand.
In 1980 Taylor released his second album on the Epic label, Man's Best Friend, which was produced by John Boylan and Jeff Baxter. The album contained the songs: "First Time Love," and "Pajamas" (sometimes known as "I've Got My Pajamas On"), which was later adapted into a book for children written by Taylor and his wife, Maggie. In his album review, Joe Viglione wrote that "Man's Best Friend boasts superb musicianship, high production values, good song selection, beautiful vocal performances from Livingston Taylor, and an impressive cast of guest stars who do not get in the way of the singer/songwriter". Guest vocalists included Carla Thomas and Don Henley.
In 1982, Taylor made an appearance on Late Night with David Letterman.
In 1984, Taylor hosted a nationally syndicated television show, similar to American Bandstand called This Week's Music. In some markets the show aired 5 days weekly. Musical guests included Paul McCartney and Jon Bon Jovi.
In 1988, Taylor's first of two children's books, Pajamas, co-written with his wife, Maggie Taylor was published by Harcourt (publisher). In her review for School Library Journal, Patricia Dooley wrote "If we knew the tune we could hum along: the lyrics of a children's song make up the text of this bedtime book. She goes on to say that the illustrator "Bowers has provided cuddly-looking acrylics, a smug little kid, and a passle of appealing stuffed animals."
Taylor's one album on the Sony Records label, Life Is Good, was produced by Artie Traum and Scott Petito and released in 1988. "The tribute to Louis Armstrong is an essential element of Taylor's ability to put together albums that are extraordinary in their perfection." The following year the album was the winner of the 1989 Boston Music Award for Outstanding Folk Album.
In 1989, he began teaching the class stage performance at the Berklee College of Music in Boston. (See additional details in Berklee section below.)
On November 21, 1989 - his 39th birthday - Taylor made a decision to give up alcohol and pursue a lifelong dream of flying. As a gift to himself, he bought an airplane and enrolled in aviation classes.
Taylor worked with Traum and Petito again on the 1991 release Our Turn to Dance. In his album review, Jim Worbois wrote: "A talented songwriter in his own right (and most of the album is written or co-written by him) he's a good judge of other people's songs. Two fine examples are 'No Easy Way to Break Somebody's Heart' by Barry Mann (Yup, the 'Who Put the Bomp' guy) and the Jerome Kern classic 'The Way You Look Tonight.'"
Good Friends, on the Chesky label, was released in 1993.
The second of Taylor's children's books, Can I Be Good? was published by Harcourt (publisher) in 1993. In her review for School Library Journal, Kate McClelland wrote that the book is "a rhyming story about a fully grown, high-spirited golden retriever who has trouble behaving." She goes on to say that illustrator Ted Rand "has caught this fractious dog's every mood-playfulness, boredom, shame, and remorse" and that the book is "unlikely to be a shelf-sitter." Publishers Weekly also reviewed Can I Be Good?. Diane Roback and Elizabeth Devereaux wrote: "Children will see themselves in the gleeful activities of a golden retriever who finds that it's awfully hard to be good." They go on to say that "Taylor's rhyming prose snaps along merrily, upbeat in tempo yet tinged with wry melancholy that reflects the naughty dog's exasperation."
An album of live concert recordings, Unsolicited Material, again on the Chesky label, was released in 1994. The album "captured the warm-hearted fun of Taylor's concerts and ranged from humorous tunes including Andy Breckman's "Railroad Bill" and "The Dollar Bill Song," a medley of "Songs That Should Never Be Played on the Banjo," and the originals "Jacques Cousteau" and "I Hate Country Music" to heartfelt renditions of Hoagy Carmichael's "Heart and Soul" and Earl Scruggs' "Earl's Breakdown."
For his 1996 Chesky label release Bicycle, Taylor "assembled a diverse backing group (which features his brother James) and dug into a set of songs that were rootiser and more eclectic than much of his previous work". "Boatman" a song on the Bicycle album was later recorded by his brother James in 1997.
Ink, a collection of R&B cover songs, was released on the Chesky label in 1997. "Songs made famous by Ray Charles, The Jackson Five, and Stevie Wonder are re-imagined via the gentle, genial imagination of Livingston Taylor."
In 1998, an eighteen track retrospective of the first decade of Taylor's career, Carolina Day: The Livingston Taylor Collection was released. In 1999 a second live album Snapshot: Live at the Iron Horse was released. It included "My Father's Eyes" - a tribute to his father - which he had sung at his father's memorial in 1996.
