40 Years Young, That's Taj Mahal

Taj MahalI didn’t know much about the blues in 1968, except there was a war on, heads were getting knocked in the streets and the draft board was breathing hard down my neck. Maybe I knew more about the blues than I thought.

In any case, when it came time to learn something about the blues, I had a great teacher…. Henry St. Claire Fredericks, AKA Taj Mahal. All it took was one listen to Going Up the Country, Gonna Paint My Mailbox Blue, and I was hooked. Then my education continued with Statesboro Blues and Leaving Trunk, and pretty soon I was doing graduate work with I Ain’t Gonna Let Nobody Steal My Jellyroll.



Taj MahalWhat all his music has in common is an infectious rhythm to go along with his brand of feel-good blues. It sounds like a contradiction. How can you feel good and be blue? Ask the Taj. The way he explains it, you may have experienced the blues, you may be down and out, you may be feeling low, but the purpose of the blues is to lift you back up and to make you forget what’s making you blue. And in this pursuit, there may be no better practitioner/doctor than Taj Mahal.

Born and raised in Massachusetts, Taj went to U Mass at Amherst before heading Eastward to Cambridge town to hit the folkie scene before heading West to L.A. in the late 60s. There he hooked up with Ry Cooder for a while in a band called the Rising Sons. The band opened for bands like Sam the Sham and the Temptations. Soon, Taj got to meet and play with the blues legends such as Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, and Lightin’ Hopkins. The experience helped him establish his own trajectory for celebrating the blues.

From Linda Lu to She Caught the Katy and Left Me a Mule to Ride, the unmistakable exuberance of Taj Mahal still shines brightly. Celebrating a 40th anniversary, his new recording, Maestro, puts his ethno-musicologist, multi-instrumentalist self on display along with friends such as Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Ben Harper and Los Lobos. They may be celebrities in their own right, but they only add luster to one of the wonders of the music world – the one and only Taj Mahal!

Jay Harrison is a graphic designer and writer whose work can be seen at DesignConcept. He's written a mystery novel, which therefore makes him a pre-published author.

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