The Grammy Museum CELEBRATes TAJ MAHAL’S 80TH BIRTHDAY With Special LIVING HISTORY LIVE Presentation TAJ MAHAL CELEBRATES 80TH BIRTHDAY WITH GRAMMY MUSEUM ON THURSDAY, JUNE 16, 2022
LOS ANGELES, CA- My love for music didn’t start with traditional blues… but my love for traditional blues started with Taj Mahal. It was 1996, and I had just finished my freshman year of college. During those lazy summer months, I spent time a lot of time at the local record shop checking out, and listening to new music that was popping at the time.
Eric Clapton’s “Change The World” was creeping up on the charts, and as a big fan of Kenneth “Babyface” Edmonds’ works (he produced the song), I took a flier, and spent some hard earned cash, on purchasing a compact disc copy of the motion picture soundtrack of the John Travolta film “Phenomenon” that had that song on it.
That soundtrack album opened my eyes to so much good music. Aaron Neville’s cover of Van Morisson’s “Crazy Love” was a revelation. The Iguana’s “Para Donde Vas” had me singing in Spanish even though I studied French through college. I fell in love with the soulful vocals of Dorothy Moore’s classic “Misty Blue”.
But the crown jewel on that compilation album… at least for me… was this little gem titled “Corinna” by Taj Mahal. It was a simple blues melody, but the way that Taj Mahal sang those lyrics of a yearning love just hit me solid. After learning that it was actually a cover, I went down the rabbit hole with “Corinna” and started to look for other versions of the song. Wikipedia breaks down the song’s history, but I remember spending hours at record stores and the local library pulling up albums by Bob Dylan, Joni Mitchell and Steppenwolf. Sonically, each version was very different from Taj Mahal’s version for the song, and truth be told, Taj’s version just hit me right (FYI, the only other version of the song that I’m partially to is Phish’s version of “Corinna” and that’s probably because its sticks to the essentially the same melody and lyrics as Taj’s version.
A world-renowned American blues singer-songwriter, Taj Mahal was born Henry St. Claire Frederick Jr. on May 17th, 1942. in Harlem, New York. His impact and influence in blues… and in music generally… is undeniable. Since releasing his debut album for Columbia in 1968, Taj Mahal has not only preserved but also reshaped what traditional acoustic blues is… and could be… all about. By incorporating innumerable facets of styles from around the world like calypso, reggae, gospel and finding inspiration from the Pacific and West African musical styles, his storied repertoire can really be viewed as a history of music through the eyes of a bluesman. On June 17th, 2022, decided to indulge a small audience at the Grammy Museum with some personal stories from that history.
Billed as a celebration for his 80th birthday, Taj Mahal spent 90 minutes interviewed by Scott Goldman, interspersing bits of music throughout the interviewing. Taj would delight the intimate room with bits of “Fishin’ Blues,” “Queen Bee” and, to my absolute delight, “Corinna.”
Scott got Taj to speak on his start in music, and the evolution and influence of his sound. But with a figure as significant as Taj, there was only so much that could be talked about. You could have easily spent the 90 minutes talking about all of his accolades (which include 3 Grammy Awards and membership in the Blues Hall of Fame), but what I really admired about Taj was how he always brushed aside the compliments and focused on those things and artists that influenced him. In a particularly poignant moment, he seemed to suggest that it’s really not him that deserved the glory, but the music itself, stating, in essence, that he was just the “conduit” for the expression. A humble messenger.
I loved that Taj continuously strummed chords and plucked melodic lines while Scott tried engaging him with conversation. It really was as if he just wanted the music to do the talking, and to be honest, I think the audience would have loved it if Scott had just let Taj fiddle around on his Recording King RM-991.
Taj Mahal recently released and album with his longtime friend and bandmate Ry Cooder earlier this year (the played together during the mid-’60s as part of roots rock band Rising Sons). If you’d like to hear some of the musical magic and message that we got a taste of at the Grammy Museum, spend 45 minutes listening to their new album Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. It’s music that influenced Mahal and Cooder, and I can’t think of a better way to get into the music of Taj Mahal with an album that pays homage to his influences. Then maybe check out his recording of “Corinna”. I have a feeling you’ll fall in love with Traditional Blues. Just my two cents.
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