After eleven years teaching at Berklee, Livingston wrote a textbook Stage Performance which was published by Pocket Books in 2000. "We acquired this book because we didn't feel the marketplace had a strong enough book on creating and maintaining a significant stage presence," says Tracy Sherrod, senior editor at Pocket Books. "Livingston Taylor is a true professional in this area, and we believe he has a lot to offer beginning performers and others in the business who want to take their careers to the next level." Stage Performance was Taylor's first book written for adults, having published two books for children earlier in his career. "Stage Performance is packed with information, ranging from practical discussion of contracts, production, and booking to such subjects as handling hecklers, performing under the influence, and dealing with bad reviews." A revised edition of the book was published in 2011.
In the spring of 2001, as his new home on Martha's Vineyard was completed, he separated from his wife Maggie after 25 years of marriage.
From 2000 through September 2006, Taylor was artist-in-residence at Harvard University's Lowell House, "participating in House life and meeting with music students to listen, teach, and advise them on what it is to be involved in the creative arts."
A second retrospective was released in 2005 with 20th Century Masters - The Millennium Collection: The Best of Livingston Taylor.
In 2006 Taylor released his first studio album in nine years, There You Are Again. In his review, Hal Horowitz wrote: "The extended wait between albums has paid off in the immaculate production devoted to each song." Musicians include drummer Steve Gadd, keyboardist Matt Rollings, saxist David Sanborn, and bass player Leland Sklar. Taylor's brother, James, and sister, Kate, provide backup vocals on "There I'll Be". Additional backup vocals are provided by Vince Gill and Pam Tillis while former sister-in-law Carly Simon sings a duet with Taylor on "Best of Friends". Spiritual overtones are evident on two tracks: Andraé Crouch conducts the New Day Jubilee Gospel Choir on "Step by Step" and the a cappela choir Take 6 helps out on "Tell Jesus (To Come to My House)." In an interview with Christianity Today, Taylor was asked what his inspiration was for the song "Step by Step". Taylor responded: "I was lecturing high school students, which couldn't have been further away from the world where I came from. I was racking my brain as to how to get through to them and looked throughout the room to find a group of white students and then a core of African-American students all sitting together. I started talking about music as if they were ready to be in the music business. I told them before they got rich and famous, they'd have to be creative and take one step at a time towards it. I asked them, "Are you ready to take it step by step?" So with that desire to find a way to communicate across the broad gulf of age and culture, I created the song's main character - someone who loved getting in and out of trouble."
In 2010 Taylor released Last Alaska Moon, produced by Glenn Rosenstein. Musicians include bassist Leland Sklar; drummer Steve Gadd; guitarists Vince Gill, Chris Rodriguez, and J.T. Corenflos; keyboardist Shane Keister, and vocalist Andrea Zonn. The album consists of ten originals plus two covers: “Answer My Prayer” with Carole Bayer Sager and Michael Jackson's “The Girl Is Mine” - a duet with nephew Ben Taylor. In his review, Thom Jurek wrote: " Zonn’s vocal contributions to these tracks -- she is on the vast majority of them -- cannot be understated." He went on to say: "Fans of Taylor will no doubt deeply enjoy this carefully crafted and artistically wrought collection."
Four years later, Taylor released Blue Sky, a collection of both original songs and covers of some pop classics. One reviewer wrote: "He's had several moments of his brilliance over the years but the new album Blue Sky is really the standard bearer, the benchmark for his career" and "Track after track amazes". In particular, the reviewer commented on Taylor's cover of Laura Nyro's "Sweet Blindness" saying: "He does the song in a way I wouldn't expect and I'm not sure another voice could pull it off. But what's already a classic of American song becomes a definitive Livingston Taylor song in the process." Other cover songs include Steven Bishop's "On and On", and John Lennon and Paul McCartney's "Paperback Writer". In regards to the latter, the reviewer wrote: "Livingston makes the words and the story come alive in a way they haven't for me in years."
The year 2017 marks Taylor's 50th year in the music business. To commemorate this milestone, Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker declared January 18, 2017 to be Livingston Taylor Day in Boston. Taylor was recognized for his 50-year music career, as well as being a long-time professor at Berklee College of Music. That evening a party held at the Vorb Hotel in Boston was attended by friends and family including Taylor's sister, Kate, niece Sally Taylor, along with Sally's mother, long-time friend, Carly Simon, Don Law, and Norman Chesky.
