Sweet Baby James Musical Tribute reveals local singer's uncanny resemblance to James Taylor
Huddled with her housemates on the front porch of her Los Osos home, the girl noticed something familiar about the guy who came to fix their gas leak.
“Hey,” she told him, “You look like James Taylor.”
Mike Miller has been hearing the same thing most of his life.
At 59, the Arroyo Grande man is a decade younger than Taylor, but he bears a startling resemblance to the soulful singer-songwriter behind “Carolina in My Mind,” “Fire and Rain” and “Sweet Baby James.” They have the same blue eyes, the same tall, lanky frame, the same slowly receding mane of graying hair.
“I think he’s got a great look, so I’m happy with the comparison,” said Miller, who plays Taylor in the new show “Sweet Baby James: A Musical Tribute to James Taylor.”
The Central Coast Theater Works production, which runs Friday through Sunday at The Monarch Club in Nipomo, finds Miller singing and playing some of Taylor’s greatest hits on acoustic guitar while sharing anecdotes from the music legend’s often troubled life.
“This appreciation of Mike is so well-earned and so deserved,” said Miller’s wife, Mary Meserve-Miller, the show’s writer, director and producer. “After all these years of Mike being so supportive (of me) … to see him really shine as a legend is incredibly heartwarming,”
The first half of “Sweet Baby James” takes audience members on a tour through Taylor’s formative years — from his upbringing in North Carolina to his big break in England, where he was discovered by The Beatles, to his marriage to singer-songwriter Carly Simon (Lizz Premer) of “You’re So Vain” fame. The show also explores Taylor’s struggles with depression and drug addiction, and touches on his friendships with Paul McCartney (George Spelvin), Carole King (Emily Segal) and Joni Mitchell (Sholly Von Stein).
The second half of “Sweet Baby James” is dedicated to a cabaret-style revue featuring covers of songs by Taylor and his friends. Nikki Pena and Nellie Salsbury will do “beautiful lyrical dance solos,” Meserve-Miller said, with Marilyn Blake and Patti Haines serving as emcees.
The show’s soundtrack includes “Both Sides Now,” “Mockingbird” and “You’ve Got a Friend.”
“Sweet Baby James” is the latest entry in the “Legends” series that Meserve-Miller started as development director at San Luis Obispo Little Theatre in 1999. (She’s now the managing director of Central Coast Theater Works, part of the Nipomo Recreation Association.) Previous “Legends” shows have focused on stars including Elvis Presley and Johnny Cash.
Meserve-Miller said she’s been thinking about doing a musical tribute to Taylor — a five-time Grammy Award winner who was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2000 — since she met her husband almost 15 years ago. (Miller has appeared in seven or eight “Legends” shows so far, previously starring in 2006’s “Only the Lonely: A Musical Tribute to Roy Orbison.”)
“I didn’t think there was much material” for a “Legends” show, Meserve-Miller acknowledged. But once she started delving into the darker aspects of Taylor’s life, such as his teenage stint in a mental hospital and his decades-long ordeal with heroin addiction, she said, “I thought, ‘You know what? I think I’ve underestimated this dude.’ ”
There’s a purity to Taylor, Miller said, that stems from surviving such a turbulent past. “He’s really, genuinely gone through it (all),” the Arroyo Grande man said.
It’s that authentic quality, coupled with Taylor’s clear, sweet baritone, insightful songwriting and distinctive finger-picking style, that make him timeless, Miller said.
“He’s one of the few singer-songwriter guys who hasn’t become a cliché,” Miller said of Taylor.
That’s why Miller doesn’t mind when he gets compared to Taylor — something that’s happened consistently over the decades.
“It’s followed me my whole life, whether I have a guitar or not,” acknowledged Miller, an energy technician for Southern California Gas Co. “People open the door and say, ‘Did anybody ever tell you (that) you look like James Taylor?’ ”
Although Miller suspects the resemblance is superficial at best, even he can’t help but notice the similarities.
Take the time he and his teenage son spotted a poster of Taylor in a Thousand Oaks record store.
“It looked like a picture of me,” Miller recalled with a laugh. “We both shook our heads and went, ‘Oh my god, no wonder people keep saying that.’ ”