Livingston Taylor is a troubadour for music and is a musician first in every essence of the word. With a career spanning more than 40 years, Livingston has proven that as long as you love music and what you do in that industry and you work hard that staying power can be accomplished in an industry in shambles. Born in Boston but raised in North Carolina, Livingston was raised in a very musical family. He has released many successful records with great musicians and toured the world throughout his career and he has a very positive outlook for the future of music and he hopes that the industry will catch up and fix the problems associated with all things internet related. He has been a teacher at Berklee since 1989 and has had a storied career that any musician would dream of having. Here are a few insightful questions and answers with one of the true pioneers of Boston music.
HNL: What was it like growing up in a musical family? Did the sound of your first couple of records come from the environment in which you grew up in being in the South and then moving back East?
LT: It was as you would expect musical, my oldest brother Alex would bring music and instruments into the house and our parents were Broadway singers. My Parents believed that they and we had to have good instruments to play such as guitars and piano.
HNL: Did the sound of your first couple of records come from the environment in which you grew up in being in the South and then moving back East?
The south was far more disenfranchised back then. The mood was to encourage creative activity and in that respect the sound was affected by what you had in that time period.
HNL: You were one of the first artists signed to Capricorn Records who then went on to sign Marshall Tucker Band and the Allman Brothers Band and Jonathan Edwards. How did a folk artist fit into that mix and what was the label going to do differently to get your music out there as opposed to what they were doing with the Southern Rock records they were releasing?
Back then record people advocated creativity first and foremost and they should be a fan of the music. Phil Walden was a music fan and he liked all of the bands and that is why he signed them and me. He had more luck with Marshall Tucker and Allman Brothers but he still did well by me and we both had great success.
HNL: In 1973 you signed with Polygram records and released your third record “Over the Rainbow”. The sound is much bigger and louder and you have some amazing guests on this record. You have a bunch of noteworthy musicians on this record including Chuck Leavell, Tony Levin and Carly Simon. When you were writing did you end up accomplishing your vision that you set out to do with the musicians on the LP?
Good fortune and hindsight are confused by intelligence and design. I was in a world where I could find great musicians soyes I accomplished recording 11 songs and it was audience and record company driven.
HNL: Your Brother James Taylor is also on this record. What was it like working with him on the record and have you worked with him on any music since?
James has performed and recorded 4 of my songs and we play together when we get together. We were only in the studio at that time for 2 hours but we have played and recorded together extensively over the years.
HNL: Your 4th record “Three Way Mirror” had another departure in sound and was more of an adult contemporary record with different musical arrangements than you were accustomed to… and again you used some amazing musicians such as Lee Ritinour on Guitar, Michael Baird on Drums and the great Maria Muldaur on vocals. Were you trying hard to switch up your sound at this point and how did able to assemble such a diverse cast of musicians?
It wasn’t a conscience switch up. Charlie Toppleman signed me and I moved to Los Angeles to record the record. The environment is what drove the sound and the ability to acquire the musicians I wanted to perform on the record.
HNL: You Toured with Linda Ronstadt after the record was released. This is pretty much at the height of her career. How was it supporting her each night and what was she like to be on the road with? Did she teach you anything about the industry that you didn’t know at this point? Had you known her when she recorded your song “In My Reply” 7 years prior on her self-titled record?
I met Linda several years prior to touring with her and she was amazing, beautiful and a great professional. I have the highest level of respect for Linda but it wasn’t until I hit the road with her before I got to know her as a friend. I learned how to carry myself as a musician on and off the stage and to watch her before she went on stage and her clarity and discipline coming off the stage. You learn a lot watching Linda Ronstadt. She was a true professional in every sense of the word.
HNL: On your 6th record “Man’s Best Friend” you again change it up and you use some very talented and diverse guitarists including Jeff Baxter known for his work in the Doobie Brothers & Steely Dan, Larry Carlton who is an amazing jazz guitarist and Steve Cropper the leader of the Stax House Band. You also have Jeff Porcaro from Toto on Drums, Don Henley on vocals and my personal favorite female singer of all time Carla Thomas on vocals. How did you come about putting these musicians together? What was it like to work with the guitarists with Don and with Carla?
You work with your contemporaries. I was in my 30’s already 15 years in the business and I was working with full veteran players because I was a veteran player. These musicians responded to the call to work on the record Carla wasgracious and patient. She was a legend and she allowed me to do what I needed her for on the record. Henley did a favor for the producer whom he was friends with and was very professional and gracious.
HNL: You have been teaching at Berklee for quite some time and have influenced some amazing young artists such as Chelsea Berry, Liz Longley and Easterlin. What is like working with the young musicians of today? And have they taught you anything especially with social media in this day and age?
It is always a boost to your enthusiasm for the future to work with 20 -26 year old musicians. I have taught thousands of students, critiqued ten thousand performances and it’s been an amazing journey. They really haven’t taught me much about social media. The new world of music is being reinvented as we speak. To make great art you need wealth to concentrate talent. The internet hasn’t figured out how to concentrate wealth to assemble the gatekeepers to facilitate great artists. Right now mediocrity rules but it will change.
HNL: You have been on the road on and off for a good part of your life, Does it get any easier as you get older or does it become more of a hassle for you? What kind of advice would you give a young musicians about hitting the road?
It doesn’t become easier but you become more familiar with the beating I know I’m going to take when I hit the Road. I’m always delighted to do it because I need to see my audience. My Advice would be leave early, travel hard and rest when you get there.
HNL: Your newest record “Blue Sky” is mixed with some originals and some of your favorite classics such as “ON & ON” by Stephen Bishop and “Paperback Writer” by The Beatles. How did you come up for the concept for this record? Who performs with you on the recordings?
I Started recording the songs with my mentor and friend Rob Rose and used a former Berklee student of mine, Charlie Puth as producer. I finished with Mac McAnally, a contemporary because he had the infrastructure to finish the record and it was started in Boston and finished in Nashville.
HNL: Lastly, not many people know that you are a pilot and an aviation enthusiast. When did you start flying and what got you into flying in the first place?
When I was young I saw a commercial for Sugar Jets cereal and the kid ate the cereal and flew around the room so when I ate itand I wasn’t able to fly I had to find another way to make that happen and at that moment I became an enthusiast and have been ever since.
Livingston Taylor will be performing at the Bull Run in Shirley, MA on March 27th, 2015
Uncarefully, unedited by Mark Kaye