Two days later, Taylor announced the forthcoming release of Safe Home which was officially released on March 3, 2017. The album was recorded in an abandoned church in Brooklyn, New York with musicians Shelly Berg on piano, David Finck on bass, Bashiri Johnson on percussion and Chelsea Berry providing vocals. Like Taylor's previous album Blue Sky, Safe Home includes original songs as well as show tunes by Rodgers and Hammerstein and others. In his review of the album, Jason Warburg wrote: "That’s what the aptly-named Safe Home feels like: an impromptu after-dinner living room concert with Livingston Taylor and friends. Taylor’s voice has that rich, unique timbre of New England-by-way-of-North-Carolina that he and his brother James have made famous, lending both his vocals and his superb acoustic guitar picking a sense of instant familiarity and comfort." Cover songs include Paul McCartney's "Penny Lane", Irving Berlin's "Anything You Can Do" and the Everly Brothers "Bye Bye Love". Warburg wrote that the opening song, “I Must Be Doing Something Right”, a Taylor original, "has the timeless feel of a Cole Porter tune". In his review, Harris Fogel wrote:"this is a lovely collection of tunes, smooth, gentle, and relaxing. This is quiet, confident yet not showy musicianship. The guitar solos, the bass lines, vocals and percussion all work together to create a quiet intimate experience. Highly recommended for the Gentle and Loving People in Your Life."
On April 4, 2017 Taylor announced a crowdfunding campaign to help finish a documentary about his life directed by Tracey Anarella to be released in the fall, 2017. Peter Fish, co-executive producer of the documentary, provided this description on the campaign website: "One part Mark Twain, one part WC Fields, one part musical icon - an icon who is a large part of America's first music family, one part iconoclastic and beloved professor giving back to the music that nurtured him, and most importantly, a man whose life is testament to the concept that 'Life IS Good'. An airplane-flying, motorbike-riding, singing-guitar/piano-man, dead set on enriching the world he inhabits. Liv represents a unique type of modern guide as to how one's life could be a very good life by being inquisitive, smart, and grabbing life by its collar and never letting go. Indeed, there is no one like Liv." Various perks were offered as incentives to help reach the $8000 campaign goal. Two months after its launch, an update announced that the crowdfunding campaign had been 109% funded. On October 27, 2017, supporters were sent a downloadable link to the finished film and on November 30, 2017, Fish announced a "soft premier" in the Boston area for Wednesday, February 21, 2018 saying additional details would be forthcoming. Persons interviewed for the documentary, who appear in the film's trailer, include: Sally Taylor, Ian Anderson, Carly Simon, Roger H. Brown, and Ben Taylor. The film was scheduled to be screened at the 27th Annual Woods Hole Film Festival, Cape Cod's oldest film festival, during the 8-day festival running July 28-August 4, 2018.
Taylor began 2018 with what has become an annual tradition: shows at the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northhampton, Massachusetts on January 5 and 6.
On January 9, 2018, Peter Fish, producer of the Life is Good documentary (see preceding section) announced that a limited number of tickets would be available at the door for the February 21 premier of the documentary. The screening will take place at NewTV in Newton, Massachusetts followed by a Q&A session with Taylor and producer, Anarella. Persons interested in attending can register in advance at EventBrite.
In early April 2018, it was announced that Taylor would be one of three musicians serving as hosts on a multi-day "Roots on the Rails" tour through Vermont in November. On the tour, one of six "Roots on the Rails" tours scheduled for 2018, Taylor will be joined by musicians Susan Werner and Peter Mulvey.
The First Annual Livingston Taylor Retreat was announced in early summer 2018. In addition to Taylor, instructors announced for the retreat include Melissa Ferrick and Vance Gilbert. The retreat will be held August 17-19, 2018 at Boston University.
In 1989, Livingston received a call from Berklee Vice President Rob Rose, inviting him to teach a course focusing on stage performance. According to Berklee's online course description, Stage Performance Techniques 1 is "A lecture/demonstration course designed to provide knowledge and skills necessary for effective performance presentation: movement, microphone technique, stage dress, in-depth examination of causes and controls of stage fright, rhythm development and internalization, and professional attitude and development. Recommended for instrumentalists and vocalists interested in developing on-stage performance presentation skills."
Typically once a semester, Taylor invites a surprise guest lecturer for his students. Over the years, guest lecturers have included John Mayer, Jimmy Buffett, his brother James Taylor, and Steven Tyler. Students who have gone on to achieve some notoriety include Gavin DeGraw, John Mayer, and blues singer-guitarist Susan Tedeschi. Charlie Puth is also a former student.
