James Penca on “Sweet Baby James”

James Penca is an actor and musician based in New York City, New York. This is his song story…


What is the song and who is it by?

Sweet Baby James by James Taylor

Do you remember the last time you heard it or went out of your way to listen to it?

It came on my phone when I was listening on shuffle. I skipped it actually. It’s not a song I like to listen to on my way to work on the subway or something. It’s a song I need to be in the right place for. Ideally, in bed or late at night or something.

Do you remember the first time you heard it? Did you know right away it was going to be an important/meaningful song or did it grow on you?

I don’t remember the first time I heard it. Assumably dad played it for me long before I was aware of it. But I remember the first time I remember hearing it, if that makes sense. He was sitting on our couch while I played with my train set on the floor. He played that and Sugar Mountain. Two songs I always asked for him to play. And I knew I loved it right away. I mean, the song was about me! What could be better. But growing up with the Beatles, I assumed my favorite song must be a Beatles song, but thanks to the emotional side of Sweet Baby James, it has an edge over all other tunes.

Fill in the blank: If this song came on at a bar or restaurant I would probably..

Sing along quietly to myself and totally disengage from all conversations for the entire three minutes. “Sorry, what were we talking about?”

Do you know how to play the song and have you ever performed it?

Yes and yes. I play it on guitar and have played it for my girlfriend and such and only once played it on stage. Big mistake. Cried through the whole thing. THE WHOLE THING.

If you could put this song at one point in the Lifetime TV movie about you, what would it be and why?

Easy. This has got to be the opening shots. Maybe I’m on the Greyhound bus heading home to Ohio, and it’s playing as the opening credits appear. The song end’s as I get off the bus and the action begins. It’s such a great traveler song.

What is your favorite lyric (or musical moment, if instrumental) of the song and why?

“Now the 1st 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…” The lyrics are impeccable. You get that image of December, the turnpike, the frosted Berkshire mountains. Not to mention the brilliant rhythm of “Boston” and “Frostin.” Then to cap it off you have “With ten miles behind me, and ten thousand more to go…” It’s just a beautiful lyric about so much and so little.

Fill in the blank: If someone told you “I HATE Sweet Baby James” you would say..

You must not be thinking of the right song. Either that or you have no soul.

How do you feel about other versions of the song? Do you not like hearing anything other than your favorite version or do you enjoy it regardless of who’s singing?

I grew up hearing this song strictly sung by my father playing the guitar. So I don’t really like covers and other versions of it. Even when I hear the James Taylor version, I’m a little disappointed it’s not my dad. But the original recording is the best non-dad version and I don’t like listening to others.

Why is this song so important to you?

It was the song my dad would sing to me when I was little. I wasn’t named after the song or anything but it was a nice coincidence. So when I hear it, I think of him and not to mention it’s a brilliant, beautiful song.

Learn more about James by checking out his website – www.jamespenca.com 

If you or someone you know has a great song story, email me at patrickgoespop@gmail.com !

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