Archive » September 13, 2007
On the Beat
By Steven Libowitz
Maria Muldaur is best-known for her early ‘70s hit “Midnight at the Oasis.” But Muldaur is much more than just a sultry swatter of sultans – her long career has touched on bluegrass, folk, jazz, gospel and, at several points, the blues.
The first two of Muldaur’s trilogy of blues-based recordings on the Stony Plain label, which highlight songs by her musical heroines of the early part of last century, have garnered two Grammy and five Blues Music Award nominations. Tonight’s Santa Barbara Blues Society show will promote the latest, “Naughty, Bawdy & Blue,” which pays tribute to such seminal woman blues mamas as Memphis Minnie and Victoria Spivey.
Muldaur performs an SB Blues Society show Saturday night at Earl Warren Showgrounds with her regular Red Hot Bluesiana Band power trio augmented by a horn section called the Syncopatin’ Papas – who she said are baby-faced players with old souls – and boogie-woogie guitarist Del Ray.
Q. This is only your third pure blues record, but you’ve always been drawn to the music, right?
A. I’m hardly a newcomer to blues. I was listening to early R’n’B stations back in the ‘50s when I ran away from home at 17. I landed in a house in Greenwich Village where I took care of the kids in exchange for room and board, and I’ve got to think God sent me to that particular household. They owned a record collection that included all the great American roots music artists. I fell in love then and continue to explore them from that day to this.
I can remember the needle hitting a scratchy old 78 (rpm) of Bessie Smith singing “Empty Bed Blues,” and hearing this incredibly soulful profound voice coming out: “When the bed gets empty/it makes you feel awful mean and blue/My springs are getting rusty/leading the single life I do.” I was mesmerized. It was a time when Connie Francis and Patti Page were on the radio, so to hear Bessie Smith just blew my young mind. In that moment, I knew that’s what I’d like to do when I grow up.
Blues was also a part of what you did in the early days too, even in the jugband music. But then you had that big hit with “Midnight at the Oasis,” and everybody thought you were this sultry siren. Was that a blessing or a curse?
Having an enormous million-selling, Grammy-nominated, No. 2 with a bullet, top hit not just in the states but worldwide, that could never be a curse. There are many artists way more talented than I am who never even had the chance to make a record let alone have a megahit all over the world. I can still tour Japan, Australia or anywhere else in the world because the song put me on the map.
But really, even on that album, I did things like “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” and the next album had a Skip James song, and Doc & Merle Watson. My whole career has been about exploring American roots music. It’s been a long odyssey. So when I had the hit, I just thought, “Oh, goody, I can turn more people on to what I love. It did nothing but help.
So how do you decide what to take on next?
Wherever things take me. I don’t just do blues albums. But it’s certainly where I’ve seriously settled in since about 1990. I’m very influenced by New Orleans RnB and swamp funk. I’ve done several albums with that flavor. The funny thing is, when I did the whole record of Dylan’s love songs with the swampy feeling, it hit the blues charts! After all those years, now I’m finally recognized primarily as a blues artist! That meant the world to me… Because all the concerns of the human heart and soul, all the things that touch us, are in the blues.
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