15 November 2009
Sweet Baby James
James Taylor is a genius with geography. Sweet Baby James first hooked me decades ago with the lines:
Now the first of December was covered with snow
And so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston
Lord, the Berkshires seemed dreamlike on account of that frosting
With ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go
The song "Sweet Baby James" was written by James Taylor in 1969 for the son of his older brother Alex, who had named his baby James Richmond after his brother and the town where he was born. It is deliberately a cross between a cowboy song and a lullaby, and was first thought up by Taylor as he was driving to meet his infant nephew for the first time.
Taylor spent considerable effort on the lyrics, whose verses he later said used the most intricate rhyming pattern of his career. The song is composed as a waltz, in 3/4 time. The chorus echoes the lullaby sentiment, with a reference to "Rock-a-bye Baby".
Now for the past 40 years he has been singing to me of scenes that form pictures in my mind that I want my eyes to see. He is a poet of places. I may never visit Morgan Creek in the Copperline part of Chapel Hill, NC, but James Taylor took me there.
Copper head, copper beech
Copper kettles sitting side by each
Copper coil, cup o'georgia peach
Down on copperline
Half a mile down to morgan creek
Leaning heavy on the end of the week
Of course being a gypsy by nature, the song that touches the truest place will always be
My Traveling Star.
Watch my back and light my way
My traveling star, my traveling star
Watch over all of those born st. christopher's day
Old road dog, young runaway
They hunger for home but they cannot stay
They wait by the door
They stand and they stare
They're already out of there
Perhaps it is because of his own journeys and trials, but the nicest thing about James Taylor is that after all the travels, he always takes you home even if you don't know where that happens to be.
The best news recently is that James Taylor and Carole King will be touring together next year. Nine dates have been announced with more promised.
For more participants, visit Take This Tune