Singing The Natch’l Blues

3 Apr

The Natch'l Blues (1968)

Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr. has been a musician since birth. His mother sang in a Harlem, New York, gospel choir and his father was a piano player and jazz arranger. The apple doesn’t fall far from the tree. Fredericks Jr. grew up with a keen ear for music – preferring Jazz and World Music. After his father died in an accident, his mother remarried, and at 13, his stepfather introduced him to guitar which became his instrument of comfort. In the late 50s he changed his stage name to Taj Mahal – citing Gandhi as an inspiration – and began playing music more regularly (pairing this love with his equal skill for farming).

Taj Mahal fused blues with world music and quickly became an inspirational musician. He has released 25 studio albums (and several live albums) over an ongoing 40-year-career. He has won three Grammy Awards, been featured on several albums, and he has also been in films – including Blues Brothers 2000. His career has been among some of the most industrious musicians AND he oozes with bluesy talent. Here is my question. Why is Taj Mahal not more universally recognized as the tremendous musician he is? And, yes, he has a great and faithful fanbase, but I think he deserves even more recognition.

I first saw Taj Mahal on PBS. Yes, PBS. After the Rolling Stones finally sucked in the pride and released footage from their Rock And Roll Circus, PBS featured the footage in one of their package sets. Taj Mahal was there in dark Lennon-like shades, a gold-colored vest, and a beige cowboy hat. He played “Ain’t That a Lotta Love” from the 1968 album (his second solo) The Natch’l Blues.

The Natch’l Blues is a nine-track album featuring Taj Mahal, session extraordinaire Jesse Ed Davis, bassist Gary Gilmore, drummers Chuck Blackwell and Earl Palmer (another session extraordinaire), and Al Kooper (later a member of Blood Sweat and Tears). The music is a blend of rock-infused, grunty blues and southern soul. Each track is worth an individual mention, but I am going to point out two for your enjoyment.

This is footage of “Aint That A Lot of Love” from the Rolling Stones Rock N’ Roll Circus. The defined bass riff is jumpy, the guitar composed, and Taj Mahal’s voice loose and passionate. It is Southern Rock/Blues at its finest – a gruntier and harder version of something the Allman Brothers would create. The music actually sounds to me like a combination of Capricorn and STAX records. It is most definitely a product of late 60’s blues (a genre that Eric Clapton was thriving in at the time). The footage is also fantastic.

“Corinna” is relaxed, but still a good example of the blues/soul mix that Taj Mahal excelled in creating. The harmonica and steel-bodied guitar blend together like ice cream and chocolate syrup and Taj Mahal’s voice accentuates the songs draw.

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One Response to “Singing The Natch’l Blues”

  1. John Phillips April 3, 2012 at 9:03 pm #

    His version of Corinna is one of my all time favourites. Terrific artist.

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