American Masters congratulates Morgan Neville, director of the 2011 American Masters film Troubadours: Carole King/James Taylor & The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter, for winning the 2014 Oscar for Best Documentary Feature for 20 Feet from Stardom. Watch the full 90-minute documentary Troubadours: Carole King / James Taylor & The Rise of the Singer-Songwriter, below.
The narrative begins in the ’60s, when Carole King and Gerry Goffin were writing their now-iconic songs at Manhattan’s 1650 Broadway hit factory, and James Taylor was emerging as a folksinger/songwriter. The location then shifts westward to L.A.’s Laurel Canyon, the breeding ground for the burgeoning singer-songwriter community, and to Doug Weston’s Troubadour, where the King/Taylor partnership begins to blossom and a close-knit crew of future legends — including Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt, Joni Mitchell, Eagles, and Elton John—performs on the small stage and holds court in the bar, the epicenter of the action.
The story is told through archival footage, much of it never before seen, which is intercut with the vivid recollections and incisive reflections of a wide cast of characters. Along with King and Taylor, contributors include David Crosby, Roger McGuinn, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt, Chris Darrow, Kris Kristofferson, J.D. Souther, and Elton John; Taylor’s former manager and producer, music impresario Peter Asher; the one-time head of Ode Records and producer of King’s Tapestry, Lou Adler; musicians Russ Kunkel, Leland Sklar, Craig Doerge and Danny “Kootch” Kortchmar (Taylor’s childhood friend and King’s bandmate in The City); songwriters Barry Mann, Cynthia Weil and (King collaborator) Toni Stern; rock critics Robert Hilburn (who covered the scene as Los Angeles Times’ pop music critic); Barney Hoskyns (author of the So Cal music histories Waiting for the Sun and Hotel California) and Robert Christgau; Troubadour denizens Cheech & Chong and Steve Martin; photographer/musician Henry Diltz; and King’s daughter Sherry Goffin Kondor.
King says early in the film, “When we sprang out of the box there was just all this generational turbulence, cultural turbulence, and there was a hunger for the intimacy, the personal thing that we did.” Browne provides a further explanation for the singer-songwriter phenomenon: “Maybe what it was is that people who wrote their own songs were in ascendance. The authenticity of somebody telling their own story was what people were interested in.”