I don’t know about you but I can use some music that puts a smile on my face. . .
Most of the time when people think of the blues, they think sad music about suffering. Then there is Taj Mahal (real name: Henry Saint Clair Fredericks). Maybe it’s because he comes from the folk blues tradition as opposed to the electric blues of Chicago, Memphis or Texas. Maybe it’s because he often incorporates elements of world music into his works. Whatever the reasons, Taj Mahal is uniquely different from what you think is your basic blues.
That is not to say that his impact is insignificant. On the contrary. His debut album, Taj Mahal, released in 1968, had a stripped-down approach to vintage blues tunes and was unlike almost anything else at the time and is now considered a classic of the ’60s blues revival. Featuring guitarists Jesse Ed Davis and Ry Cooder, the album contains updated versions of early blues songs by Sleepy John Estes, Robert Johnson, and Sonny Boy Williamson II. Most importantly, it included an adaptation of Blind Willie McTell’s “Statesboro Blues”. which directly inspired the Allman Brothers Band version of the tune.
Taj Mahal Statesboro Blues
TAJ MAHAL – Leaving Trunk
Celebrated Walkin’ Blues
“She Caught the Katy” was written by Taj Mahal and James Rachell and appearred on Taj Mahal’s 1968 album The Natch’l Blues and is one of Mahal’s most famous tunes. It has since been covered many times and was in the 1980 movie The Blues Brothers (the song plays over the opening credits, as Jake Blues leaves prison). Side Note: The “Katy” refers to the Missouri–Kansas–Texas Railroad.
She Caught The Katy – Taj Mahal (Original Studio Recordings – 1968)
In later records, Taj Mahal began focusing on country and folk blues. I remember seeing him live, opening up for The Mahavishnu Orchestra in Central Park as part of the Shaffer Music Festival. Here he was, playing solo on an old National Steel guitar in front of a NYC audience there for high powered electric jazz fusion. I remember seeing similar situations and it was never pretty. He had the crowd eating out of his hand by the end of the first song.
Taj Mahal – Fishin’ Blues
Taj Mahal – Queen Bee
Nobody’s Business But My Own
Taj Mahal – Cakewalk Into Town 1973
Hearing this music makes me smile. I hope it does the same for you.