Pat Blythe – There’s something about Maria…..
Several weeks ago I found out Maria Muldaur was performing at the venerable Hugh’s Room located in Toronto’s west end. I contacted Jane Harbury to see if it was possible to attend and photograph Maria (somehow I just can’t refer to her as Muldaur). It was a Richard Flohil event and through him I received permission. (Thank you Jane and Richard).
In my very first column back in February I had done a two-part piece called Women in Songs. Prompted by the rediscovery of a CD set I had purchased some years ago, I decided to pen a piece on many of the women who had participated in the collection. Maria Muldaur was included. She had just recently released her 40th album, a tribute to Memphis Minnie. Now, we’re all familiar with “Midnight At the Oasis” but Maria has done so much more, before and after this mainstream, 1974 hit.
Here’s what I posted several months ago….
Maria Muldaur — Best known for her 1974 hit, Midnight at the Oasis, Muldaur is a folk/blues singer and was a part of the American folk music revival in the 1960’s. Singing with John Sebastian, David Grisman and Stefan Grossman as a member of the Even Dozen Jug Band, Muldaur was involved in the Greenwich Village scene which, at the same time, also included Bob Dylan. Some of her recollections of that period are part of Martin Scorcese’s documentary film No Direction Home.
Muldaur has been nominated for a Blues Music Award twice — the first time in 2005 for her release of Sweet Lovin’ O’l Soul and again in 2013 in the Traditional Blues Female category.
In 2011, Muldaur released her 40th album, a tribute to the late Memphis Minnie (more on Minnie in a later posting), one of the first blues artists (male or female) to take up the electric guitar. The album includes many guest artists including Phoebe Snow and Bonnie Raitt.
Muldaur continues to perform with her bands — Maria Muldaur & Her Red Hot Bluesiana Band — playing New Orleans flavoured Blues R&B and Swamp Funk, and her jazz quartet.
So, to expand on that just a little we’ll go back to Maria’s very early days. Upon hitting the stage at Hugh’s Room with her Red Hot Bluesiana Band, she immediately began to regale us with the stories of her life in music, a retrospective of her career. Beginning with her birth name — Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica D’Amato was born into an Italian family and in true Italian tradition, many names are given to new members of the family to ensure all bases are covered and no one on either side is left out or as she said, “you don’t want to piss anyone off”. Accompanied by a slide show, her life in pictures, Maria became a storyteller, giving us a glimpse of what it was like to grow up in Greenwich Village, the heart of all that was happening in the 60’s. From poets to singers, from beatniks to peaceniks, musicians and songwriters, the Alan Ginsbergs and Bob Dylans…she had a spectacular vantage point….one of the best seats in the house.
Our evening began with what has become one of Maria’s signature songs, “I’m A Woman”, written by Lieber and Stoller and first recorded by Christine Kittrell in 1962. One year later the tune was recorded by Peggy Lee and “I’m A Woman” appearing on three of Lee’s subsequent albums. Maria told us how she came to perform and record this song by picking tunes in the jukebox. Familiar with Lee’s “Fever” but not at all with this latest title and her curiosity piqued, Maria spent her jukebox nickel on, you guessed it, “I’m A Woman”, repeatedly playing the song a total of five times (much to the chagrin of the patrons) so she could write down the lyrics. Lee’s recording is a more jazzier version, whereas Maria’s version is funkier, “jug band” style. The harmonica on Maria’s version is played by Paul Butterfield.
I’m A Woman – Peggy Lee (performing live on the Ed Sullivan show)
I’m A Woman – Maria Muldaur
Feeling a bit restrictive, Maria decided to leave the family home and moved in with another family, becoming a “mother’s helper” while completing high school. With her new found freedom, she hit the coffee houses, clubs and bars sometimes the going out seven night a week. Maria talked about Doc Watson and Gaither Carlton, seeing them in concert while sitting in front of Ramblin Jack Elliot and an ailing Woody Guthrie. Expressing interest in fiddling, Carleton invited her down to North Carolina and taught her how to play the fiddle. She recorded “Honey Baby Blues’ with Watson….Maria on fiddle.
Woody Guthrie, Pete Seger, Bob Dylan, Doc Watson
Bob Dylan and Ramblin Jack Elliott (r)
Honey Baby Blues – Maria Muldaur, Doc Watson
She told us stories of Alan Ginsberg and his “be here now” philosophy, “how to live joyously one hundred per cent of the time in the present”, adopted from Dr. Richard Alpert/Ram Dass, whose book Be Here Now and is as pertinent today as it was during the 60’s. “Being here now is still being here now.” Be Here Now stamped into an ingot of silver that hangs around my neck…it was my husband’s favourite mantra.
