Three marriages and a lifelong friend: The women of James Taylor’s life

James Taylor is one of America’s most prolific singer-songwriters, with six Grammy Awards to his name.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer has been responsible for some of the biggest hits of our times, both his own songs and those written by other people.

But his enormous fame was almost overshadowed by his love life, including a doomed marriage to singer Carly Simon.

Let’s take a look back at the women of Taylor’s life, including his three wives and his longtime friend Carole King.

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Taylor was born in Boston, Massachusetts, on March 12, 1948. His father was a doctor who was the resident physician at a hospital and his mother had been an aspiring opera singer before marrying.

His siblings Alex, Kate, Livingston and Hugh all went on to become musicians.

In 1951, the family moved to North Carolina, where Taylor started taking childhood cello lessons before moving on to guitar.

During summers spent with his family on Martha’s Vineyard, he met Danny Kortchmar, a teenage guitarist. The two started listening to and playing blues and folk music together, and Kortchmar encouraged Taylor to sing.

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By 14, Taylor was writing songs and in 1962, the two friends started performing at coffeehouses as Jamie & Kootch.

Back home and while still in high school, he joined his brother Alex’s band, with Taylor on electric guitar. They even cut a single in 1964 that featured Taylor’s song on the B-side.

Taylor became depressed during high school and ended up spending time in a psychiatric hospital.

After treatment, he moved to New York and formed a band that played his original songs.

Despite using heroin, he recorded a single before they broke up. As Taylor’s heroin addiction took hold, he called his father, who took him home for treatment before he underwent throat surgery.

In 1967, he moved to London where his old friend, Kortchmar, connected him with Peter Asher, who worked for the Beatles’ own record label Apple Records.

Asher played Taylor’s demo tape, which included Something in the Way She Moves, for Paul McCartney and George Harrison.

McCartney later said, “I just heard his voice and his guitar and I thought he was great.”

Taylor was signed by Apple. His debut self-titled album was released in 1968 while he was again undergoing treatment for drug addiction.

His second album, Sweet Baby James, was released in February 1970.

It included the hit song Fire and Rain, which he wrote about his drug habit, psychiatric treatment and the suicide death of a friend.

The album was considered a masterpiece and is on the Rolling Stone list of 500 Greatest Albums of All Time.

In the early 1970s, Taylor was part of a group of LA-based singer-songwriters that included David Crosby, Graham Nash, Carole King and Joni Mitchell.

You’ve got a friend

Taylor had met King in 1969. At the time, she was already a successful songwriter of hits Will You Love Me Tomorrow, The Loco-Motion and (You Make Me Feel Like) A Natural Woman.

Taylor was playing at Troubadour when he invited King onstage.

He is credited with encouraging King to perform her own songs, and she went on to release her solo debut album Writer.

They had a long creative partnership, with the two often performing together.

She appeared on his album Sweet Baby James, while he sang backing vocals on her acclaimed album Tapestry.

They have also had a decades’-long friendship, but despite rumours of more, they maintained they were nothing more than collaborators, and continued to work and perform together for 50 years.

Joni Mitchell

Another of his contemporaries is Joni Mitchell, who said in the early days she was the more famous of the pair.

“At the time that James and I were spending time together, he was a total unknown. Maybe I helped his career,” she said.

In 1971, they started dating, with their affair lasting between six and 12 months, depending who you believe.

Their romance is documented in her 1971 album, Blue, and its song, All I Want, while he wrote his song You Can Close Your Eyes about Mitchell.

His third album, Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon, was released in April 1971 and contained his biggest ever US hit, a cover of Carole King’s song You’ve Got a Friend.

Carly Simon

It was around this time Taylor started a relationship with singer-songwriter Carly Simon.

The two had crossed paths as early as children when their families holidayed in Martha’s Vineyard.

Taylor later told Rolling Stone he saw her perform during their summers there and found her “quite attractive.”

She said in her memoir Boys in the Trees that she announced to her sister she was going to marry him after seeing a cover of TIME featuring a cartoon of Taylor in early 1971.

Carly Simon and James Taylor performing together

They met again that April when Simon opened for Cat Stevens at Troubadour.

A horde of people were in her dressing room after the show, and when they left she noticed Taylor “sprawled out on the floor”.

They spoke briefly before Mitchell, Taylor’s girlfriend at the time, appeared in the doorway to collect him.

Seven months later, Simon went to see Taylor play at New York’s Carnegie Hall.

At intermission she offered to make him a home-cooked meal while he was in New York, to which he replied, “What about tonight?”

It marked the start of their relationship.

They married on November 3, 1972, in a low-key ceremony in Simon’s New York apartment when Taylor was 26 and Simon was 30.

A post-concert party following his performance at Radio City Music Hall turned into a wedding reception.

That month, Taylor released his fourth album, One Man Dog, which included collaborations with a number of artists, including Simon.

Their union, which came during the peak of their careers, drew a great deal of public attention.

The couple was initially happy and Taylor even took a break from recording around the birth of their first child, Sarah “Sally” Taylor, in January 1974. Benjamin “Ben” Taylor followed in January 1977.

During their marriage, they would appear on each other’s albums and recorded two hit duet singles, both covers, Mockingbird and Devoted to You.

His 1975 album Gorilla included one of his biggest hits, a cover of Marvin Gaye’s How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved by You), featuring Simon on backing vocals.

But their union was not always sweet.

Simon wrote in her book, “Our love became bipolar, switching from love to hate, lust to loathing, and back again, sometimes within a day.”

His ongoing heroin addiction was another problem, with him even shooting up in front of her.

He later told Parade, his addiction ruined his marriage to Simon and his previous relationships.

“You could fall in love, but if one of the people is addicted, it’s not going to work. The whole person is simply not available,” he explained. 

Taylor later admitted he had affairs with “a few other women” during the marriage, even setting up a separate home with one of his dancers and going back and forth to his home with Simon and their children.

The couple separated in 1981 and divorced in 1983. The break-up, just like the relationship, was highly publicised.

Kathryn Walker

Taylor, who had been on a methadone to try to get off heroin, started a fourth-month program in September 1983 in a bid to finally kick his drug habit.

In December 1985, he married actress Kathryn Walker in New York.

He credited her with helping him fight his drug addiction, but the relationship did not last, with the two divorcing in 1996.

Kim Smedvig

By then, Taylor was dating Caroline “Kim” Smedvig, the director of public relations and marketing for the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

They had met when he performed with John Williams and the Boston Pops Orchestra. They married in February 2001, two months before Smedvig gave birth to their twin sons Rufus and Henry.

Taylor sang about their union on the 2002 album October Road, and songs On the 4th of July and Caroline I See You.

The family settled in Massachusetts, and Taylor and Smedvig are still married today.

Son Henry is a singer who has toured with his famous father as a backing vocalist.

Taylor reflected on his three marriages in a 2007 interview with the Guardian.

“I don’t mean to disparage or downgrade the two marriages that preceded [this one],” he said.

“Those were wonderful people, and very valuable to me, but they were not ’till death do you part’. Well, perhaps I was supposed to die at the end of the first one, but I didn’t.

“They were relationships that had a certain lifespan, and that time ran out.”

Taylor, now 76, released his last studio album, American Standard, in 2020. It won the 2021 Grammy Award for Best Traditional Pop Vocal Album.

Taylor, who is thought to have a net worth of about $120 million, continues to tour the world.