Maria Muldaur – First Came Memphis Minnie

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Maria Muldaur – First Came Memphis Minnie (Stony Plain Records 2012)

Maria Muldaur has spent a lot of her career helping to promote the music of female singers who paved the way for others back in the “early days” of the blues. On her fortieth album, she produces and contributes songs in a tribute to one of the early hell raisin blues performer entitled First Came Memphis Minnie. Minnie played a mean guitar, wrote memorable songs, had a distinctive voice, and roughhoused her way through a life that took her from a childhood in New Orleans to Memphis and onto the blossoming blues clubs of Chicago. She was one of the first artists to use an electric guitar in 1942 and, unlike other blues artists of the day, did not use horns and piano to back her up. It was just her and her guitar (with rhythm provided by a series of guitar playing husbands!). A bevy of artists including Bonnie Raitt, Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Del Rey, David Bromberg, Roy Rogers, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Steve James, Steve Freund, and Maria herself all contribute to the effort on this CD…needless to say the vocals and musicianship are great! There are also a couple of previous released Memphis Minnie covers by Koko Taylor (“Black Rat Swing”) and Phoebe Snow (“In My Girlish Days”) that are included and are jewels in their own right.

Ain’t Nothin’ in Rambin’” is a great upbeat Bonnie Raitt tune that reminds you of just how good a guitar player she is as well as a vocalist…I loved it! Maria shines along with Roy Rogers on the “Me and My Chauffeur Blues”. On “I’m Sailing”, Maria’s growlin vocals are perfect for a country blues tune and sound that Minnie was known for before she went “electric”. I enjoyed Rory Black’s “When You Love Me” and Ruthie Foster’s strong vocals highlight “Keep Your Big Mouth Closed”.

I feel there has been an effort over the last several decades to “homogenize” the early blues singers and songs to make them more accessible to middle class sensibilities (and pocketbooks!). But the blues has always been about struggle, love, hate, cheatin’, sex, drugs, drinkin’, and even murder. Heck, Memphis Minnie is reputed to have regularly traded licks during jam sessions with male guitar players with the prize being a fifth of liquor and the clubs she played certainly weren’t neat and quiet places or bastions of virtue. (Can you imagine a reality TV show based on the lives of any of a number of early blues artists? LOL..it would put these modern contrived shows to shame and actually involve people with talent!) Maria does justice to the life and times of Memphis Minnie on this CD and the tunes are worth a listen with a cigar and whiskey in hand!

  1. Me And My Chauffeur Blues (3:12) (Maria Muldaur/Roy Rogers/Roly Salley)
  2. Ain’t Nothin‘ In Ramblin‘ (3:42) (Bonnie Raitt/Steve Freund)
  3. I’m Goin‘ Back Home (2:56) (Maria Muldaur/Alvin Youngblood Hart)
  4. I’m Sailin‘ (3:44) (Maria Muldaur/Del Rey/Steve James/Roly Salley)
  5. When You Love Me (3:20) (Rory Block)
  6. Long As I Can See You Smile (2:46) (Maria Muldaur/Del Rey/Steve James)
  7. Lookin‘ The World Over (2:47) (Maria Muldaur/Del Rey)
  8. In My Girlish Days (4:47) (Phoebe Snow/David Bromberg)
  9. She Put Me Outdoors (3:03) (Maria Muldaur/Alvin Youngblood Hart/Dave Earl)
  10. Keep Your Big Mouth Closed (3:13) (Ruthie Foster/Steve Freund/Tanya Richardson/Samantha Banks)
  11. Tricks Ain’t Walkin‘ (4:33) (Maria Muldaur/Del Rey/Dave Earl)
  12. Crazy Cryin‘ Blues (3:05) (Maria Muldaur/Del Rey/Steve James)
  13. Black Rat Swing (5:08) (Koko Taylor/Bob Margolin/Criss Johnson/John Kattke/Jimmy Sutton/Willie Hayes)

Homepage Maria Muldaur
Homepage Stony Plain Records

Bio Maria Muldaur, taken from Stony Plain Records

Maria Muldaur is best known world-wide for her 1974 mega-hit „Midnight at the Oasis,“ which received several Grammy nominations, and enshrined her forever in the hearts of Baby Boomers everywhere; but despite her considerable pop music success, her 50-year career could best be described as a long and adventurous odyssey through the various forms of American roots music. During the folk revival of the early ’60s, she began exploring and singing early blues, bluegrass and Appalachian „old timey“ music, beginning her recording career in 1963 with the Even Dozen Jug Band and shortly thereafter joining the very popular Jim Kweskin Jug Band, touring and recording with them throughout the ’60s.

