James Taylor knows that he is probably not the first artist that comes to mind when you think of the glitz and cacophony of Las Vegas.
But the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame-ensconced singer-songwriter, who has sung odes to geographical locales from the Carolinas to Mexico to Boston, is ready to hit Sin City for a 12-date residency beginning April 17 at the Colosseum at Caesar’s Palace, partially on the advice of a friend.
“Garth Brooks recommended that I give it a try,” says Taylor, 71, who notes that the idea has been germinating for a decade. “He thought I’d love it and he had been really surprised by it,” during his own residency.
The Kennedy Center Honoree admits that he was initially skeptical. “I was a Vegas snob forever, for sure,” he says. “Back in the day, Vegas definitely had a very specific connotation for us, and it was something [that folk and pop artists] in the late ’60s and early ’70s, were distancing ourselves from.” But time and image and headliners change. “For one thing, it’s now a town of two million people. It’s not just the strip; there’s an actual population there, and it’s just an excellent place to put on a show.”
So, the Boston native is excited to see what happens when he brings his formidable passel of hits – including classics like “Fire and Rain,” “You’ve Got a Friend,” “Shower the People,” “Copperline,” and “Your Smiling Face” – to a new venue. He is aware that Vegas audiences also have certain expectations.
“Basically, we’ve worked up a set that’s a retrospective. There’s always an element of that to all of my shows anyway – that just acknowledges that people want to hear the hits,” says Taylor, who will be backed by his stalwart All-Star Band, including legends like Steve Gadd on drums and fan favorite Arnold McCuller on backing vocals. “It’s an opportunity to really put on our most elaborate and most complete presentation. This particular staging that we’re going to present is something we’ve essentially been perfecting over the past couple of years.”
The idea of staying in one place for an extended period certainly also has its appeal for the performer who has been a road dog, touring with regularity now for nearly 50 years. “It’s only something that I can do in relatively few places, so, it’s an experiment,” he says.
The current run includes 12 shows throughout April and May, but Taylor doesn’t rule out adding future dates if the show is a hit. “We’ll wait and see how it works, but my operating philosophy is that I’ll go wherever my audience is.” (Taylor will also make his traditional 4th of July stop for a pair of shows at his musical home away from home at Tanglewood in the Berkshires near his actual home.)
While Taylor has sung of frozen men, walking men, handymen, and rainy day men among others it turns out that he is not a gambling man.
“I think the excitement that most people experience when they’ve got a bet in and they’re waiting to see whether or not it comes through for them, that just leads to anxiety for me,” he confesses.
In addition to the Vegas residency, Taylor is currently at work on an album of standards with guitarist John Pizzarelli, his first studio release since 2015’s Before This World. “They’re songs that I’ve known for years,,” he says of tracks like “Teach Me Tonight” and “My Blue Heaven,” noting that Pizzarelli, “is a great, great old school jazz guitarist with unbelievably deep skills.” The album title and release date are TBD but he’s thrilled to be digging into the Great American Songbook. “What’s great about these standards is that it’s not about production value or backbeat. They hold your interest and connect with you through really sophisticated changes. The lyrics are fantastic. They’re the epitome of American popular song.”