Each week, another honoree is revealed on CMT Hot 20 Countdown .
After his first hit “Fire and Rain” in 1970, Taylor became a preeminent figure in folk and rock music known for gentle, meaningful songs like “Carolina in My Mind,” “Sweet Baby James” and “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight.”
His finger-picking guitar style and smooth vocal ability are now recognized as a touchstone in country music. In 2007, Taylor and the Dixie Chicks teamed up for an episode of CMT Crossroads , and Taylor Swift has even said she was named after the sensitive songsmith.
A five-time Grammy winner, Taylor was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000. But long before that, the country music community had taken interest.
“You know when somebody is just a gift to the world,” Pam Tillis told CMT. “Every once in a while, God goes, ‘Check this one out.’ You know they’re just touched. They just get some gifts that don’t get handed out every day.”
“James Taylor is probably the artist I grew up on the most,” said Lady A’s Dave Haywood. “Learning how to play guitar, that’s what my dad was always playing and singing. And from a songwriting perspective, as well, we just love and worship songwriters. … James Taylor is one of those guys that creates and crafts such good, warm songs.
“It’s not like you go to an arena to see this big production for an artist like that,” Haywood continued. “It’s such an intimate experience — his music and his records. You put on a James Taylor record, and it feels like he’s sitting right there in your living room. And that’s what I love about him. You feel so close and so intimate. He is probably my favorite acoustic (guitar) player and probably favorite artist.”
Whether they know it or not, Tillis says Taylor has helped shape musicians from around the globe.
“Every guitar player in the world that’s alive right now has got some James Taylor in their repertoire,” she said. “Every singer-songwriter that I know — and I know a lot of them — has been influenced by James Taylor. It’s just some of the most beautiful music.”
For Eldredge, Taylor’s songs are the best way to re-energize.
“It’s like you want to go to that beach and hang out with James Taylor in ‘Carolina in My Mind,'” he admitted. “He is unbelievable and has so many great songs. It’s like, if I just want to relax and escape the world a little bit and just feel good. The king of feel-good music, I think, is James Taylor. The soothing voice that he has and just the delivery of how he tells the story is brilliant and relaxing.”
Even Morgan, the fun-loving country boy next door, picked Taylor as his all-time favorite.
“No one tells a story better and then puts it to music as well as James Taylor,” he said. “I love the stories and how well the lyric was married to the melody.
“I think, as a songwriter, I would say his music influenced my writing more than anybody else.”
Check out the rest of the CMT All-Time Top 40: Artists Choice list, and find out who will be announced next each Saturday at 11 a.m. ET/PT on CMT Hot 20 Countdown.