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Taj Mahal

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Biography

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, when 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 as he explored Hawaiian music in greater depth, and 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. A holiday album with the Blind Boys of Alabama, Talkin' Christmas, appeared in time for the season in 2014. In 2017, Mahal teamed with Keb' Mo' to spotlight the good-time side of the blues on TajMo. ~ Steve Huey
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Top Tracks

  1.   Track
    Popularity
  2.   Statesboro Blues
  3.   Going Up to the Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue
  4.   Diving Duck Blues
  5.   Lovin' in My Baby's Eyes
  6.   Zanzibar
  7.   Kulanjan
  8.   She Caught the Katy (And Left Me a Mule to Ride)
  9.   Señor Blues
  10.   Fishin' Blues
  11.   Dust My Broom
  12.   Take a Giant Step
  13.   Slow Drag
  14.   Corrina
  15.   Built for Comfort
  16.   Hello Josephine
  17.   Early in the Morning
  18.   Blues With a Feeling
  19.   Railroad Bill
  20.   Think
  21.   Lot Of Love
  22.   Scratch My Back
  23.   The Celebrated Walkin' Blues
  24.   Done Changed My Way of Living
  25.   Candy Man
  26.   Cakewalk into Town
  27.   Checkin' Up on My Baby
  28.   Diddy Wah Diddy
  29.   Things Are Gonna Work Out Fine
  30.   Good Morning Miss Brown
  31.   Farther on Down the Road (You Will Accompany Me)
  32.   Everybody's Got to Change Sometime
  33.   EZ Rider
  34.   Guede Man Na
  35.   You Don't Miss Your Water (Till Your Well Runs Dry)
  36.   The Cuckoo
  37.   New Strangers Blues
  38.   I Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Steal My Jellyroll
  39.   Atlanta Kaira by Toumani Diabaté
  40.   Good Morning Little Schoolgirl
  41.   Fanta
  42.   Don't Leave Me Here
  43.   Come on in My Kitchen
  44.   Queen Bee
  45.   Six Days on the Road
  46.   Two-Step de Grand Mallet
  47.   Blue Light Boogie
  48.   Buck Dancer's Choice
  49.   Blues Ain't Nothin'
  50.   We Gonna Rock
  51.   Little Red Hen Blues
  52.   Taj's Blues
  53.   Love Theme in the Key of D
  54.   Big Kneed Gal
  55.   Oh Baby, Why Do You Wanna Make It Fat
  56.   Ain't It Funky Now
  57.   Humpty Dumpty
  58.   Oh Lord, Things Are Gettin' Crazy up Here
  59.   (You've Got To) Love Her With a Feeling
  60.   Walkin' Blues
  61.   Soul
  62.   Squeeze Box
  63.   Butter
  64.   I Can Make You Happy
  65.   You Rascal You
  66.   Texas Woman Blues
  67.   Sounder Chase a Coon
  68.   Sophisticated Mama
  69.   Nobody's Business But My Own
  70.   My Creole Belle
  71.   Leaving Trunk
  72.   I Need Your Loving
  73.   Having a Real Bad Day
  74.   Frankie and Albert
  75.   Easy to Love
  76.   Corinna
  77.   Catfish Blues
  78.   Satisfied 'N' Tickled Too
  79.   Band Introduction
  80.   Ain't Gwine to Whistle Dixie Anymo'
  81.   I'm Running and I'm Happy
  82.   M'Banjo
  83.   Roscoe's Mule Down in Roscoe's Barn
  84.   Chainey Do
  85.   Hanapepe Dream
  86.   Little Red Hen
  87.   Cheraw
  88.   You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond
  89.   East Bay Woman
  90.   The Bourgeois Blues
  91.   Livin' on Easy
  92.   Sweet Home Chicago
  93.   Ain't That a Lot of Love
  94.   21st Century Gypsy Singin' Lover Man
  95.   Harriet's Dance Song
  96.   I Miss You Baby
  97.   Great Big Boat
  98.   I Pity the Poor Immigrant
  99.   Sitting on Top of the World
  100.   Jellyroll
  101.   Big Legged Mamas Are Back in Style
  102.   Wild Ox Moan
  103.   Funky Bluesy ABC's
  104.   You Ain't No Street Walker Mama, Honey But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff
  105.   Jacob's Ladder
  106.   Yan-Nah Mama-Loo
  107.   Instrumental
  108.   The Penny Whistle
  109.   Conch Intro
  110.   Strong Man Holler
  111.   TV Mama
  112.   Talkin' John Henry
  113.   Teacup's Jazzy Blues Tune
  114.