5 Things You Might Not Know About James Taylor
Today we celebrate the birthday of James Taylor, master of “laid-back adult contemporary music,” as it was once described on The Simpsons, and that reference brings us to how we’ve decided to pay tribute to Mr. Taylor on this important date: we’ve pulled together five appearances that he’s made on TV and in film, each of which we’re hoping will involve at least one fact you didn’t know about the man, the myth, and the musical legend that is James Taylor.
- He was part of the cast of a musical adaptation of Studs Terkel’s Working.
PBS aired the program as part of the 1982 season of American Playhouse, and it featured a wealth of talent in its cast, including Scatman Crothers, Barry Bostwick, Rita Moreno, Barbara Hershey, Eileen Brennan, Charles Durning, and Patti LaBelle. Taylor played a trucker, in case you wondering, and performed two songs: “If I Could’ve Been” and “Brother Trucker.”
- He guest-starred on a now-obscure Jim Henson series in the late ‘80s.
Remember The Ghost of Faffner Hall? Neither did we until we were perusing Taylor’s IMDb listing. This Henson production debuted on ITV in the UK in August 1989 – its US premiere on HBO came a bit later – and only lasted 13 episodes, but during the course of its brief run, it pulled some pretty amazing guest musicians, including Taylor, Bobby McFerrin, Courtney Pine, Nigel Kennedy, Joni Mitchell, Ry Cooder, Dizzy Gillespie, Mark Knopfler, George Martin, Thomas Dolby, Paddy Moloney, Los Lobos, Youssou N’Dour, the Gil Evans Orchestra, and Ladysmith Black Mambazo.
- He was invited to appear on The Simpsons more or less just because the show’s writers wanted to meet him.
That’s the way Mike Reiss, a longtime writer for the series, spins the situation in his 2018 book Springfield Confidential, and we have no reason to disbelieve him. It certainly seems as though the writers were intimidated him: David Mirkin, another of the show’s writers, has admitted that they were a little antsy about asking Taylor to switch up the lyrics of “Fire and Rain.” Fortunately, Taylor didn’t mind at all.
- Although he ended up with a scene in Judd Apatow’s Funny People, he was originally only on the set to make Apatow feel better.
Apatow reportedly was having a tough time directing his wife, Leslie Mann, during her sex scenes, so he asked Taylor if he’d come to the set, and after he agreed, Apatow apparently swayed him into taking a small role in the film, playing himself and performing what’s basically a corporate gig. “I got what I needed and then I made him perform 30 more songs,” said Apatow. “I just thought, ‘Oh my God, I can manipulate James Taylor into singing more songs for my amusement. It’s the greatest day ever.’“
- He once sang a duet with Allison Janney.
You may well have missed it – the performance was in 2011, which places it after her acclaimed run on The West Wing but before her Emmy-winning turn on Mom – but in an episode of Matthew Perry’s short-lived ABC sitcom Mr. Sunshine, Janney’s character ended up singing a cover of Leon Russell’s “A Song for You” with Taylor. Except he wasn’t playing himself, he was playing some dude named Billy. But, hey, close enough!