Music

James Taylor on the Beatles and Obamas, and a first album that makes him cringe

James Taylor.
Lane Turner/Globe Staff, file
James Taylor.

Before taking the field Friday at Fenway Park, James Taylor spoke by phone on a range of topics and shared stories about some important introductions in his life: to the guitar, the Beatles, and his wife.

Q. You met your wife [Caroline “Kim” Smedvig] in Boston. How did that happen?

A. Kim and I met when I was playing with the Boston Pops, and she was working full time [as director of public relations] with the Boston Symphony in 1993. The next day, I called her up because I couldn’t find my watch — and she still thinks that was a bogus ploy [laughs]. But I still don’t know what happened to my watch. About a year later, I was thinking about possible solutions for my state of loneliness as a bachelor, and I came across her number and started hounding her for a date. It took root in ’95, and we’ve been together ever since.

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Q. What first inspired you to play guitar?

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A. I’d studied cello for four years until I convinced my parents to buy me a guitar. I remember at one point, I told someone I could play guitar, and then I was embarrassed about not being able to play [laughs]. And I got serious about it. I’m pretty much self-taught. It’s just one of those situations where you sort of pretend you can play, and maybe it turns out you’re right.

Q. How did you get started performing?

A. I met my friend Kootch [session guitarist Danny Kortchmar] on Martha’s Vineyard in the ’60s. He and I played music and then finally got gigs on the Vineyard and then went down to New York [with] our band the Flying Machine. After the Flying Machine broke down and crashed and burned, I went home to Carolina for six months to lick my wounds and get my health back, and talked my folks into buying me a ticket to London. I went to visit my friend from the Vineyard Alby Scott, in London.

He and his friends were enthusiastic about my music. They urged me to make a demo. I called Kootch and said, “Do you have a number for Peter Asher?” He had actually just signed on for A&R for Apple. He heard my demo, liked it, and got me an audition with Paul [McCartney] and George [Harrison]. I was the first person signed to Apple.

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The Beatles were recording the White Album at the time. So we’d sneak into the studio when the Beatles were finishing. We’d listen to playback and I’d put down a couple tracks myself. Paul took a little interest, and played on “Carolina in My Mind.” George sang on that. It was just a dream, an amazing time to be in London, and amazing time to be around the Beatles.

That Apple album now is painful for me to listen to [laughs]. It was definitely a work in progress — Peter was learning how to produce; I was learning how to record. By the time it released, I was in Massachusetts . . . in Austen Riggs psych hospital for drug recovery. Peter said, “Let’s break you out and go on the road,” so in ’69 I left the Berkshires and started performing. I did Newport Folk Fest, a number of solo gigs, and slowly started to pick up a band. “Sweet Baby James” came out for Warner Brothers, and I was on my way.

Q. Looking back at your career, are there any moments you can’t believe really happened?

A. Working with the Beatles. And more recently [playing for President] Obama. I played [for the Obamas] as an act more than anyone else during those eight years, and my most incredible memories have to do with being at the White House or with the president. It was wonderful to see that great man as our leader and to have him represent us in the world.

Interview was edited and condensed. Lauren Daley is a freelance writer. Contact her at ldaley33@gmail.com. She tweets @laurendaley1.