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Bonnie Raitt, Taj Mahal fun-loving at Dodge

on September 25, 2009 No comments
by Larry Rodgers

“It’s daunting, but it’s also a thrill when you … find something,” Bonnie Raitt says of exploring new music.

In the worlds of blues and roots music, older often means better.

Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal proved just that when they brought their Bon Taj Roulet tour to Phoenix’s Dodge Theatre on Thursday, Sept. 24.

Raitt, 59, has been playing her slinky meld of blues and rock for four decades. Mahal, 67, has his tourmate beat by half a decade or so.

Raitt told the appreciative Dodge audience that she has been inspired by and been friends with Mahal since the start of her career but the pair never have staged a tour together until this year.

Both artists made the most of it, playing sets with their own bands and then uniting for a raucous 45-minute finale that had hundreds of fans dancing in the aisles.

The good-natured Mahal opened the evening with his rootsy take on country blues and world music that was spawned by a childhood of listening to musical styles from around the globe.

His set showed off the multi-instrumentalist’s diversity with the funky, soulful “Farther On Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me)” (written by Mahal in 1969), Fats Domino’s rocking “Hello Josephine” and Horace Silver’s Latin-tinged “Senor Blues.”

Mahal, an imposing figure onstage, cracked the crowd up as he played maracas and shook all over during “Senor Blues,” which featured nice work by his Texicali Horns (saxophonist Joe Sublett and trumpet player Darrell Leonard).

He wrapped things up with one of his biggest tunes, 1968’s “EZ Rider,” with Mahal having fun working the harmonica.

Raitt took the stage and announced, “We’re celebrating roots music and survival.”

She had some fans standing and dancing from her set-opening “I Sho Do.”

Raitt took an extended turn on slide guitar for “Thing Called Love,” as well as the girl-power anthem “Your Good Thing (Is About To End).”

Throughout the set, she spotlighted a new member of her band, keyboardist Ricky Peterson of Minneapolis.

Peterson deserved the attention, bringing down the house with a jazzy solo on the bittersweet “I Can’t Make You Love Me.”

Raitt was joined on a handful of tunes by the horn players from Mahal’s Phantom Blues Band, adding tightness and power to songs like “Love Sneakin’ Up On You.”

She created a spine-tingling moment when she sang a part-a cappella version of John Prine’s lament of a worn-out relationship, “Angel From Montgomery.”

Raitt and Mahal clearly were having a blast playing off each other when they took the stage with their two bands.

Raitt pretended to give her pal a hard time during a medley of “Tramp” and “Scratch My Back,” with Mahal providing sassy comeback lines to each verbal jibe.

The most fun song was “Wah She Go Do,” from Raitt’s 1973 album, “Takin’ My Time” (co-produced by Mahal).

The Calypso-flavored song found Raiit explaining to Mahal why “a woman must have an outside man,” drawing loud approval from some women in the crowd.

Raitt and Mahal are naturals as fun-loving touring partners. Here’s hoping they team up again soon.

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CoS at Blues and Brews ‘09

on September 22, 2009 No comments
By Alex Young

What is it about the blues that draws us together? For the 9,000 or so drenched fans that attended this years Blues and Brews Festival it was the need to let go one more time before they hunkered down for the winter. Light snow dusted the tops of the peaks that surround Telluride Town Park in Telluride, CO, and with monsoon season in full swing, the weather showed its every side. The long rainy periods would be relieved by a tease of warm sun and blue skies only to go back again. Sunday even saw pebbles of hail as Bonnie Raitt’s first set was in full swing. That didn’t phase anyone however, not the bands nor the fans, even if you had to throw on a hat and gloves.

Three days of music and beer were back again, with Saturday tickets selling out like they do every year. Three hours of free beer and Buddy Guy would excite anyone; I mean, would you say no? While there were some unfortunate last minute line-up losses with Xavier Rudd and St. Jude, organizers were quick to fill the gaps by grabbing Colorado natives Big Head Todd and the Monsters (and by giving Lubriphonic some stage time the day before their late night jam).

