The depth of Maria Muldaur’s identification with the blues is evident the moment you hear her sing. There’s an unabashed sensuality and intensity in her voice that recall KokoTaylor and Katie Webster’s finest work.
When I mentioned that to Muldaur in an interview a few years back she was flattered – “Yeah, put that in” – and pleased to note how effectively blues expresses complex and often conflicting emotions.
“Blues addresses all the real issues of life,” Muldaur said. “What I love about blues is that they can be sorrowful in a genuine way, not in a sort of shallow, self-pitying way. There is a way that blues can do this that makes the listener and the singer ... transcend what is being sung about.
“So I think blues is very healing, and people need to hear it. It is one of the few forms of authentic expression left in our culture and people, whether they know it or not, are deeply hungry for something that nourishes the soul from the inside.”
Muldaur and Her Red Hot Bluesiana Band perform June 19 at City Winery in Napa. For her most recent recording project, “First Came Memphis Minnie,” the vocalist produced a tribute to the pioneering blues woman. 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 blues brings together this crossroad between the sensual and the earthy
and ... yet they have a spiritual side, too,” Muldaur said. “That’s something
people wonder about, but I don’t have any problem reconciling the two. They
are just different aspects of life on Earth.”
Muldaur’s own crossroads was the Greenwich Village scene of the early
“I was just lucky enough to be around at the time that people were discovering and actually going to hear live in concert some of our best blues artists,” she said. “People like Mississippi John Hurt, Son House and Skip James. I consider those guys to be among the most important cultural elders in this century.”
Muldaur made her recording debut in 1963 as a member of the Even Dozen Jug
Band, alongside the likes of John Sebastian and Dave Grisman. A year later,
she joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, where she met and married vocalist Geoff
Muldaur. The couple cut four records with Kweskin and two more as a duo before Warner Bros. released Muldaur’s 1973 solo debut.
Forty years later, she remains dedicated to performing material that speaks to her and her audience with artistry and without artifice.
“I know that I’ve done a good job choosing good material,” Muldaur said. “All those songs stand up because I chose the songs for their authenticity. Musically, I’ve been very true to my own musical path.
“I don’t regret anything I’ve done musically or otherwise,” she said. “I wouldn’t have the depth or wisdom that I have now in my soul if I had not taken the paths that I’ve taken. Nothing was a detour; they were all just necessary stops on the way.
“I think we’re in for some hard times,” Muldaur added. “It’s a bluesy world
out there and it’s going to get even more bluesy.”
Want to keep up with the best in Bay Area jazz and blues?
Subscribe to me: Have our jazz and blues Examiner columns sent to your inbox. Click the SUBSCRIBE button on this page. It's free. (And I won't spam you or give out your information.) Bookmark me: http://www.examiner.com/jazz-music-in-oakland/brian-mccoy. CONTACT ME FOR YOUR JAZZ AND ARTS GRANT WRITING NEEDS