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James Taylor Is 'Gobsmacked' By Medal Of Freedom Honor

James Taylor performs on NBC's "Today" show during the Toyota Summer Concert Series on Monday, June 15, 2015, in New York. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)
James Taylor performs on NBC's "Today" show during the Toyota Summer Concert Series on Monday, June 15, 2015, in New York. (Charles Sykes/Invision/AP)

Five-time Grammy winner James Taylor will receive the Medal of Freedom, the country’s highest civilian honor, at a ceremony tomorrow at the White House.

“I’m actually just a bit gobsmacked,” the singer-songwriter told Here & Now’s Indira Laskhmanan. “I’m a little overwhelmed… It has been an amazing ride.”

James Taylor looks back at his career, as well a couple of his most iconic songs – “Fire and Rain” and “Sweet Baby James.”

Interview Highlights: James Taylor

Looking back on his career as he receives this award

“I could never have guessed in the beginning that I would still be at it now. It’s really amazing how long it’s lasted and what a fantastic ride it’s been.”

On writing ‘Fire and Rain’ during a dark time

“I know that ‘Fire and Rain’ isn’t thought of as being a blues, but it does the same thing that blues does for the person who sings it or, for me, writing it. It sort of takes something that’s inside you and it takes it out of you, it puts it in front of you, it allows you to deal with it in a way. And I think that emotionally the song did the same thing for other people too. It’s sort of cathartic, maybe, in that way, or maybe it’s therapeutic a little bit.”

How he doesn’t get tired of playing audience favorites

“It’s sort of like reaching safe ground. There’s a thing in a concert where there are some songs that when you play them, the audience is so much referring to their own associations with the tune that even though it’s a song I’ve played countless times and even though I might not play it sitting down at home, the audience’s reaction sort of makes it a sweet spot in the concert.”

On his song ‘Sweet Baby James’

“‘Sweet Baby James’ was written for my nephew – James Richmond Taylor is his name – and he, let’s see, born in ’68. So yeah, he’s not a baby anymore – neither am I. But I had been overseas, I’d been in London, and when I came home, my older brother Alex had a kid. I asked Alex on the phone when I got home, I asked him what they were thinking of naming the kid, and he said ‘well, actually we’re gonna name it after you James, little baby James.” So I got in my car, I drove down the East Coast to North Carolina to set eyes on the little fella. While I was driving down, I just kept thinking about what sort of song would be good to play for a little varmint, a little rascal like baby James. And it was still in that period of time where Westerns had a huge grip on the young imagination, and so I thought, well a cowboy lullaby would be the right thing.”

Whether he worries about his career coming to an eventual end

“When you’re given these kind of laurels, there’s maybe a suggestion that it’s time to rest on them. But in fact, I have this second family of musicians that I play with, that I travel with. You know, I love these guys – I love traveling with them and working with them. So I’m hoping that I can continue for a while, as long as the audiences show up. I’m looking forward to a tour starting this next April. I’ll be out on the road for a while, and I’m glad for that.”

Songs In This Segment

  • James Taylor, “Shower the People”
  • Gerry Goffin and Carole King, “Up on the Roof” performed by James Taylor
  • James Taylor, “Fire and Rain”
  • James Taylor, “Only One”
  • James Taylor, “Your Smiling Face”
  • James Taylor, “Carolina in My Mind”
  • James Taylor, “Sweet Baby James”
  • James Taylor, “Before this World”
  • Holland-Dozier-Holland, “How Sweet it is” performed by James Taylor


  • James Taylor, singer-songwriter and guitarist. He was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000.

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