Taylor often chats with his audience from the stage saying that he is "fulfilled and overjoyed" by the presence of the audience. "Livingston Taylor is a natural performer who peppers his shows with warm, often humorous anecdotes, making the audience feel as if he’s an old friend." He says that performing in front of an audience is "the ultimate" and that the chords, melodies and songs allow him to have an "intimate relationship" with his audience. "I need and I crave the contact with my audience. I love them,” Taylor said. “I need to see them. As I say to my students, 'Your audience isn’t your problem. They’re your salvation.'" He also says: "I'm very comfortable in the presence of an audience. If I'm relaxed, they're relaxed. It's an incredible gift and I'm so joyful to have it. I like making people feel good."
Taylor has stated that he's delighted anytime he's confused with his brother James or his brother Hugh.
"Let there be no confusion. James Taylor is the greatest. He's not only a wonderful musician, but he's a wonderful and supportive brother. People always want to know if it's difficult being in his shadow. Are you crazy? I'm his brother, and I get to revel in the remarkable music that he makes. I get to be his friend and his confidant. But he's got his life and I've got mine. We spend time together - we love it when we find each other in the same place - but not a great deal of time together. He admires my career, but he doesn't want my career. I admire his and I don't want his career.
Taylor says that he and his brother are very competitive in the sense that they enjoy "showing off" to each other when they have new songs that they are working on. Taylor says that James has been a mentor, that they discuss their experiences being onstage, playing guitar, using other instruments, song choices, and other technical issues that crop up while performing. Although some people may assume that James' popularity has helped the career of his siblings, that is not necessarily the case. Livingston's career was actually launched first. And although James may have influenced Livingston, the reverse is also true. One example is Livingston's song "Good Friends".
"Liv is the one who influenced me on that tune," says James. "That's also the same tuning that I used, before 'Good Friends.' It's a D fingering with a descending bass line. Livingston also uses it in 'I Guess That It's So.' The same thing in 'I Can't Get Back Home' — but in 3/4 time. A lot of people use that descending thing and I use it a lot too — I used it in portions of 'Carolina.' "Yeah, those two songs are very similar. After I wrote the first verse of 'Blossom' I said, 'Gee, that's Livingston's tune.' I was aware of his influence in it." "Liv and I used to play together a lot," says James. They developed the same finger-picking style, and they both mainly use the bottom of the neck. "There's only a limited amount down there," says James. "It really amazes me that there's not more repetition between Livingston and me than there is."
Livingston adds: "I get uptight about using one of James' licks and vice versa. He'll say 'I borrowed this lick from "In My Reply," ' and I'll say, 'That's OK, I borrowed a lick from "Country Road."
While James writes simple melodies and avoids using an overabundance of words, Livingston tends to compose more complicated melodies and lyrics. "James has a great knack for writing very pointed metaphors," says Livingston. "I pay much more attention to word syllables, syncopated phrasings, and puns."
Livingston states: "It's been very important to me to see his career and learn from it."
Taylor married Margaret "Maggie" Shea on May 1, 1976. After 25 years of marriage, they separated and the marriage ended in 2003. During their marriage they co-authored the 1988 children's book Pajamas. In 2015 Taylor married Gail Arnold. Wedding guests included Steven Spielberg (for whom Arnold has served as private chef), his brother James, as well as other family members and friends who celebrated the occasion at il Casale in Belmont, Massachusetts. Taylor has been a pilot for over 20 years, often making a 40-minute commute from Boston to Martha's Vineyard in his 1964 Cessna 205. In his spare time, he enjoys working on lawn mowers, tractors and his motorcycles. He says: "My brain works in a very mechanical way. I'm able to understand a specific system and how it works. In some ways, it's quite similar to playing music."
He has maintained a close friendship with his former sister-in-law Carly Simon and the two have collaborated several times. In her memoir, Boys in the Trees, Simon states that Livingston Taylor was the first member of the Taylor family whom she met when she drove to the Taylor family home in 1970. She and Livingston were scheduled to perform a duet at a film festival that Simon's brother, Peter, was producing and needed to rehearse. Simon says: "I liked Liv enormously, long believing, as I still do today, that his talent is huge, and very much his own." She also says that Liv was "handsome, hilarious, and by far the friendliest of the Taylor kids."
Text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike License.
Date: June 2019.
Photo Credits: (1)-(7) Livingston Taylor, (8) Kate Taylor, (9)-(10) James Taylor, (11) Carly Simon (unknown/website).