Maria and Linda Ronstadt
Back in New York, Maria developed a love for bluegrass and was invited to sing with the Washington Square Ramblers, apparently for much needed “sex appeal”. Later, Maria and Linda Ronstadt recorded a Dolly Parton song, “My Tennessee Mountain Home”. The Canadian duo, The McGariggle Sisters are one of Maria’s favourite singers/songrwriters. She recorded “The Work Song”, penned by the sisters, also with Linda Ronstadt. The McGariggle’s later wrote one of Ronstadt’s biggest hits, “Heart Like A Wheel”.
Kate and Anna McGarrigle
My Tennessee Mountain Home – Maria Muldaur
Maria later worked with jazz artist Benny Carter and recorded “Old Rockin’ Chair” by Hoagy Carmichael. Hoagy was invited into the studio to watch and listen to the recording session. Carmichael naturally drifted towards the piano and ended up playing on the song as well as singing harmony with Maria at the end. She was admittedly nervous and Carmichael told Maria to just “sing it like you’re telling a true story.” Carmichael and Maria got the first take wrong so had to sing it over. Carmichael didn’t realize they were recording in a multi-track studio and thought the band had to do their bit over again. Carter quietly signaled to the band, as they were getting ready to leave, to sit back down. The band members all graciously seated themselves and pretended to play their instruments so Maria and Hoagy cold do a retake. Old….arthritic….but Carmichael could still play like an angel or as Maria said, “you could just see the magnolia petals floating around.”
Old Rockin’ Chair – Maria Muldaur (with Hoagy Carmichael on piano and vocal harmonies)
The next three songs are referred to as “the big three” by the boys in the band. They are the three most popular/requested sons of Maria at any performance. “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion” (recorded with Benny Carter); “Don’t Cha Feel My Leg” by Blue Lu Parker; and Midnight…. She nails it! Maria has not lost her highs or lows with a voice that has only become richer over the years. She gracefully segues from octave to octave. Remembering her jug band years, Victoria Spivey’s mentoring ….”strut your stuff….that’s what they call stage presence”; meeting her former husband Geoff Muldaur playing in the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, and ending the night with “He Calls That Religion” (Mississippi Sheiks); “Please Send Me Someone To Love” closing the set with “The Power of Music” (John Cleary).
Don’t You Feel My Leg – Maria Muldaur with Blue Lu Parker
I found her stories fascinating, and through the many names she mentioned instantly related to most of them through several of the columns posted in this blog. It’s amazing how everyone was so connected in a more honest and personably way. You met, frequently just by chance, with no cell phones, Facebooking, tweeting, etc. Face-to-face, in person, jamming, talking, fooling around, picking, strumming, humming….many of those wonderful recordings took place simply by happenstance. Their passion for MUSIC was palpable. With Chris Burns on keys, Chris Ross on drums and Chris Atkins on guitar, Maria and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band brought back many memories while creating new ones. Each musician was….perfect, impeccable…those two words come instantly to mind. Accomplished musicians and a perfect complement to each other and Maria. …and next to my family, she has a corner on the “Chris” market…..
The only disappointment in what was a very captivating and very enjoyable evening was the last minute “rule” of no photographs during Maria’s performance. I must confess it was quite a letdown as I had been very excited at the chance to see her perform as well as photograph her. So folks, no photos. A couple of women at the back of the room ignored her request and were called out by a visibly pissed off Maria. I briefly spoke with Maria after her show and she was very gracious in listening to a couple of my stories and how they gelled with hers. Thank you Maria and I hope to get the opportunity to photograph you one of these days. I leave you with…..
The Power of Music – Maria Muldaur
Wikipedia, my attendance as her show October 8, YouTube, The Morning Call, Maria Muldaur
Pat’s column appears every Wednesday.
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In “real” life Pat Blythe has spent the past 32 years as a consultant and design specialist in the telecommunications industry. After an extended absence Pat is now heading back to the GTA clubs, immersing herself in the local music scene, tasting what’s on offer, talking to people and writing once again — sharing her passions and her deep love of music. Together for 34 years, Pat also worked alongside her late husbandChristopher Blythe, The PictureTaker©, who shot much of the local talent (think Goddo, Frank Soda and the Imps, Plateau, Buzzsaw, Hellfield….) as well as national and international acts, Currently making her way through 40 years of Chris’s archives, Pat is currently compiling a photographic history of the local GTA music scene from 1975 to 1985. It continues to be a work in progress. Oh…..and she LOVES to dance!