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Sweet Baby James was received at its time as a folk-rock masterpiece, an album that effectively showcased Taylor's talents to the mainstream public, marking a direction he would take in following years.It earned several Grammy Award nominations including one for Album of the Year.Thinking of the red soil, the seasons, the way things smelled down there, I feel as though my experience of coming of age there was more a matter of landscape and climate than people." His guitar style evolved, influenced by hymns, carols, and the music of Woody Guthrie, and his technique derived from his bass clef-oriented cello training and from experimenting on his sister Kate's keyboards: "My style was a finger-picking style that was meant to be like a piano, as if my thumb were my left hand, and my first, second, and third fingers were my right hand." He began attending Milton Academy, a preparatory boarding school in Massachusetts in fall 1961.
(A UK band with the same name emerged in 1969 with the hit song "Smile a Little Smile for Me".
The New York band's recordings were later released in 1971 as James Taylor and the Original Flying Machine.) Taylor would later say of this New York period, "I learned a lot about music and too much about drugs." Finally out of money and abandoned by his manager, he made a desperate call one night to his father.
Titled Sweet Baby James, and featuring the participation of Carole King, the album was released in February 1970 and was Taylor's critical and popular triumph, buoyed by the single "Fire and Rain," a song about both Taylor's experiences attempting to break his drug habit by undergoing treatment in psychiatric institutions and the suicide of his friend, Suzanne Schnerr.
Both the album and the single reached #3 on the Billboard charts, with Sweet Baby James selling more than 1.5 million copies in its first year and eventually more than 3 million in the United States alone.
They recruited Joel O'Brien, formerly of Kortchmar's old band King Bees, to play drums, and Taylor's childhood friend Zachary Wiesner (son of noted academic Jerome Wiesner) to play bass, and after Taylor rejected the notion of naming the group after him, they called themselves the Flying Machine.