Today, May 17, 2012, Taj Mahal turns 70. Though the bluesman has reached a venerable age, he’s still some 289 years younger than his namesake structure in Agra, India. But the man born Henry Saint Clair Fredericks Jr. has packed in at least a couple lifetimes of breaking new musical ground. A singer, songwriter and multi-instrumentalist, Taj Mahal has fused traditional blues with rock, pop, jazz, folk and world music influences drawing on his own West Indian heritage and beyond. In celebration of Mahal’s birthday, Legacy Recordings is launching a new catalogue initiative for the artist which begins on August 21 with the release of The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973. This set features two CDs comprised entirely of unreleased finished material, both live and in the studio. The first disc debuts studio recordings from the period of 1967-1973, and the second disc premieres a full-length live concert, recorded April 18, 1970 at the legendary Royal Albert Hall in London. Plans are afoot for the entire Columbia Records catalogue of Taj Mahal to eventually see reissue in definitive editions.
Columbia was the label where two-time Grammy winner Taj Mahal got his start. Born in New York but raised in Massachusetts, he relocated to California in 1964 and soon formed The Rising Sons with another up-and-coming talent, Ry Cooder. A club sensation, the Rising Sons managed to release one single on Columbia, though an album of unreleased material produced by Terry Melcher (The Byrds, Paul Revere and the Raiders) escaped from the vaults years later. The eclectic music of The Rising Sons anticipated the catholic approach Taj Mahal would take as a solo artist; the band’s repertoire included Bob Dylan (“Walkin’ Down the Line”), Blind Willie McTell (“Statesboro Blues”) and even Carole King and Gerry Goffin (“Take a Giant Step”). Though the group soon disbanded, Columbia kept tabs on Taj Mahal, and released his self-titled solo debut in 1968. The blues-oriented set featured compositions from McTell, Robert Johnson and Sleepy John Estes, and featured Cooder on rhythm guitar. Taj played lead guitar, slide guitar and handled vocals. More albums followed, with 1969’s half-acoustic, half-electric Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home a particular milestone. The album took half of its title from the Goffin and King song that was becoming a Taj Mahal signature, and also included material from The Band’s Garth Hudson and Robbie Robertson as well as Sonny Boy Williamson and Huddie Ledbetter on the electric side. The acoustic volume primarily consisted of traditionals.
Taj Mahal played the Royal Albert Hall on a bill with Santana between Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home and 1971’s Happy to Be Just Like I Am. Taj Mahal remained with Columbia Records until 1976, writing more of his own material but frequently spicing his albums with songs from other musicians ranging from Mississippi John Hurt to Bob Marley and Chuck Berry! In 1976 he left Columbia for Warner Bros. Records, a sister label of Reprise Records, where Mahal’s old friend Ry Cooder had started his own solo career in 1970. Taj Mahal continues to perform and record today; his 2008 album Maestro celebrated his long career with guest spots from Los Lobos, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley and Ben Harper. Legacy’s 2005 The Essential Taj Mahal offered a retrospective of his career.
Hit the jump for more on Hidden Treasures, plus the full track listing!
Mahal has commented of Hidden Treasures, “Throughout my more than 40 years of recording, I have always been an outside-the-box composer/musician/performer and not always understood by the music industry, so it gives me a phenomenal amount of personal pleasure to have Sony/Legacy reissue my whole catalog of music! This is fabulous news for the legions of fans who have always been unfailingly loyal to me and this music we’ve shared for the duration of a wonderful and (thank you very much) still on-going career of touring and playing live for fans around the world! This excitement is amplified even more for everyone (me included) by the first-time release of an excellent live concert from Royal Albert Hall in London, England and an an album of never before released studio musical gems! I’m thrilled that this music is finally coming to the light of day! So go for it babies! Listen and dance your (bleep) off to the music we love so much and glad there’s more where that came from! I made the music of my heart and y’all helped!”
The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 arrives in stores from Legacy Recordings on August 21! A pre-order link is not yet active, but we’ve linked to Amazon.com’s placeholder for the title, below!
Taj Mahal, The Hidden Treasures of Taj Mahal 1969-1973 (Legacy, 2012)
CD 1 – Studio
- Chainey Do
- Sweet Mama Janisse (February 1970, Criteria Recording Studios)
- Yan – Nah Mama – Loo
- Tomorrow May Not Be Your Day
- I Pity the Poor Immigrant
- Jacob’s Ladder
- Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie (Any Mo’)
- Sweet Mama Janisse (January 1971, Bearsville Recording Studios, Woodstock, NY)
- You Ain’t No Streetwalker, Honey, But I Do Love the Way You Strut Your Stuff
- Good Morning, Little Schoolgirl
- Shady Grove
CD 2 – Royal Albert Hall: April 18, 1970
- Runnin’ by the Riverside
- John, Ain’t It Hard
- Band Introduction
- Sweet Mama Janisse
- Big Fat
- Diving Duck Blues
- Checkin’ Up on My Baby
- Oh, Susanna
- Bacon Fat
- Tomorrow May Not Be Your Day
All tracks on CD 1 and CD 2 previously unreleased