Combining comic books and some of my favorite musicians? Yes please!
In 1979, comic strip artist Stan Drake illustrated this profile of folk rock singer-songwriter James Taylor and his four siblings, folk/pop singer-songwriter Livingston Taylor, singer (and now songwriter) Kate Taylor, southern blues singer Alex Taylor, and singer (and now inn keeper) Hugh Taylor. Also included in the profile is James’ then-wife pop rock singer-songwriter Carly Simon. The text was written by Brendan Boyd.
The piece originally ran in The Star-Ledger of Newark, New Jersey, as part of their Pop Idols series of illustrated profiles, which appeared in the comics section. As you can see in the bottom right corner, The Jacksons were next week’s featured artists. According to the Lewis Wayne Gallery, which has original art for sale for the strips on Jimi Hendrix, the Talking Heads and John Travolta, Stan created the strip.
Stan Drake did an excellent job. James and Livingston in particular are spot on. Although the colorist got a little sloppy with Carly’s lipstick. And kind of strange that Carly, just as major an artist as James, is in the inset and mentioned last in the profile text on the right. I guess because it’s focusing on the Taylor siblings? And what’s with Alex secretly checking out Carly? At least Hugh is having a good time.
I assume the Brendan Boyd that wrote this is not Brendan Boyd of Incubus, as that would’ve made him about 3 years old at the time. Although the thought of alt-rocker Incubus’ front man writing about sensitive singer-songwriters from Martha’s Vineyard is pretty amusing.
For way too much context and back story on Stan Drake, James Taylor, Carly Simon and the other Taylor siblings, click through…
Stan Drake created the soap opera comic strip The Heart of Juliet Jones in 1953 with writer Elliot Caplan. The strip was notable at the time for Drake’s then unconventionally naturalistic yet lush illustrative style. He remained on the strip until the end of the ’80s, for a time doubling his workload by also becoming the artist of Blondie in 1984, where he stayed until his death in 1997. In addition to his regular comic strip gigs, he also provided artwork for Marvel Comics (Power Pack, Sensational She-Hulk), Valiant Comics (Solar, Man of the Atom) and Continuity Comics (Ms. Mystic). He also collaborated on an early graphic novel series in the mid-’80s with Leonard Starr called Kelly Green that was originally released in France.
It seems kind of odd to think about a major metropolitan newspaper doing a profile series like this nowadays. Spotlighting the Taylor siblings in particular is peculiar at this point in history as I think most mainstream audiences had forgotten or stopped caring about the Taylor family of musicians after the early ’70s buzz, such as this 1971 Time magazine cover story. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely love their music, but the reality is that by 1979, popular consensus had shifted to consider them passé and lightweight with the advent of punk and disco. It’s actually pretty hilarious that this profile puts them in “the Disco Scene”. Aside from Carly dipping her toe in the genre (“Attitude Dancing,” “Why”) or getting “You’re So Vain” remixed for the dance floor, there’s not much about any of them that would put them in the disco scene.
Indeed, they were beginning to struggle with staying in the charts at this point. James’ new album mentioned in this piece, Flag, was a top 10 album, but reviews were kind of cold to it. The only charting single was his cover of The Drifters’ “Up on the Roof” and it was generally seen as a modest slump after the success of his previous album JT, which contained the Grammy-winning cover of “Handy Man”. Carly Simon’s newest was Spy, and it sold surprisingly poor despite her recent success with “Nobody Does It Better” for the James Bond soundtrack The Spy Who Loved Me and her own Boys in the Trees, with the single “You Belong to Me”. Although they were becoming that dreaded “uncool” at the time, James Taylor’s “Millworker” and “Sleep Come Free Me” off of Flag, and Carly Simon’s “We’re So Close” and “Never Been Gone” from Spy are among their strongest from this period. And don’t feel too bad for them. They’ve made out pretty good with several comebacks each and legacies that will almost certainly outlive all of us.
Taylor’s siblings weren’t faring much better in 1979. Livingston Taylor had enjoyed the biggest hit of his career the year before with “I Will Be In Love With You” from Three-Way Mirror. To capitalize on this modest success, Capricorn Records released Echoes in 1979. The compilation offered a sampling of Liv’s first three albums, but it mostly fell under people’s radar. He would release another album in 1980, Man’s Best Friend, which had a decent hit with “First Time Love,” but the album didn’t move enough and he was out of a record contract. Livingston wouldn’t record again until the late ’80s. Kate Taylor had a great comeback the year before with her self-titled second album and her cover of “It’s In His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song)”, but unfortunately no one seemed to even notice that year’s It’s In There… And It’s Got to Come Out due to virtually no promotion from CBS Records. Kate returned to retirement and focused on motherhood. Alex Taylor hadn’t released an album since the early ’70s and wouldn’t again until the late ’80s and early ’90s. Sadly, Alex died in 1993. Hugh Taylor missed the Taylor craze of the early ’70s entirely and has only ever independently released It’s Up to You in 1991. Fortunately, Livingston and Kate have aged well in their own right since this profile. Liv has been touring constantly for decades (even more regularly than James) and became a professor at the Berklee College of Music and author of Stage Performance. His two most recent CD’s, There You Are Again and Last Alaska Moon, showcase his classic pop craft as a songwriter. In the last ten years, Kate came out of retirement again, following Livingston’s example as an independent artist. She has created two excellent albums, Beautiful Road and Fair Time, her debut as a songwriter (although she’d co-written a few songs in the past).
If you’ve made it this far in my personal geek nirvana, I’ll give you this video of James Taylor and Carole King performing “Up on the Roof” in a very clever melding of their two arrangements of the song, from Live at the Troubadour.
Carole King co-wrote the song with her then-husband Gerry Goffin specifically for The Drifters in the ’60s, so Gerry included a lyrical reference to them. In this concert, which I attended in 2007, Carole mentions this anecdote, hence James’ look to her when the lyric comes up.
(Many thanks to Don and Bill for passing this little piece of bliss on to me.)