Springsteen, Sting, Simon serenade James Taylor with his tunes

Tuesday, February 7th 2006, 8:50 am
By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP) _ From Bruce Springsteen's mournful harmonica on ``Millworker'' to Sting's acoustic guitar on ``Close Your Eyes,'' a generation of singer-songwriters influenced by James Taylor paid tribute to him with their versions of his hits.

Stories abounded when a powerhouse lineup of Sheryl Crow, Bonnie Raitt, Paul Simon, Jackson Browne, David Crosby, the Dixie Chicks, Dr. John and Taj Mahal kicked off Grammy week by honoring the 57-year-old Taylor as MusiCares Person of the Year on Monday night.

Crow was 12 when she saw Taylor at her first concert.

``It was the first time ever I heard 16,000 people sing in unison,'' she told 2,200 people at the Los Angeles Convention Center. ``It was the first time I ever smelled pot and I knew I wanted to be a musician. This is for you, James. You changed my life.''

Then she, Browne and Crosby launched into ``Mexico,'' highlighted by a standout horn section.

Sting first saw Taylor as a 19-year-old in Newcastle, England, in 1971.

``I'm a budding songwriter. At least I think I am,'' the former Police frontman recalled. ``I want to see what all the fuss is about. Within four bars, I realize he's a virtuoso of the guitar. He starts to sing in this soft, rich baritone. I think, `I have to change my career. I'll become a bass player in a punk band.'''

Springsteen walked out with no introduction, hailing the North Carolina-raised Taylor as ``an authentic Southern voice.''

India.Arie showed off her fondness for Taylor by carrying onstage a purse with his black-and-white picture on it. Alison Krauss sang ``Carolina in My Mind,'' the Dixie Chicks harmonized on ``Shower the People,'' and Simon opened the show with an acoustic version of ``Sweet Baby James.''

Raitt recalled being a college student in Massachusetts and playing shows with Taylor.

``He used to let me open for him and he tuned my guitar,'' she said before singing ``Rainy Day Man.''

With companion Nicole Kidman keeping time in the audience, Keith Urban played a driving guitar version of ``Country Road.''

``Everyone has been telling these great James Taylor stories, and nothing for me says it better than this song,'' Carole King said, launching into ``You've Got a Friend.''

Taylor joined her at the piano and they dueted on the final chorus of the song that was an individual hit for both of them.

``I can't thank you enough for showing up. It's not the same without you,'' Taylor said. ``It's strange to be at an event like this and still be alive. It's very moving, very terrifying and very wonderful to hear these songs done live.''

It was a working evening for Taylor, who joined his band for ``Copperline'' and ``Shed a Little Light.''

Taylor's brother, Livingston, sang backup on ``How Sweet It Is (To Be Loved By You)'' while Taylor's twin 4-year-old sons, Rufus and Henry, jumped up and down to the music and the crowd clapped along.

Taylor returned for an encore of his classic ``Fire and Rain.''