In the 39 years since „Midnight at the Oasis,“ Maria has toured extensively worldwide and has recorded 40 solo albums covering all kinds of American roots music, including gospel, rhythm and blues, jazz and big band (not to mention several award-winning children’s albums), before settling comfortably into her favorite idiom, the blues, in recent years. Often joining forces with some of the top names in the business, Maria has recorded and produced on-average an album per year, several of which have been nominated for Grammys and other awards.

Her critically acclaimed 2001 Stony Plain Records release, Richland Woman Blues, was nominated for a Grammy and by the Blues Foundation as „Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year,“ as was the follow up to that album, Sweet Lovin‘ Ol‘ Soul. Her timely 2008 album, Yes We Can!, featured songs from some of the most socially conscious songwriters of the past half century: Bob Dylan, Marvin Gaye, Allen Toussaint, Garth Brooks and others, and featured her „Women’s Voices for Peace Choir,“ which included: Bonnie Raitt, Joan, Baez, Jane Fonda, Odetta, Phoebe Snow, Holly Near and others.

For her 2009 release, Maria revisited her original jug band roots, teaming up with John Sebastian, David Grisman and Dan Hicks. Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy was nominated for „Best Traditional Blues Album of the Year“ by the Blues Foundation, and garnered Maria her 6th Grammy nomination, as well.

In 2011, Maria detoured from her ongoing exploration of vintage blues and released Steady Love, a return to her much-beloved New Orleans (the place she calls her „musical and spiritual home“) to record a contemporary electric blues album that reflected the kind of music she loves to perform live – what she calls „Bluesiana Music“ – her own brand of New Orleans-flavored blues, rhythm and blues and „swamp funk.“ Steady Love reached #1 on the Living Blues Chart and garnered her another nomination for „Best Traditional Female Blues Artist“ from the Blues Foundation.

Now, in 2012, for her 40th album, Maria has produced ….First Came Memphis Minnie, a loving tribute to the pioneering blues woman, who inspired and influenced so many female blues artists who followed in her footsteps. The album features special guests Rory Block, Ruthie Foster, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor, accompanied by the amazing guitar work of Del Rey, David Bromberg, Alvin Youngblood Hart, Roy Rogers, Bob Margolin, Steve James and Steve Freund.

The new album is a true labor of love for Maria, who considers Memphis Minnie to be not only a trailblazing musical pioneer for all women, but also a personal blues hero. „From that first moment I heard her soulful music on an old scratchy 78, to this,“ says Maria, „Memphis Minnie, and the example she set for me, has remained a profound influence on my life and my music.“

The queen of mid-20th century blues, Memphis Minnie was a true musical innovator who pioneered the electrified Chicago-blues-band sound. In her prime, she was a blues singer, songwriter, entrepreneur and guitar-player-par-excellence; a colorful, larger-than-life figure who in 1942 was one of the first blues musician to record with an electric guitar. In a recording career which spanned over 40 years, she released more than 200 songs, many of which she wrote and several of which endure today as blues classics. From the beginning of the Great Depression through the end of World War II – through an endless stream of innovative recordings and consistently compelling live performances – she dominated the primarily male dominion of the Chicago blues scene.

„At a time when women were ‚kept in their place,‘ both personally and professionally,“ says Maria, „Memphis Minnie was tough, independent, outspoken, and played a mean guitar! But, she was more than just a guitar hero of early country blues. She ably adapted to newer trends and modernized her style, which helped account for her years of popularity. She was tough, determined, talented, and courageous enough to defy and overcome all the racial, social, economic, and gender barriers that existed in her time, forging the life she envisioned for herself on nothing but her own terms!“