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Taj Mahal

One of the most prominent figures in late 20th century blues, singer/multi-instrumentalist Taj Mahal played an enormous role in revitalizing and preserving traditional acoustic blues. Not content to stay within that realm, Mahal soon broadened his approach, taking a musicologist's interest in a multitude of folk and roots music from around the world -- reggae and other Caribbean folk, jazz, gospel, R&B, zydeco, various West African styles, Latin, even Hawaiian. The African-derived heritage of most of those forms allowed Mahal to explore his own ethnicity from a global perspective and to present the blues as part of a wider musical context. Yet while he dabbled in many different genres, he never strayed too far from his laid-back country blues foundation. Blues purists naturally didn't have much use for Mahal's music, and according to some of his other detractors, his multi-ethnic fusions sometimes came off as indulgent, or overly self-conscious and academic. Still, Mahal's concept was vindicated in the '90s, when a cadre of young bluesmen began to follow his lead -- both acoustic revivalists (Keb' Mo', Guy Davis) and eclectic bohemians (Corey Harris, Alvin Youngblood Hart).

Taj Mahal was born Henry St. Clair Fredericks in New York on May 17, 1942. His parents -- his father a jazz pianist/composer/arranger of Jamaican descent, his mother a schoolteacher from South Carolina who sang gospel -- moved to Springfield, Massachusetts, when he was quite young, and while growing up there, he often listened to music from around the world on his father's short-wave radio. He particularly loved the blues -- both acoustic and electric -- and early rock & rollers like Chuck Berry and Bo Diddley. While studying agriculture and animal husbandry at the University of Massachusetts, he adopted the musical alias Taj Mahal (an idea that came to him in a dream) and formed Taj Mahal & the Elektras, who played around the area during the early '60s. After graduating, Mahal moved to Los Angeles in 1964 and, after making his name on the local folk-blues scene, formed the Rising Sons with guitarist Ry Cooder. The group signed to Columbia and released one single, but the label didn't quite know what to make of their forward-looking blend of Americana, which anticipated a number of roots rock fusions that would take shape in the next few years; as such, the album they recorded sat on the shelves, unreleased until 1992.

Frustrated, Mahal left the group and wound up staying with Columbia as a solo artist. His self-titled debut was released in early 1968 and its stripped-down approach to vintage blues sounds made it unlike virtually anything else on the blues scene at the time. It came to be regarded as a classic of the '60s blues revival, as did its follow-up, Natch'l Blues. The half-electric, half-acoustic double-LP set Giant Step followed in 1969, and taken together, those three records built Mahal's reputation as an authentic yet unique modern-day bluesman, gaining wide exposure and leading to collaborations or tours with a wide variety of prominent rockers and bluesmen. During the early '70s, Mahal's musical adventurousness began to take hold; 1971's Happy Just to Be Like I Am heralded his fascination with Caribbean rhythms and the following year's double-live set, The Real Thing, added a New Orleans-flavored tuba section to several tunes. In 1973, Mahal branched out into movie soundtrack work with his compositions for Sounder, and the following year he recorded his most reggae-heavy outing, Mo' Roots.

Mahal continued to record for Columbia through 1976, upon which point he switched to Warner Bros.; he recorded three albums for that label, all in 1977 (including a soundtrack for the film Brothers). Changing musical climates, however, were decreasing interest in Mahal's work and he spent much of the '80s off record, eventually moving to Hawaii to immerse himself in another musical tradition. Mahal returned in 1987 with Taj, an album issued by Gramavision that explored this new interest; the following year, he inaugurated a string of successful, well-received children's albums with Shake Sugaree. The next few years brought a variety of side projects, including a musical score for the lost Langston Hughes/Zora Neale Hurston play Mule Bone that earned Mahal a Grammy nomination in 1991.

