DAILY DOSE OF ART

As prescribed by Paulina Constancia

‘Horsin’ Around’ series (6) – Sweet Baby James

May 25th is Horse Day. I never knew such a day existed until I started blogging and planning out the themes for my weekly posts. So I thought this week would be a perfect  opportunity to explore the horse theme. 
Today I share with you James Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” which is actually a lullaby he wrote for his nephew also named James and it’s about the life of a young cowboy. As we know, the life of a cowboy is intimately woven with that of his horse. So I thought Sweet Baby James is a good item to add to this week’s posts on horses. I hope you enjoy this song and the story behind it.
James Taylor sings “Sweet Baby James”
A clip from the DVD portion
of the CD/DVD release “One Man Band” by James Taylor/2007.

Lyrics of
“Sweet Baby James”
by James Taylor
There is a young cowboy, he lives on the range. 
His horse and his cattle are his only companions.
He works in the saddle and he sleeps in the canyons, 
waiting for summer, his pastures to change.
And as the moon rises he sits by his fire, 
thinking about women and glasses of beer.
And closing his eyes as the doggies retire, 
he sings out a song which is soft but it’s clear
as if maybe someone could hear…


Goodnight you moon light ladies, 
rock-a-bye sweet baby James.
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, 
won’t you let me go down in my dreams?
And rock-a-bye sweet baby James.


Now the first of December was covered with snow
and so was the turnpike from Stockbridge to Boston.
Though the Berkshires seemed dreamlike 
on account of that frosting,
with ten miles behind me and ten thousand more to go.
There’s a song that they sing 
when they take to the highway,
a song that they sing when they take to the sea,
a song that they sing of their home in the sky, 
maybe you can believe it if it helps you to sleep,
but singing works just fine for me.


So, goodnight you moon light ladies, 
rock-a-bye sweet baby James.
Deep greens and blues are the colors I choose, 
won’t you let me go down in my dreams?
And rock-a-bye sweet baby James.


Let’s Learn the Story Behind the Song
(Info Source:SONGFACTS)

“Sweet Baby James” is one of many hits that James Taylor wrote himself, and many listeners thought he was singing to himself. However, this is somewhat of a misunderstanding by the listener. James wrote this song in 1969, when he drove on his way to Richmond, Virginia to see his older brother, the late Alex Taylor. In 1969, James was shocked to learn that Alex became a father for the first time. Alex and his wife, Brent Taylor, gave birth to their first child, a baby Son, which Brent wanted to name Richmond, after the city in which he was born. However, Alex wanted to name the child James, after his younger brother. So after a few arguments, the couple named the boy James Richmond Taylor. James was shocked to discover that he had a new Baby Nephew, who is also named James. This is why the title is often confusing, because both the singer and his nephew are named James. The singer is James Vernon Taylor, while his nephew is James Richmond Taylor.

This song is a soft lullaby that tells the story of a young cowboy who spends his lonely nights in the canyons, with nothing to keep him company but his horse and his cattle. So the cowboy often spent the long and lonely hours of darkness singing himself to sleep. However, there are a couple of ways this song associates with its writer. As a young child, James Taylor, along with his siblings, often sang each other to sleep at night. The story goes that James couldn’t stand it when his mother sang, because she only sang opera. And because James’ mother is a lyric soprano, she never sang lullabies. James’ father never sang lullabies either, because he didn’t exactly have the knack for music. But the most notable interpretation, however, is the fact that when he was a little boy, the young James Taylor was often put in the position of having to sing himself to sleep each night, hence the line, “Singin’ works just fine for me.”

Some translations of the lyrics:

  1. “Dogies” (Pronounced Doe-gies), is a Western Cowboy Slang term for “Cattle.” “As the dogies retire” translates to: “As the cattle settle down for the night.” 
  2. “Good night, you Moonlight Ladies” – This line is often misinterpreted, as many listeners are fooled into believing that the moonlight Ladies are prostitutes. The “Moonlight Ladies” are actually the spirits of the moon, which come out of the sky and shine their lights as the evening darkness falls.
  3. “Rockabye, Sweet Baby James” – This line is loosely based on the nursery rhyme, “Rockabye Baby.” James wanted to make this song sound smooth and calm for his baby nephew, so instead of singing the familiar lullaby “Rockabye Baby,” he softly sang, “Rockabye, Sweet Baby James.”


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This entry was posted on May 25, 2012 by in Uncategorized.
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