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Tuesday, October 21, 2014
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Published: Thursday, 1/12/2006

Listening to his listeners

BY ROD LOCKWOOD
BLADE STAFF WRITER

Livingston Taylor makes no apologies for working extremely hard to please his audience.

He's definitely not from the singer/songwriter school that says artistic integrity is defined by doing whatever you want and expecting your audience to follow. Taylor, who plays Saturday in Monroe, prefers to speak directly to his fans through his music and performances.

"I very much work for my audience," he said in a phone interview from Boston. "They will tell me the directions they're liking and not liking. I absolutely love to go, if reasonable, where my audience wants me to go."

He said that's what contemporaries like his older brother James, Carly Simon, and Jimmy Buffett have in common.

"What they really have is a deep, visceral need and love of their audience and they want to go, within reason, where their audience sends them."

This is something he teaches his students at Boston's Berklee College of Music in a class called Stage Performance Techniques. Over the course of a dozen studio albums, and with a new release "There You Are Again" due out Jan. 24, Taylor has refined ways to directly address his audience.

"You watch your music land and when you do something people like, do that again," said the chatty, down-to-earth Taylor. "And when you do something people don't like, don't do that anymore."

The 55-year-old said his audiences tend to include many middle-aged people, and that's fine with him because they share his sensibilities.

"They're getting old enough to sense limits of their own ability and what will and will not be possible," he said. "The finite reality of your life becomes clear to us and then we start questioning whether it was worth it - were we worth it - and that's really the struggle as we transition into our 40s and 50s."

In addition to his work at Berklee, Taylor is an adviser at Harvard University, he has written hundreds of songs, and he tours regularly. His brother is one of the pre-eminent songwriters and acoustic guitarists of his generation and his sister Kate has released four discs of her own.

So he teaches at two of the premier schools in the country, comes from a deeply talented musical family, and has carved out a strong solo career, which would lead to the conclusion that Taylor has everything about the business figured out. Not really.

"I'm always bemused by this idea that I have choices or options," Taylor said, laughing. "Heck I'm just as dumb and blind as the rest of them."

One thing that he does have strong feelings about is what makes a great song, and what takes it from being a nice tune to something like Buffet's "Margaritaville" or James Taylor's version of "How Sweet It Is" that become deeply embedded in our culture.

"A great pop song needs to not just make the artist sound good because the artist presumably already sounds good. It needs to make the audience sound great, too. A great song makes mediocre singers, not to mention mediocre players, sound great."

While James Taylor is a "wonderful writer," some of his most well-known songs have been penned by others and they speak directly to listeners in keys that are easy to sing in, Taylor said.

"It speaks to the human condition - 'How sweet it is to be loved by you' - and second, it makes mediocre singers sound great. So when you sing along with him at the show, you sound like James."

Livingston Taylor performs Saturday at Monroe County Community College in the La-Z-Boy Center, Meyer Theater, at 1555 South Raisinville Rd. The show starts at 7:30 p.m. Tickets, $15, are available at the college's cashier's office in the Warrick Student Services/Administration Building or by calling 734-384-4272.

Contact Rod Lockwood at: rlockwood@theblade.com

or 419-724-6159.



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