The same year marked Mahal's full-fledged return to regular recording and touring, kicked off with the first of a series of well-received albums on the Private Music label, Like Never Before. Follow-ups, such as Dancing the Blues (1993) and Phantom Blues (1996), drifted into more rock, pop, and R&B-flavored territory; in 1997, Mahal won a Grammy for Señor Blues. Meanwhile, he undertook a number of small-label side projects that constituted some of his most ambitious forays into world music. Released in 1995, Mumtaz Mahal teamed him with classical Indian musicians; 1998's Sacred Island was recorded with his new Hula Blues Band, exploring Hawaiian music in greater depth; 1999's Kulanjan was a duo performance with Malian kora player Toumani Diabaté. Maestro appeared in 2008, boasting an array of all-star guests: Diabaté, Angélique Kidjo, Ziggy Marley, Los Lobos, Jack Johnson, and Ben Harper. ~ Steve Huey, Rovi
full bio

Selected Discography

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Track List: The Complete Columbia Albums Collection

Disc 1
Disc 2
Disc 3
Disc 4
Disc 5
Disc 6
Disc 7
Disc 8
Disc 9
Disc 10
Disc 11
Disc 12
Disc 13
Disc 14
Disc 15

Comments

Taj, a real musicologist and scholar...
...Moses stood on the Red Sea shore, smokin' that water with a two by four.
boss
Treats his craft like a curator. So talented and farsighted. Preserving sounds that might otherwise be lost is a mission for him. A blessing for the rest of us.
Ohyeaaaa taj mahal
jgallagher65
Went to a Taj Mahal/Bonnie Raitt concert a few years back. It ended up being my first date with my future wife.
webersf
Another glorious God given bluesman. Thank you,Taj Mahal !
his early band KICKED A**! and the way he attacked that poor little harmonica... o o o w e e e e e e !
love this man and his family, I have had the pleasure of knowing them for 20+years, watch now for his children, Imon Starr and Deva Mahal up and coming with the natch'l talent and originality that has always been a Mahal tradition, they come by it honestly
GOT TO SEE HIM IN KALAMAZOO IN THE 90'S. HAVE LISTENED TO HIM SINCE THE 70'S. WISH HE WOULD RETURN TO KALAMAZOO.
mrschaffins
walking shoes the best!
Had the pleasure of working stAGE MONITORS FOR tAJ FEW YRS BACK ,,, WHAT A MAN ,,, A TRUES BLUESMAN
Saw Taj @ Wanee Fest last yr. He was the highlight of the festival for me.
gcrouse9
catfish blues?
gcrouse9
Need to hear catfish blues
yankeeb60
check out THE NATCH'L BLUES lp!
freddieteacu p s
I've been a fan ever since, as a schoolboy in London, I heard his first album in 1968. Loved his music ever since. Has there ever been a biography written about him? I saw him at the Royal Albert Hall on a promo tour for all the Columbia label artists at that time and he's the only one still out there playing gigs and recording. Long Live Taj.
alwhitehurst 5
Discovered Taj opening for Loggins & Messina in Fresno in about 1973 or 1974. Poor Loggins & Messina--did n ' t know what hit 'em. Taj is just the best. Finding his music was like the first taste of ice cream, or the first time--well, whatever. He got this white boy deeply into the blues.
scottcampbel l 1 9 5 8
Taj Mahal is brilliant, despite whatever petty feud some blowhard jackass has with the man. Elmore James would have loved Taj.
burkify
Thank you David. I like your use of the word venom. We dont need it here.
TAJ WAS A REGULAR GUEST AT MY HOTEL IN BERKELEY. WE STRUCK UP A FRIENDSHIP OVER THE YEARS AND I COULDN'T STOP PINCHING MYSELF KNOWING I WAS IN THE PRESENCE OF ONE OF MY MUSICAL HEROES. HIS BIG PROJECT AT THE TIME WAS SEEKING OUT AND PRESERVING MUSIC OF OLD BLUES ARTIST IN APPALACHIA AND THE SOUTH.
Has anyone seen Taj lately?
I have loved every song I've ever heard Taj sing, going all the way back to Happy Just To Be Like I Am, in 1972. Thank You Taj for forty years of pure enjoyment.
bevbevan
Taj introduced the world to Jesse Ed Davis (guitar). His best recorded work features this gifted guitar player.
@ David Bainbridge,W E L L SAID!
Yeah, Taj is great. Keb is good too. Alvin Hart dynamite. These are the guys that influence my playing.
bmontgomery1 5
When I was a teenager I heard Taj's Fishin' Blues and that is what turned me on to the blues. That and having the good fortune to accidentally see Muddy Waters in a small venue. I have been a blues fan ever since (over 40 years now).
@ David Stuart Brown, why all the venom? Unfortunatel y for you this isn't the 30's or the 40's. Every artist has built upon and borrowed from previous generations of artists. Taj makes music that people like, and your bitter post is not going to change that. Enjoy the artists you enjoy and let others do the same, without all the hate.
F**k him he is all bullshit in the 30s and 40s he would be hard pressed to find work he could not carry Elmore James guitar.I have a 50 year feud with this scumbag. He should fess up that he is all bullshit.Sto l e n muisic and stolen ideas
Taj is the greatest and most diverse artist out there. Especially puts other live music to shame. He has not visited Austin, TX in to many years and is missed horribly.
Some good Sunday blues clean-the-ho u s e and get-stuff-do n e music!!
cathydagenha r d t
LOVE, LOVE, LOVE LOVE THIS CD!! IF YOU CAN'T JAM WITH THIS YOUR IN A COMA!!!!!!!! ! ! ! ! ! ! !
FUN FUN FUN!!!
ariesentj
Yo TAJ...Jump Up...Ska baby...Love back at you man. - "Songbird"
where are ya