Friday, September 18th
Friday kicked things off with a little sunshine and some serious harmonica from Jason Ricci and New Blood. Looking like a scrawnier Billy Idol, Ricci showed his southern-fueled blues-rock chops with scorching harmonica solos, not to mention the huge guitar sound coming from Shawn Starski who was proving his 2008 ranking as one of the top ten new guitarists, according to Guitar Player. Everyone was riled up and enjoying the last moments of dryness before the field was swamped with rain.

Otis Taylor’s African Orchestra proved to be one of the best sets of the day. His African-inspired blues kept the Animal House-like atmosphere that was in full swing going, peaking with a harmonica battle between Ricci and him. At one point, he disappeared, only to show up again at the front of the crowd, leaning over the stage alongside Ricci, as the two passed licks back and forth.

By this point, the electrified masses were soaked, and the reoccurring mud pit-come-dance floor was forming in the right front corner of the field. Big Head Todd and the Monsters stepped up for the challenge of keeping everyone moving, and were quite successful. The clouds let up, but you could see your breath in the air as the temperature dropped. However, Todd’s blend of 90’s jam rock managed to keep everyone warm. Not bad for a band that until two weeks ago wasn’t even playing. In retrospect, they are local favorites.

Jackie Greene stepped up next with his sleek guitar moves and Dylan-like swagger. The rain returned, making Greene’s killer cover of The Beatles “Don’t Let Me Down” even more perfect. The set was awe-inspiring indeed, even rivaling the night’s headliner, Joe Cocker.

Joe is getting old. If you couldn’t tell that from his cameo in Across the Universe, you could Friday night. That didn’t matter to most, however. As the waterfall from above grew heavier, people bundled up and huddled together for a great moment: Cocker’s raucous rendition of “Feelin’ Alright”. He had it down, everything from the trademark shaking to the painful looks in his face during every gritty note and yell. And man, did he sound good. With another Beatles take, this time with a sleek rendition of “Come Together”, that heavy and infamous bass line rang out into the night. While he carried on, the weather grew worse, though many remained standing. Of course, for some, great songs can’t compete with warmer places.

Saturday, September 19th
Saturday would prove to be the unruly day that it always is — after all, it’s the actual weekend. This meant people thoroughly enjoyed the festival’s other half, the brews, which were flowing like a river. Over 150 beers in all kept patrons busy while the funk and R&B played in the background. Musically, the day would bring the best bands of the weekend. So, having said that, let’s put this in perspective, shall we? Lots of excellent, rare beer and lots of excellent, rare music. In other words, heaven for the greater majority, and boy did they treat it like that. In retrospect, Saturday felt like that toga party scene in Animal House, only for 9 hours and much muddier.

People were slipping and sliding from brewery to brewery, throwing mud, and sipping everything from oatmeal stouts to apple ales and I.P.A.’s galore. Over on the stage, however, one of the weekends best acts was in full swing. Coming from Mali (that’s in Africa in case you needed a globe), Vieux Farka Toure enthralled the audience, and milked the tame weather for all it was worth with their African funk jams.

Anders Osborne and his big old beard added a dose of psychedelics to the blues with a little help from a sousaphone and drums for the rhythm section. An interesting combo to say the least, with the unique piece of brass being a perfect base . That, along with his fancy fret work, sucked you in well enough and stole the show.

A little less blues, a lot more jam, Umphery’s McGee brought a mellower than usual set to the stage. With a little more focus on their earlier days, the set brought out some good old-fashioned rock and roll. It seemed to work, though, and everybody was getting into it, but then again, everyone was loaded anyhow. It made sense why Umphrey’s toned it down though. They would be saving the more progressive set for their late night show, where they busted out the heavy jams and electronics for all the noodle dancing hippies out there. Instead, the day was centered around the Buddy Guy side of music, which meant were longer, Guy-inspired jams, in addition to old school covers, all leading up to the night’s hero.

Buddy Guy is a beast. Not only can he steal a show, he can steel a weekend, playing all the right songs with all the heat of his hay day. He had soul, he had energy, and he played the style of blues-rock he set to stone. Talk about a perfect night for a well lubricated crowd. Sheesh.

