You've Got Some Friends: In Praise of the "Mellow Mafia"

James Taylor and members of "The Section" in 1973
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Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images

Officially, they were called "The Section." They were a rolling team of heavy-hitting backing musicians whose talents powered several of the biggest pop and rock albums of the '70s. But their laid-back aesthetic gave them another name: "The Mellow Mafia."

Before yacht rock, before Toto, The Section was the most formidable group of players to walk into a recording studio. At the core, they were: guitarist Danny "Kootch" Kortchmar, keyboardist Craig Doerge, impressively-bearded bassist Leland Sklar and timekeeping drummer Russ Kunkel. Kortchmar may have been the group's spark: he'd performed in The Flying Machine with a musician he met summering in New England as a teen named James Taylor - then he moved westward to form a group called The City with songwriter Carole King, in one of her first attempts at adding "singer" to her resume. In 1971, Kootch and Kunkel would play on both of their breakthrough records: Tapestry and Sweet Baby James.

READ MORE: February 1970: James Taylor Breaks Big with 'Sweet Baby James'

Over the years, these first-call instrumentalists ended up on a myriad of great albums by artists like Jackson Browne, Linda Ronstadt and Carly Simon, as well as supporting many of these acts on tour. (All of them can be heard on Browne's legendary live album Running on Empty.) But they also decided to band together as an official unit, and recorded three albums themselves as The Section. They're mostly instrumental originals and free of special guests, but 1977's Fork It Over, their last album, was an exception, featuring vocals from James Taylor and David Crosby.

While styles have changed and The Section wouldn't release any more music together, their bond is still strong. In 2020, Kortchmar, Sklar and Kunkel teamed up with another great session player (guitarist Waddy Wachtel) under the name The Immediate Family. Five decades later, ellowness knows no age - and never goes out of style.

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