I said where are you....?

rararach12
You're missing 3 great Taj albums from your discography, Happy to be like I am, Taj, and Blue Light Boogie. Stan Fox sweatyboyblu e @ y a h o o . c o m
they do plenty fishin on kauai that's where you'll have to go cause that's where is he as far as i know but you gotta be cool man
Way back some 40 years ago, one of my friends in Amherst remarked, "You know, he really is one of the wonders of the world!" Very few performers could ever live up to that sort of enthusiasm. Taj did --- and still does.
Can anybody listen to Taj Mahal and maintain a frown?
the natch'l blues
I'm listening to Taj right now, a big grin on my face, listening to him do,"Six Days on the Road", and thinkin' "There's only one Taj Mahal."
This is a man I'd like to go fishin with.
The song 'Dust Me Down' sounds a bit like Ben Harper. Definitely great music...
I just heard: 'Leaving Trunk' for the first time in over a decade! What a great start to the morning. I could listen to this song all day with a big ol grin on my face.
"recycling the blues and other related stuff" great lp also
I love Taj Mahal's music. it is like a cat and milk; a dog and a bone.

Diane from D.C.
In the late 60's I worked in a club in SoCal(PVE)ca l l e d "The Third Eye" for a dude named Steve Chase. Taj and his "cousin" Ricky used to come in on Sundays and sit in on the open mike jam session. His version of "Corrina" caused me to want to play and sing the blues more than anything up to that point.We used to take rides up and down the coast (near Marineland) during the breaks and "gain inspiration" Oh yes life was good. Nklsk@t (Nashville)
Taj is great and has great variety in his music as you can see from his discography. See him live if at all possible. I have seen him several times is a small venue as well as on the Blues Cruise. Each show has been outstanding.
I got to meet him when he came to Garberville in Humboldt co. CA. he gave me will call passes. this was many years ago. but still cool..
Taj is one of my great heroes and a great performer as well. One 70's album not referred to in the Biography and my all time fave is "Oooh So Good 'n Blues"--
with a couple of great tunes with the Pointer Sisters. You can't go wrong with any of his recordings. A big man with a big heart. Glad new folks are finding him. Also if you see the '70's movie "Sounder" look for him--he's the guitar playing friend.
Never Heard of Him, but he is good.
Never heard of him, but I like his music
I'm gonna order some of his albums
Good singer, good blues!
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