James Taylor can still recall the blast of hot air hitting him when he took the stage in Tucson once upon a time.
He can’t give you the exact date off the top of his head, but it was summertime and they were outside.
It ranks to this day as the “hottest gig I ever played.”
“It was 110 on stage. It was outdoors, and with the lights I’m sure it was 115 on stage,” Taylor, the Grammy-winning, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame singer-songwriter, recalled. “We were cooking.”
It shouldn’t be anywhere near that hot when Taylor, 68, plays the Tucson Arena on Sunday . For starters, the sun will have gone down, and he will be indoors.
But don’t be surprised if Taylor generates a heat wave with his 10-piece band.
“It’s like the main reward of having a successful career, that you can support a band like this and comfortably tour and have actual sound and lights,” Taylor said during a phone interview last week from a concert stop in Canada. “It’s a very satisfactory thing.”
Taylor has been with several of his band members since his 1970 sophomore album “Sweet Baby James” and its single “Fire and Rain” catapulted him into bonafide commercial success after several years of struggling to find his musical footing.
Arnold McCuller, who has been on board Taylor’s band 45 years, is the senior member. Several of the players have side projects and solo recordings: Sax player Lou Marini plays with the Blues Brothers. Trumpet player Walt Fowler does orchestral and band arrangements for TV, and pianist Larry Goldings tours Japan and Europe with a jazz band. Guitarist Michael Landau also picks up jazz gigs, and drummer Steve Gadd and bass player Jimmy Johnson both have their own bands. Fiddler Andrea Zonn just released a solo album in the fall, and backup singer Kate Markowitz has a solo recording and songwriting career.
“That’s a long-winded way of saying that this band is really an excellent group of musicians,” Taylor said. “They have been around the block a few times and they know what they’re doing. “
And on Sunday night, they will be doing a lot.
Taylor divides his show into two sets, broken up by a short intermission. With a catalogue of iconic hits — “Carolina In My Mind,” “Fire and Rain,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Country Road,” “You’ve Got A Friend,” “Shower the People,” “Mexico,” “Something in the Way She Moves,” “How Sweet It Is (to be Loved by You),” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” “Steamroller,” and his latest album “Before This World” featuring the seasonally apt single “Angels of Fenway” — Taylor has more than enough material to get through a three-hour performance.
“They want to hear 10 or a dozen of those songs in a performance,” he said of what his fans expect from him each night.
“Satisfying that takes up a lot of the set. We use every minute of our three hours. We come off stage with about five minutes left of when the place usually tells you they want you off stage. It is a challenge, sort of balancing the set with the three paradigms—what the audience wants to hear, what the band wants to play and getting enough of the new material in. We manage it. We juggle it.”
Tucson has been a regular stop for Taylor throughout his career, with concerts every few years. In those visits, he’s gotten to know the community and its residents beyond what you’d discover in a tourist guidebook.
“I wish I had more time to be in Tucson because I would love to go up and hike in Ventana Canyon,” he said, adding that one of his close friends is Tucson holistic health guru Andrew Weil. “It’s such a beautiful place. It’s one of my favorite spots.”
Except in the summer.
“How did people survive without air conditioning?” he asked. “You know they say it’s a dry heat, but it’s hot.”