Sunday, September 20th
The closing day would be one for the books, so a huge pat on the back for everyone that stuck around, which seemed to be, well, everyone. It rained like hell, and after a fleeting moment of blue skies, the clouds rolled back in, reflected the sunset, and followed with some pebble sized hail. Earlier sets lucked out, with the Lee Boys and Super Chikan and the Fighting Cocks bringing in some barnyard, delta blues. Steel slides and funky homemade guitars helped narrate the story telling and rowdy jams.

When the weather turned, however, so did the music. During the worst of it, Ryan Shaw had to step in for a quick line up change. Yes his voice was incredible, but what people needed was something to keep warm and move to — not slow R&B. As a result, people fled for warmer pastures. Even Michael Jackson’s “Man in the Mirror” couldn’t keep people from seeking shelter under tarps and in their hotel room just a couple blocks away.

Relief came with the weekend’s final spectacle, the Bontaj Roulet. Billed as such, it was a combination of Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal each playing solo sets, then coming together at the end for a Prairie Home Companion kind of stage show. Thus, the crowds returned.

While Mahal is indeed a legend, Raitt would blow his more traditional set out the water. The songs were technically impressive, but his energy took a while to kick in. Yes, both are very professional, but Raitt is a true performer, beckoning the crowd in her sassy country way. Even the old tired songs came to life with everyone in the house singing all the words. Her energy was huge, as it ebbed and flowed from her to the audience and back.


When it came time for the Bontaj, Mahal was much more alive, having put down the guitar (and opting for a lyric sheet this time). Throughout the set, he and Raitt would beckon and call eachother with classic country blues duets, and this collaboration bled into their solo numbers, as well. The duo proved to be a celebrated finish for the festival and a real treat for the weathered and muddy audience. It didn’t matter that it was 40 degrees, it was only a minor detail compared to the two powerhouses on stage.

Raitt picks her Guild while on tour with Taj Mahal at the Telluride Blues and Brews Festival in the fall of 2009
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BonTaj Roulet - Telluride Blues & Brews Festival 9-20-2009
BonTaj Roulet - Telluride Blues & Brews Festival 9-20-2009

Looking back, Blues and Brews really is a beautiful experience. There’s a dynamic between artist and patron that doesn’t seem to exist at any of the other festivals out there. It’s a meeting place for long time friends both in front and back stage. The music is chosen to fuel the party, and strays far from the summer festival pissing match. It’s about the music, and this year proved to be no different with headliners and day sets that brought all they had, even through some of the worst weather the mountains could muster. But that’s just how it goes at Blues and Brews, and the patrons, knowing this, return year after year. It’s true, you just can’t deny the Blues.

Source: © Copyright Consequence of Sound

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Raitt, Taj Mahal Bring Rockin’ Blues to the Bowl

on September 22, 2009 No comments

The double bill of innovative music sends fans dancing in the aisles.

By L. Paul Mann, Noozhawk Contributor

The blues genre was alive and well at the Santa Barbara Bowl on a sultry September Saturday night. A double bill of blues innovators Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal nearly filled the house.

A mostly mature crowd was anything but sedate as the audience responded with loud cheers, singing and dancing throughout the show.

Henry St. Clair Fredericks, better known by his stage name Taj Mahal, opened the show with a smoking set, highlighting his near half-century career.

He is well-known for blending different genres of music with traditional blues, to create a unique and ever-changing sound. A master chameleon of the blues, his influences include African, Caribbean, Hawaiian and rock music. He was immersed in music at an early age. His father, of the same name, was a well-known West Indian jazz composer, but was killed in an accident when Taj was 11. His mother was a gospel singer.

Even though this city boy, born in Harlem, N.Y., showed a propensity for music as soon as he could walk or talk, he almost gave up the music world to be a farmer, after an opportunity to work on farm in Massachusetts when he was just 16. He continued a farming career through college, where he studied a variety of farm sciences. Luckily for those who love the blues, he rekindled his interest in music about the same time.

In 1964, he moved to California and formed The Rising Sons with fellow legend Ry Cooder. This may well have been one of the first commercial interracial bands to perform in public.

Taj released his first solo album in 1968. Since then, he has collaborated with a sea of superstars in the music world, including The Rolling Stones, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Eric Clapton and Etta James. He also wrote film scores and won two Grammys, but even so has found time to “disappear” from the commercial music world to live life and invent new sounds.

