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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 sbbowl.com.


Source: © Copyright Santa Barbara Independent

Footnotes

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After 4 decades, Raitt still keeps an ‘ear open’

on September 22, 2009 No comments

arizonarepublic-sublogo

by Larry Rodgers

Bonnie Raitt won seven Grammys in the early ’90s, her “Nick of Time” and “Luck of the Draw” topping the charts.

But the singer-guitarist had been playing her enticing mixture of blues and rock for 20 years before all that attention, and she’s been at it for nearly another two decades as things have quieted a bit.

The Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, 59, who performs with blues-roots player Taj Mahal in Phoenix on Thursday, called to talk about her lifelong love of music and how she’s kept it fresh:

Question: Do you still feel you are learning and evolving musically after four decades?

Answer: Absolutely. I’m an avid fan first . . . . Because I don’t write all my own material, I’ve always had my ear open . . . listening to hundreds, if not thousands, of albums and songwriters, reading reviews, sniffing around the Internet.
(Before) the jewel of finding “I Can’t Make You Love Me” or any of the songs I’ve ended up recording . . . there was months of listening to stuff (that) wasn’t right for me.

It’s daunting, but it’s also a thrill when you turn over a rock and actually find something.

Q: You have a big birthday coming up in November.

A: I remember meeting Muddy (Waters), John Lee (Hooker), (Howlin’) Wolf and Sippie Wallace when I was in my early 20s, and they were the age I’m at now. And now I understand why they were so relaxed, calm and confident, and almost bemused. . . . You don’t care as much what people think.

Q: You’re part of a group of musicians who came up in the ’60s or ’70s rock world and who haven’t missed a beat as the years have passed.

A: It is brand-new territory. I look at the jazz, blues, folk and classical artists (who continue to play for decades). . . . We all have a different point of view to the same songs that we sing at 60 than when we sang them at 20.

Q: What do you respect most about Taj Mahal?

A: When I was in college, I was a big folk, blues and R&B fan, and Taj was one of the first ones who showed where the blues could go. His first two albums are real touchstones for me.

I’ve never felt that I wanted to be a musical museum piece for honoring the blues and playing it exactly as it occurred on the 78s. . . . All the permutations that Taj has taken his music to have been a real inspiration for me.

Q: Do you two share the stage on tour?

A: This is the first time many people have seen us in a while, so we have a good dose of our own shows with our bands. But the fun part for me that makes it fresh, especially because I’ve never toured with Taj, is about 45 minutes when we collaborate. We do a couple of acoustic songs in my set and then we do a big blow-out with both bands onstage for about 35 minutes.

Reach the reporter at larry.rodgers@arizonarepublic.com

or 602-444-8043.

Source: © Copyright The Arizona Republic

Footnotes

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Taking the long road with Bonnie Raitt
The BonTaj Roulet Tour hits the House of Blues on September 18

on September 16, 2009 No comments
by Allison Duck

It’s been more than 25 years since Taj Mahal performed on Bonnie Raitt’s album Takin’ My Time but the friends are back together again to bring the BonTaj Roulet Tour to the House of Blues at Mandalay Bay on Friday, September 18. Concertgoers will hear each musician in an individual set, and then the pair will take the stage together for a finale with both Raitt’s and Mahal’s backing bands behind them.

Mary Chapin Carpenter once said a concertgoer asked her if her guitar was a prop. Did you deal with any of this same curiosity about female musicians early in your career?

I got asked about it a lot, especially in the beginning, because it was unusual for a woman to play a bottleneck guitar and play styles of guitar that mostly men were doing… I came out of folk music and all those women were great accompanists. It’s about the song and about accompanying yourself and not about chops. It probably set me apart and helped me in a way. I don’t want to say it was a gimmick, but it was something that was unusual and made people pay attention.

What was it like recording albums for nearly 20 years when you were getting critical praise but not as much commercial success?

Well I had my core following, which I amassed from many, many years of staying out on the road… I was so lucky to get a record deal early on, right out of college. It didn’t really matter to me that I didn’t sell a lot. All I cared about was that my record company, which was Warner Bros. at the time, at least put enough records in the store to cover the people who I just worked hard to play to and win over with my concerts. Sometimes it would be frustrating not to get airplay on the FM stations to the levels of my friends like Linda Ronstadt and Emmylou [Harris] when we were all friends and peers and they all seemed equally good.

Footnotes

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