Hash’s Faves: “Mexico”

27 Aug

GorillaThis week’s pick is an old tune by singer/songwriter James Taylor, “Mexico.” It’s from his 1975 album Gorilla and features Taylor on guitar and vocals, Milt Holland on percussion (I assume he plays the marimba part, although multi-instrumentalist Victor Feldman, who appears elsewhere, seems the more likely culprit), Gayle Levant on harp, David Crosby and Graham Nash on harmony vocals and the famed L.A. rhythm section team known as The Sectio, Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar on guitar, Leland Sklar on bass and Russ Kunkel on drums and shaker.

Taylor is an extremely thoughtful musician, not only as a lyricist but as a bandleader as well. His guitar-playing style is not the simple strumming-chords school of rhythm guitar, a la Bob Dylan (I know, I know, Dylan does occasionally use an Elizabeth Cotten style of finger-picking, but mostly he strums), but rather a carefully thought-out part of the arrangement of each song, as a whole, often interacting closely with the bass parts that Leland Sklar played. Sklar, for his part, is an extremely melodic player; his parts very rarely stick to simple roots and fifths, and he is one of my favorite players. (Jimmy Johnson, from the fusion band Flim and The BBS, took the bass chair over from Sklar, who held it for many years).

Taylor still suffers from the perception that all of his songs are serious and that he’s a humorless New Englander, but I think that nothing could be farther from the truth. Although I’ve never seen him live myself, I’ve watched many of his concert videos, and he seems to be a warm kind of guy with a dry sense of humor. This tune is very light-hearted and the arrangement is buoyant. Having Nash on harmonies helps add to the joyous atmosphere, I’d say.

Kootch had been with Taylor from the beginning of his career. After spending some time in England he relocated to California, where he became a session player for Carole King, touring with her as well. His work on King’s Tapestry album and his work with Taylor led to his becoming one of the first-call players in L.A., and he formed The Section with Sklar, Kunkel and keyboard player Craig Doerge. Their sound kind of defined L.A. pop music in the late 70’s and 80’s.

You can listen to it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PgkKjHN349I

This post is reprinted from News From The Trenches, a weekly newsletter of commentary from the viewpoint of a working musician published by Chicago bassist Steve Hashimoto. If you’d like to start receiving it, just let him know by emailing him at steven.hashimoto@sbcglobal.net.

One Response to “Hash’s Faves: “Mexico””

  1. David Harvey April 11, 2022 at 6:03 am #

    You’re actually correct – Milt Holland is in fact playing the marimba part, since he is the acknowledged percussionist on “Mexico”, per the liner notes, and he travelled the world extensively to collect and study exotic and ethnic percussion instruments. He was very capable of playing the marimba.

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