Ben Taylor tried his hardest not to follow in his famous parents' footsteps. But ultimately he knew music was his destiny.
"I fought it; fought it hard," Taylor, 34, said of his career choice during a recent phone interview. "All my heroes are musicians, and not just my folks. It's all the people I wish I was. Either musicians or Jedis, and I think being a musician is easier."
Taylor is the son of James Taylor and Carly Simon, two of the biggest musical stars of the 1970s and legends in their own right. Taylor began playing guitar at age 11, but had trepidation about writing and singing his own songs. How could he ever live up to his parents? Instead he tried other activities that interested him. There was organic gardening (something Taylor still likes to do on the side). For a while he worked as a wilderness tour guide.
"But at the end of the day, it seemed like nothing would make me satisfied with myself the same wayI would be if I wrote songs and performed them," Taylor said.
He says this just a few days before commencing his first-ever tour with his father. It's in town March 4 at the Murat Theatre. Taylor said they'll perform together at each show, splitting the set list between their repertoires. They'll also play some of each other's songs.
"It's going to be nice little amalgamation," said Taylor, who admitted having a lot of nerves going into opening night. "But more than that, it's just excitement. The nerves and excitement mingle and become exactly what I need to prepare myself."
He's been a solo artist for almost 10 years now, and spent much of that time distancing himself from his pedigree.
"For me to get a start as my own — and trying to minimize the connection to them as much as possible — was what I needed to do in order to ensure I could be competent enough to do this on my own," Taylor said.
And yet no matter how much he resisted, he knew he couldn't break that artistic bond. Initially Taylor performed in a band format. His first released album, Famous Among the Barns, delved more into trippy psychedelica than the cultivated folk his parents sang. The follow-up, Another Run Around the Sun, was more in line with his acoustic heritage, though Taylor often gives his music a contemporary spin with everything from electronic flourishes to a hip-hop cadence.
"I reckon it's time I went out and toured with my old man," he said. "I didn't want to get up there and do shows with him and be so green and nervous that I couldn't play the chords right. He's such a pro and I've been seeing him do this so well for so long that I wanted to make a good impression."
Still, Taylor has proven to be his own man. He's never shied from pursuing his own passions and goals. He's been a dedicated practitioner of the martial arts for years now, something he attributes to having a kidney removed when he was only 3.
"It forced an expansive worldview on me at a young age," Taylor said. "I got the idea life was very fragile. That made me want to start getting very strong for whatever life would have to throw at me."
It's become such a part of his identity that when asked to describe his sound Taylor coined the term "kung folk."
"I figured what do I do? I kind of make folk music, but it's a little more contemporary and maybe with a bit more kick," he said.
Learning to listen
He's also dabbled in acting, most notably as Cal Cooper on the NBC comedy-drama "American Dreams," which ran for three seasons in the early 2000s. According to Taylor, the show's creators designed a character based on him so he could play himself.
"It was still difficult because when you put a camera on, it's hard to be yourself," he said. "Being someone else I can hardly even imagine."
Taylor is focused on music now, but acting is something he'd like to explore further at some point.
"I'm cognizant of the fact that I'm completely inexperienced," he said. "I wouldn't enter lightly into an acting scenario with professionals. That would be like not knowing how to play an instrument and going on stage and trying to play a concert."
Instead he's got the more modest ambition of learning how to become a better listener. It's the concept behind his upcoming release, the appropriately-named Listening.
"A lot of performers are not great audiences," Taylor said. "I realize that about myself, and I've been trying to make improvements about the way I listen to other people's music and when they're speaking."
For all the roundabout way he's gone to get to this point, Taylor's far from being full of himself. And that's just fine.
"I think I'm a pretty hopeless, immature fool, and I'm happy about it," Taylor said. "Everything I've done has set me up just right to be who I am. For better and worse, I've turned out to be the right guy for this life."