When I photographed him appearing at the massive Peace Sunday concert at the Rose Bowl in 1982, he was spending the decade in relative obscurity on the island of Kauai, where he fished and formed the Hula Blues Band. His special appearance in front of 100,000 music fans, along with most of the top American rock stars of the day, including Bob Dylan, Tom Petty, Stevie Wonder and Bruce Springsteen, was in keeping with his support of political activism for worthy causes. In addition to this anti-nuclear rally, he supported many other causes, such as Farm Aid.

At the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday night, Taj displayed his masterful command of an immense catalog of music and displayed his unique thumb-and-middle-finger picking style. He had excited fans dancing in the aisles.

But the show had just begun, and the best was yet to come. Raitt, no stranger to the venue, took to the stage amid thunderous applause. Another innovator of the blues, Raitt has been recording music for nearly 40 years, releasing her first self-titled album in 1971. Also coming from a musical family, her father, John, was a Broadway star and her mother a pianist.

Like Taj, Raitt faced an early struggle in her musical career trying to break the status quo of musical genres. As a young red-headed Quaker girl, it was tough in the beginning to get people to take her seriously as a blues performer. With persistence and patience, she melded different musical genres to create her unique brand of blues music, finally meeting great commercial success, including nine Grammy awards and being inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. She also shares Taj’s passion for political activism and has contributed her talents to many social causes.

After quickly winning over the crowd at the Bowl with her powerful, funky, jammin’ blues band, she sat down for a short acoustic set with Taj. It was almost the highlight of the evening. The two of them picked through a trio of blues classics and harmonized in passionate blues vocals that could make the hair stand up on the back of any fan of this musical genre.

Next, Taj stepped off, and Raitt’s brilliant band returned to the stage. Playing in her trademark bottle-neck guitar style, she led the group into a medley of her biggest hit songs, and the crowd went wild. Fans danced and sang along to each familiar tune. Just when the crowd thought it couldn’t get any better, Taj and his savvy band of musicians returned to the stage for a super jam with Raitt and her players. Rolling through a jamming encore medley of songs, the explosive sound sent most everyone in the crowd into a clapping and dancing frenzy.

Long live the blues!

Source: © Copyright NoozHawk

Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal at the Santa Barbara Bowl

The BonTaj Roulet Tour Let the Good Times Roll

By Charles Donelan

September 14, 2009

The Bowl was jumping on Saturday night for the Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal double bill. Both are veteran artists with big, outgoing personalities and tremendous musicianship, and on this tour they share a dedication to letting the good times roll in a distinctly soulful, classic rhythm-and-blues idiom. Dressed in a blue shirt, black pants, and a white straw fedora hat, Mahal opened with a 45-minute set that showed off his powerhouse band and some super-tight Texicali horns. Having traveled all over the world developing his many styles of music allows Mahal the luxury of mining the past and still sounding absolutely contemporary. He may have been singing about Annie Mae and her big-leg grandma or playing the banjo, but he was never out of touch with the audience or the groove. The final song of the set, an instrumental called “711,” was as delicious as anything cooked up by The Meters or the MGs, with Mahal front and center with his hollow-body electric guitar battling the organ.

Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal at Santa Barbara Bowl 2009 © Paul Wellman

Bonnie Raitt came out for her set and continued down the rocking road Mahal had opened, covering some of the same vintage territory in a kind of Stax/Memphis meltdown. After telling everyone present, “Taj got my blood boilin’ hot,” Raitt proceeded to play spectacular guitar and sing like an angel, even as her between-songs patter took a mischievous turn. At one point, she even name-checked her bandmates’ girlfriends for showing them some pre-concert love. Keyboardist Ricky Peterson filled the night with steaming organ riffs and joined Raitt as a second vocalist on several occasions.

The long Bonnie Raitt solo set bled into a jubilant jam session that brought out all the players from both bands until there were some 12 musicians onstage, as well and Raitt and Mahal. The version they offered of Mahal’s classic “Satisfied and Tickled Too” was sublime, and included a verse in which the singer growled out some suggestive wordless lyrics. “Something to Talk About” followed, as did a pair of dedications to S.B. music industry legend Hale Milgrim and his wife, Annie, and then it was down the hill and onto Milpas Street for an awestruck, happy crowd.

