A highlight of Peter Asher’s Jan. 20 Peter Asher: A Musical Memoir Of The 60s And Beyond gig at Iridium is certain to be Kate Taylor’s cameo appearance, bringing back together the legendary singer-producer-manager and his onetime client.
Ironically, Asher now finds himself in the middle of a project that takes him back to 1971, when he produced Taylor’s highly regarded debut album Sister Kate.
“It’s an interesting parallel with Kate,” says Asher of his current work with Elton John on the latter’s 40th anniversary edition of Goodbye Yellow Brick Road.
“Certainly then and now I was a gigantic Elton John fan, and that’s when he was apparently little known as a songwriter,” says Asher, who included two Elton John-Bernie Taupin compositions on Sister Kate: “Ballad of a Well Known Gun,” and Country Comfort”—which had been covered by Rod Stewart.
Asher also managed and produced Taylor’s older brother James Taylor.
“The whole family was unbelievably talented--and a bit mad in different ways!” Asher recalls. “They were all fascinating and had extraordinary intellects—and Kate was always one of my favorites.”
Asher says he was “incredibly struck” by Kate Taylor’s singing ability.
“She’s ridiculously soulful,” he says, adding: “They all are--much more than you would think a white Martha’s Vineyard family would be. But they were all influenced by black music more than anything else, and Kate nails that stuff--so I signed her up.”
Atlantic’s Ahmet Ertegun was a big Kate Taylor fan, says Asher, and Sister Kate came out on Atlantic’s Cotillion label.
“It did okay, but it got a lot of attention and people keep rediscovering it, which is kind of cool,” he says. “We had fun choosing all the songs, and had a great band [players including guitarists Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar, James Taylor, J.D. Souther, and Bernie Leadon; drummer Russ Kunkel, bassist Leland Sklar, banjo player John Hartford, and vocalists Linda Ronstadt and Merry Clayton]. The usual ingredients.”
“It lives!” exults Taylor, also looking back at Sister Kate. “It got legs somehow: Someone just wrote on my Facebook page to please post Carole King’s ‘Where You Lead’ from it, and I did. And people come to the shows and hold it up and bring it along to get signed, which is very gratifying.”
She commends Asher as a producer who is “really excellent at being able to find great songs and knowing how to bring the best out of singers.” She was “just a teenager” when she met Asher, having gone to London to visit her brother, whom Asher was then producing for The Beatles’ Apple Records.
She and James attended an afternoon tea party hosted by Asher in the English countryside, where they went to the bottom of an empty swimming pool in the backyard and began singing songs they’d sung for years, including “Mockingbird”--the 1963 Inez and Charlie Foxx hit that James Taylor and then wife Carly Simon covered for a hit in 1974.
“A month later I was back home and got a call from Peter, who was moving to L.A. and wondered if I’d want to come out there and make a record. My God! I was so thrilled, and it was such a great time to be in L.A. in the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, when the music scene there was burgeoning with incredible music. I remember hanging out at the Troubadour and being at Elton’s first show in the U.S. and hearing him sing.”
Following Sister Kate, Taylor recorded Kate Taylor for Columbia. The 1978 album was co-produced by brother James and yielded a hit duet cover with him of Betty Everett’s "It's in His Kiss (The Shoop Shoop Song).”
After Barry Beckett produced her 1979 album It's in There… And It's Got To Come Out! in Muscle Shoals, Taylor delivered her “greatest hits: my two daughters!” and appeared “nightly in my kitchen.”
Her career was otherwise put on “the back burner,” she says, and it wasn’t until 2003 that her next album, Beautiful Road, was released; it featured new songs penned by her late husband Charlie Witham, and was itself followed by a live album, Kate Taylor Live at The Cutting Room (2005), which included performances by her daughters and Carly Simon.
Taylor’s last album, Fair Time!, came out in 2009, and contained songs she either wrote or co-wrote. Since then she’s been writing and performing “wherever they’ll have me,” she says, while staying in touch with Asher.
“Last year, I told Peter I was playing at Feinstein’s, and if he was in New York, to come to the show--and he did,” she says. “A few months later he booked a Musical Memoir show at Feinstein’s and I came to his show, and thought it was a great show to present on the Vineyard, perhaps working up a co-bill where he introduces me and I come up and do a few numbers at the point in his story where I come into his recording life.”
They in fact did this last summer.
“It was awesome!” says Taylor. “It was the 41st anniversary of Sister Kate—and a ‘full circle moment’ for me. It was so wonderful to work with Peter again, and the band he has is so excellent.”
She says she has gathered some new songs by herself and others, and now hopes to get back to the studio and record them.
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