You’ve Got A (Passionate) Friend

Carole King and James Taylor, along with legendary bassist Leland Sklar, reminisce musically inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Photo by Linda Evans

There has been a lot of talk in the Photo Diva’s social circle lately about passion. Be it photography or music or cooking or, well, pretty much anything. I find myself drawn to people who are passionate — who really care — about whatever it is that they do. And Saturday night was a great illustration of the concept. But I am getting ahead of myself as usual.

Being forced to go back to struggling with the rest of the masses for photo pass access — especially on the heels of my fabulous Danish adventure — has been a little more difficult to wrap my head around than I thought it would be. So I was very thankful that my hubby made arrangements to see (and for me to shoot) the Carole King and James Taylor Troubadour Reunion Tour as it passed through town and to hang with one of the finest audio guys on the planet: David Morgan. Bill and I met up with David at the MGM Grand Garden Arena in the afternoon for sound-check and while the two guys talked shop I carefully listened to the intricately designed sound.

I should give you a little background in case you don’t know the King/Taylor/Troubadour connection. The Troubadour part is a reference to the legendary West Hollywood CA venue that opened in 1957 and played a vital role in the careers of Elton John, Joni Mitchell, Tom Waits, James Taylor and Carole King and was the location for many “live” recordings including Richard Pryor in 1968, Neil Diamond in 1970,Van Morrison in 1973 and Miles Davis in 1975. The most significant piece of historical trivia (at least for this story) is that James Taylor played “You’ve got a Friend” for the first time in this venue in November of 1970. He heard his piano player (as well as opening act) , Carole King, play it during during sound-check and they decided to give it a try.

Boy am I so glad their paths crossed at the Troubadour. Their voices blend so beautifully and their perfect and playful harmonies are natural and effortless. The stage design by Roy Bennett gave the cavernous MGM Grand Arena the feel of an intimate club. And the fact that the world-class band consisted of the same people who played those legendary Troubadour gigs made it really something special.

With careers as long and storied as these it is virtually impossible to get everything everyone would like to hear into a single performance. As Taylor quipped at one point, the two sat down to create a set list and their first pass would have been a six-hour show. And even trimmed to just shy of three hours, including a short intermission, the sheer volume of hit songs — enduring, still-sound-great-today hits — is astounding. Taylor is one of the greatest song stylists ever as well as a great writer. King has written an amazing — wait for it, wait for it… — ONE HUNDRED AND NINE charting singles starting with :Will You Still Love Me Tomorrow” for The Shirelles in 1960. It was very cool to hear Taylor admit that he would cover songs he really liked — including his hit version of Up On the Roof — only to find out that the were written or co-written by Carol King.

King and Taylor reunite inside the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Photo by Linda Evans

So back to that passion thing…

Across the street, a certain unnamed current pop diva was playing. Now I wasn’t there, so this is second hand, therefore I shall keep her unnamed. But I hear the entire show was recorded backing tracks with the artist hardly singing. (Can you say high-priced karaoke!?!?!) One of my social media friends told me that she could have stayed home and hit “play” on the home entertainment system and gotten that same experience for a lot less money.

Meanwhile, the duo at MGM was backed by wonderful musicians who put everything they had into every note. That vibe extended to every part of the production. Production guys can be a jaded lot but everyone here came off as honored to be on the show. David Morgan “shushed” a noisy patron (as in asked nicely and shone a flashlight on her and told her to “shut up”) at the beginning of the show. Watching him grooving behind the board, singing all the songs and playing the occasional air drums and air guitar was a highlight of the night.

Audio master David Morgan also mixed Cher and Bette Midler's Caesars Palace Colosseum.
Photo by Linda Evans

There were times that it sounded so sublimely beautiful that it actually took my breath away. And here it was the third-to-the-last show on a tour that has gone all over the world and no one is phoning it in. Taylor and King sat and worked out a new intro to You’ve Got a Friend during sound check and Carol King who is kicking 70 in the ass did the whole second set in fabulous stilettos so high that they would be a challenge to wear, even for Vegas working girls. I’m not talking about a modest heel. I am talking spiky, strappy, black, super hot hooker shoes. You go, Carol.

We had every intention of leaving at intermission to beat the notoriously horrible MGM parking but stayed for the whole show and walked across the street to the Tropicana to see a friend of ours playing in the Celebration Lounge there. An hour later we headed back to the MGM and got out of the parking lot in 5 minutes instead of the multiple hours it can take.

I know this week’s column is not real “diva-ish” but it is hard to be sarcastic and catty in the face of work this good put forth with so much soul and passion. Those lucky enough to be in the MGM Grand Garden Arena to see King and Taylor were witness to something really special.

Now, next week I’ll be shooting a couple of ‘80s party music icons. That’s more familiar. I can feel the claws coming out already…