Source: © Copyright Santa Barbara Independent

Bonnie Raitt’s Roulet

The Singer Joins Taj Mahal in the Round Saturday Night at the Santa Barbara Bowl

By Charles Donelan

September 6, 2009

When Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal play the Santa Barbara Bowl this weekend as part of their BonTaj Roulet tour, they will bring an incomparable level of musical and historical experience to the stage, having between them commanded the attention of all kinds of music lovers worldwide for several decades. Mahal is the most musically extroverted of the great blues artists-as prominent, influential, and popular as B.B. King or Muddy Waters, but with an idiosyncratic set of interests, including world music, farming, and social justice.

Meanwhile Raitt represents a unique fusion of some of the main strands of American progressive culture since the 1960s. Her music draws on roots and blues traditions, but she has been a tireless proponent of the work of young and less recognized songwriters. She’s had hit records and critical favorites, and she’s been on the forefront of musical activism since her student days during the Vietnam War era. I recently spoke to Raitt in anticipation of her concert with Mahal at the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, September 12.

© Sam Jones

I am excited about this double concert format, with you and Taj Mahal. Do you feel that way, too? Oh yes, I am thrilled at the combo, and about returning to Santa Barbara. I know the venue very well. They told me that I have played [the Bowl] 26 times, which even for me is a lot. Sometimes it gets into the stratosphere with places like Red Rocks, but I guess that I have to accept that I have been doing this a long time now. Not as long as Taj though.

It shows they have good taste at the Bowl. Your early records were important to me and to many people I knew growing up because they wove together our feelings about politics and our feeling for roots music, particularly the blues. That means a lot, because it’s that exact part of what I do that means the most to me, too.

How did your life as an activist come about? I was raised in Los Angeles in a Quaker family. My folks converted during the Second World War. My own desire to work with the AFSC [American Friends Service Committee] came out of that connection. Growing up, I idolized Bob Dylan and Joan Baez, and that made me want to do music, but I also thought I should change the world. So very early on, the idea of marrying music and activism, and exposure to that whole period of Sing Out! Magazine and Pete Seeger-that was really what made me pick up the guitar. I loved the power of music to bring people together to have a good time, but I also knew that you could use music to raise money and get press attention for a good cause.

I know you were also involved in the action against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant. That’s right, 1976, the Clamshell Alliance. Absolutely.

I think people forget that as far as activism goes, “the ‘60s” didn’t just end. The ‘70s were full of radical protests. That’s right. The ‘70s were when a lot of the real changes actually happened. What started in the ‘60s was out in the streets in the ‘70s.

You have a rare ability to make big connections, and you clearly value being part of something that’s bigger than yourself. How did that come about? I think everyone admires these figures like Gandhi, or Martin Luther King, and Nelson Mandela. They will always inspire because these people put themselves out there, and they risked everything for something that at the time seemed like a pipe dream, impossible. And they didn’t do it for a payback. It’s not like Mohammed or Jesus or the Buddha believed “do for others so they’ll do for you.” I think all of us secretly-or not so secretly-admire that commitment. Living for others in the real sense is something [that’s] ingrained. It’s about being part of something bigger.

Is it important to you to give new music exposure to a wider audience? Every songwriter who I have covered, they all have jewels of songs that have never really been heard.

The best thing about being a critic and reviewing music is that you can offer people recognition. It’s a great feeling to let someone know that they are good. That’s exactly what I feel when I play a song by a great songwriter. I am so happy to give these people their due. When I get a letter from someone and they are excited about an artist whose song I covered, that’s great, and when I hear from one of the artists that they have gotten a gig, that’s even better.

I should let you go, but I have enjoyed talking with you at length, I hope you didn’t mind. You know I have been asked, on the radio, if Melissa Etheridge has ever hit on me. Talk about dead air on my end of the phone. [Laughs.] Well, that’s just on one of those zoo radio shows where they do that kind of humor. I’m usually more judicious in who I talk to.

Bonnie Raitt and Taj Mahal bring the BonTaj Roulet tour to the Santa Barbara Bowl on Saturday, September 12, at 7 p.m. For tickets and information, call 962-7411 or visit

Source: © Copyright Santa Barbara Independent

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