James Taylor performed one Saturday night at Clark University, in Worcester, Massachusetts. It was during the university spring semester of 1969. This was four years before people began making magnetic tape recordings at the place called Long View Farm.
James Taylor sang alone, accompanying himself on his guitar. He was there to "warm up" the audience for a rock 'n' roll band called Ten Years After.
Gil Markle made the recordings selectable below using two Sony condenser microphones, an Ampex AM-10 mixer, and a Revox quarter-track tape recorder. 7 1/2 ips, Dolby-B encoded. The microphones appear stereo right and stereo left around a mono feed taken from the house PA system. The tape was mixed live using the AM-10, and rebalanced and digitally mastered 33 years later by Toby Mountain.
A few hours before the recording was made, Taylor was made the guest of young Professor Markle at his suburban, ranch style home-cum-fledgling recording studio in the nearby bedroom town of Paxton. Markle had volunteered to host the then relatively unknown recording artist at the suggestion of the Social Affairs Committee which was sponsoring the concert. Taylor used Markle's home to shower, and to change into his performance blue jeans. A sprinkling of university co-eds provided snacks and very small talk. James Taylor was 21 years old, tall, self-absorbed, and oblivious to the co-eds. He would be on stage in less than an hour's time. He was nervous, and wanted to get to the venue, now.
"How far away is this place?" James Taylor asked his driver.
"Just down the road a piece," Markle replied. The two men were stuffed into Markle's XK-E sports car, which was making its way down the long hill leading from Paxton into Worcester — the same road which, just a few years later, would be used by the limousines bringing rock stars to and from the countryside recording studio in North Brookfield. Markle was delivering James Taylor to Atwood Hall at Clark University, a place he knew well, since it was there that he lectured philosophy students three days a week
"The room's OK," Markle offered, over the whine of the car in second gear. "The ones in the back can hear you maybe even better than the ones up front."
"Well, the sooner this is over, the better. I'm not looking forward to some of this."
"Whatdya, mean?" Markle asked.
"We don't have time to get into it now, Gil. Maybe another time, and I'll tell you all about it. They'll request it, though, I'll tell you that."
"Knockin' round the zoo, that's what. It's a song I wrote a few years ago. Under distasteful circumstances. They'll request it. Don't like their taste... I don like ya taste."
Taylor was smiling as he delivered these last remarks. He was no longer talking to his driver. He was in rehearsal mode.
Markle had no time to comment in any case. He had enough to do steering his car through a gathering crowd of worship-ready, late-sixties undergraduates, and then up onto the grass behind Atwood Hall, where the stage door light was shining, and the security guards were waiting.
Two years later sweet baby James would be on the cover of Time Magazine.
* * *
Editor's Note: It turns out that Knockin' Round the Zoo is in fact James Taylor's least favorite musical composition. He has told people so. The song has been included here, together with a few other tunes he certainly dislikes less, in a spirit of respectful disagreement.
Knockin' Round the Zoo
Gone to Carolina In My Mind
Fire and Rain
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All original material copyright © Gilbert Scott Markle. All rights reserved.