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James Taylor - Two-Lane Blacktop
James Taylor - Two-Lane Blacktop

History of Boston Rock
     History of Boston Rock & Roll - Chapter 16 - 1968: James Taylor & The Lyman Family


The year that gave us the Bosstown Sound, the birth of WBCN, the birth of the Cambridge Commons Concerts, James Taylor's debut LP, a Celtics championship over L.A., Robert Kennedy in a casket, Richard Nixon, the Vietnam War escalation, Martin Luther King in a casket, the J. Geils Band, and a full season of Avatar.

" In 1968 I was an outpatient at McClean Institute for getting caught smoking pot in high school. My first day in, this guy sits down next to me and tells me that his brother was over in England recording with the Beatles. I was like "sure kid"! It turns out it was Livingston Taylor."

-- We're not telling

The Boston born James Taylor made the pilgrimage from Greenwich Village to England after a much publicized drug habit caused the break up of the Flying Machine (The Flying Machine was a rock band formed with Taylor's childhood friend Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar.) With Kootch's blessing and a lead on Peter Asher, Taylor arrived in Londontown.

Peter Ashers career stemmed back to early 1961 with folk duo Peter and Gordon. Their 1963 hit, "World Without Love" was penned by none other than the Beatles Paul Mc Cartney, who at the time was dating Asher's sister. The hits rolled in throughout the sixties: "Go To Pieces" #9 in 1965, "Lady Godiva" #6 in 1966. The duo split in early '68. Asher suddenly found himself head of A&R for the Beatles' Apple Records.

As soon as James hit England, he was in the studio for demos. Kootch had toured with Peter and Gordon on an early sixties tour, so Asher was willing to give the kid a listen. Asher in turn persuaded McCartney to sign the new talent.

The self titled debut was released in mid 1968, and despite its excellence and McCartney and George Harrison's guest appearance on "Carolina On My Mind", the recording went virtually unnoticed. Taylor, still dabbling in heroin, headed home. Upon return, he signed himself up for a five month stay at Austin Riggs, a mental institute in Stockbridge Mass.


At the 1965 Newport Folk Festival, amidst the riot brought on by Dylan's electric set, which dismayed folk aficionados, stood the 27 year old Mel Lyman. He took to the stage at the tail end of a very long day. What followed will go down in the annals of metaphysical history.

"I was shaking so hard that I must have lost 10 pounds in the first three minutes. The spirit wasn't me. It was their hunger."

Frequent gigs at the Orleans Coffee House (13 Charles St., later called the Sword & Stone ) gradually developed into a religious service, where Lyman gained his following and his disciples. By the winter of 1965-66, Lyman's commune settled on Fort Hill which rose from the middle of the black ghettos of Roxbury. It was the Holy Land for Melvin's chosen people.

By this time, Lyman had his first work, a book, under his belt, Autobiography of a World Savior Though shockingly science fiction in nature, Lyman proclaimed he had been born on another planet, the same planet that other prominent citizens such as Jesus Christ were from. When the planets inhabitants realized that earth was really dying, Mel volunteered to come down and jump start our next to non-exisistent vibration level. Except for some chronic cosmic asthma, Mel's sounding of love echoed through beantown.

The first winter was a cold one. Bartering the collection of discarded fruits and vegetables at local produce centers, and manpower made the stay at the deteriorating Victorians survivable.

In the summer of 67, the Lyman family released its first newsletter publication, Avatar. (Avatar means light for all of you who don't know Hindu.) The issue featured most prominently the works of Father Mel. Scatological Headings, diary passages, and patriotic essays! Unlike the left leaning counterculture, this culture countered us with a WE DIG AMERICA attitude. The prophetic Lyman once wrote,(1968), "If Reagan were elected president, it would probably help people a lot, force them to pull people together. I mean look at Hitler, he forced the whole world to pull together, that did a lot of good.


It was common place (every corner), as a alternative source of cash flow, to encounter a long haired newspaper vendor selling the Boston Phoenix, Boston After Dark, and Avatar. When the infamous Avatar issue, featuring the centerfold boldly displaying the words PISS/SHIT/FUCK/CUNT was published faithful vendors rounded up by the Cambridge Police for obscenity. The issue was released in retaliation for prior brushes with obscenity charges. Lyman countered in a very ungodly way. "I'm warning you guys, if you don't lay off I'm gonna smear your filthy sex starved faces all over Boston. I'm gonna draw pictures of you all fucking each other in the ass and sucking each others cocks… you'll wish you never heard of Avatar."

The problems caused dissention within the Avatar staff, those who lived on the Hill and those who just contributed to the paper. It marked the beginning of the end of the paper which ceased publication in early '69.

Next issues: birth of the J.Geils Band, The Modern Lovers, Aerosmith & the Electric Matzoth Ball Soup.

This article originally appeared in The Beat in 1985
(c) Charles William White III

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