“I’m a true James Taylor geek,” Dave Bernard admits.
A teenager in the 1970s, Bernard was inspired when Taylor’s first-ever concert tour made a stop in his hometown of Chicago. He was immediately enthralled with the singer-songwriter’s distinctive voice and lyrics, and his signature acoustic guitar licks.
Since then, Bernard figures he’s seen Taylor in concert at least 20 times.
One of those shows was a first date with his then-future wife.
As a young man, Bernard admits Taylor’s “Sweet Baby James” persona was a great way to attract females.
Whatever the appeal, it worked — Bernard and his wife have been married 40 years.
Bernard has written and is starring in Camelot Theatre’s production of “Spotlight on James Taylor.” For him, the tribute to his music idol is a dream come true.
The show opens Friday, Sept. 29, and runs through Oct. 15 at Camelot Theatre, 101 Talent Ave., Talent. Curtain is at 8 p.m. Thursdays through Saturdays, 2 p.m. Sundays. Tickets are $26 or $32. Tickets and information are available at camelottheatre.org or 541-535-5250.
"Spotlight on James Taylor” will feature 23 of Taylor’s classics, including “Fire and Rain,” “Country Road,” “Something in the Way She Moves,” “Shower the People,” “Your Smiling Face,” “Carolina On My Mind,” “Sweet Baby James,” “Don’t Let Me Be Lonely Tonight,” “Mockingbird.”
Bernard and the show’s director, Presila Quinby, say the five-time Grammy winner became the voice of a generation.
"He captured what so many of us would have said, or sung, if we’d had his skills,” Quinby says.
Bernard, who started playing guitar in the late '60s and early '70s, says Taylor’s had a profound influence on his own musical aspirations.
"He really inspired me, and he’s the reason I wanted to learn to play guitar. He is a master at describing specific situations in a way that resonates with people everywhere.”
Taylor is one of the best-selling music artists of all time, having sold more than 100 million records worldwide in a musical career spanning more than 50 years. An inductee in the Rock and Roll and Songwriters halls of fame, his artistic and humanitarian achievements also have been recognized with a Kennedy Center Lifetime Achievement Award and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.
Bernard says the show is a patchwork of song and story weaving together both the pain and the joy of Taylor’s life and career.
Acknowledging that his own musical style has been heavily influenced by Taylor’s, and that his voice is within the same range, Bernard says he thought he could pull off stepping into the spotlight as Taylor.
Bernard’s East Main Band will be on stage, as well.
Together for 10 years, the band has been playing James Taylor’s stuff for quite a while.
"The show will be pretty authentic," he says. "It will have an intimate concert feel.”
Although he's familiar with Taylor’s music, Bernard relied on excerpts from books by Carole King, Taylor’s longtime friend and the writer of his hit single, “You’ve Got a Friend,” and Carly Simon, his former wife and music partner.
His research began a couple of years ago when he was asked to do a walk-on as Taylor in Camelot’s “Spotlight on Carole King.”
The more he read, the more he knew he wanted to tell Taylor’s story.
"It’s a good story,” he says. “I’m telling his story, and as a true James Taylor geek, it’s my story too.”
Bernard is narrator, lead vocalist and will play acoustic guitar, with backup from Will Bartell on bass, guitar and slide, Mike Dadaos on accordion and drums, Mike Gardiner on keyboard and vocals, and Ken Kigel on bass, congas, fiddle, guitar and keyboard.
Gayle Wilson will provide additional vocals, keyboard accompaniment and percussion.
"We need a female voice,” Bernard says. “And she was Carole King when we did the other ‘Spotlight.’ She wanted to be a part of this.”
Bernard, whose only other acting role was playing Kenny Rogers in Camelot’s “Spotlight on Kenny Rogers,” says the opportunity to emulate Taylor is a dream come true.