Taj Mahal

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Henry Saint Clair Fredericks
guitar, vocals, harmonica, dobro, banjo, piano, organ, clarinet, trombone
born: May 17, 1942 in Harlem, New York City, NY


Taj Mahal - Slow Drag (Live at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival 2008)

Composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist Taj Mahal is one of the most prominent and influential figures in late 20th century blues and roots music. Though his career began more than four decades ago with American blues, he has broadened his artistic scope over the years to include music representing virtually every corner of the world – west Africa, the Caribbean, Latin America, Europe, the Hawaiian islands and so much more. What ties it all together is his insatiable interest in musical discovery. Over the years, his passion and curiosity have led him around the world, and the resulting global perspective is reflected in his music.

Born Henry St. Claire Fredericks in Harlem on May 17, 1942, Taj grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts. His father was a jazz pianist, composer and arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother was a gospel singing schoolteacher from South Carolina. Both parents encouraged their children to take pride in their diverse ethnic and cultural roots. His father had an extensive record collection and a shortwave radio that brought sounds from near and far into the home. His parents also started him on classical piano lessons, but after only two weeks, young Henry already had other plans about what and how he wanted to play.

In addition to piano, the young musician learned to play the clarinet, trombone and harmonica, and he loved to sing. He discovered his stepfather's guitar and became serious about it in his early teens when a guitarist from North Carolina moved in next door and taught him the various styles of Muddy Waters, Lightnin' Hopkins, John Lee Hooker and Jimmy Reed and other titans of Delta and Chicago blues.

Springfield in the 1950s was full of recent arrivals, not just from around the U.S. but from all over the globe. "We spoke several dialects in my house – Southern, Caribbean, African – and we heard dialects from eastern and western Europe," Taj recalls. In addition, musicians from the Caribbean, Africa and all over the U.S. frequently visited the Fredericks home, and Taj became even more fascinated with roots – the origins of all the different forms of music he was hearing, what path they took to reach their current form, and how they influenced each other along the way. He threw himself into the study of older forms of African-American music – a music that the record companies of the day largely ignored.

Henry studied agriculture at the University of Massachusetts at Amherst in the early 1960s. Inspired by a dream, he adopted the musical alias of Taj Mahal and formed the popular U. Mass party band, the Elektras. After graduating, he headed west in 1964 to Los Angeles, where he formed the Rising Sons, a six-piece outfit that included guitarist Ry Cooder and Ed Cassidy. The band opened for numerous high-profile touring artists of the ‘60s, including Otis Redding, the Temptations and Martha and the Vandellas. Around this same time, Taj also mingled with various blues legends, including Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Lightnin' Hopkins and Sleepy John Estes.

This diversity of musical experience served as the bedrock for Taj's first three recordings: Taj Mahal (1967), The Natch'l Blues (1968) and Giant Step (1969). Drawing on all the sounds and styles he'd absorbed as a child and a young adult, these early albums showed signs of the musical exploration that would be Taj's hallmark over the years to come.

In the 1970s, Taj carved out a unique musical niche with a string of adventurous recordings, including Happy Just To Be Like I Am (1971), Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff(1972), the GRAMMY-nominated soundtrack to the movie Sounder (1973), Mo' Roots (1974), Music Fuh Ya' (Music Para Tu) (1977) and Evolution (The Most Recent) (1978).

Taj's recorded output slowed somewhat during the 1980s as he toured relentlessly and immersed himself in the music and culture of his new home in Hawaii. Still, that decade saw the well-received release of Taj in 1987, as well as the first three of his celebrated children's albums on the Music For Little People label.

He returned to a full recording and touring schedule in the 1990s, including such projects as the musical scores for the Langston Hughes/Zora Neale Hurston play Mule Bone (1991) and the movie Zebrahead (1992). Later in the decade, Dancing The Blues (1993), Phantom Blues (1996), An Evening Of Acoustic Music (1996) and the GRAMMY-winning Señor Blues (1997) were all commercial and critical successes.

At the same time, Taj continued to explore world music, beginning with the aptly titled World Music in 1993. He joined Indian classical musicians on Mumtaz Mahal in 1995, and recorded Sacred Island, a blend of Hawaiian music and blues, with the Hula Blues in 1998. Kulanjan, released in 1999, was a collaborative project with Malian kora player Toumani Diabate (the kora is a 21-string west African harp).

In 2000, Taj released a second GRAMMY-winning album, Shoutin' in Key, and recorded a second album with the Hula Blues, Hanapepe Dream, in 2003.

Taj joins the Heads Up International label in the fall of 2008 with the worldwide release of Maestro: Celebrating 40 Years. As the title suggests, this twelve-track set marks the fortieth anniversary of Taj's rich and varied recording career by mixing original material, chestnuts borrowed from classic sources, and songs written by a cadre of highly talented guest artists. This anniversary gala includes performances by Ben Harper, Jack Johnson, Ziggy Marley, Angelique Kidjo, Los Lobos and others – many of whom have been directly influenced by Taj's music and guidance.

"The one thing I've always demanded of the records I've made is that they be danceable," he says. "This record is danceable, it's listenable, it has lots of different rhythms, it's accessible, it's all right in front of you. It's a lot of fun, and it represents where I am at this particular moment in my life. This record is just the beginning of another chapter, one that's going to be open to more music and more ideas. Even at the end of forty years, in many ways my music is just getting started."

Essential Taj Mahal albums: The Best of Taj Mahal --- Taj Mahal --- The Natch'l Blues

Albums:
- Taj Mahal [CBS 9579, 1968] with Ry Cooder, Jesse Ed Davis
- The Natch'l Blues [CBS 9698, 1968] with Al Kooper, Jesse Ed Davis
- Giant Step / De Ole Folks At Home [Columbia 18, 1969] 2 LP; 1 solo acoustic, 1 electric blues with Jesse Ed Davis
- The Blues [Columbia 63279, 196?]
- The Real Thing [Columbia 30619, 1971] double live album with Howard Johnson
- Happy Just To Be Like I Am [Columbia 30767, 1971] with Jesse Ed Davis, Howard Johnson
- Recycling the Blues & Other Related Stuff [Columbia 31605, 1972] with The Pointer Sisters, Howard Johnson
- Sounder [Columbia 70123, 1973] soundtrack album with Lightnin' Hopkins
- Ooh So Good 'N' Blues [Columbia 32600, 1973]
- Mo' Roots [Columbia 33051, April 1974] Taj goes reggae
- Music Keeps Me Together [Columbia 33801, 1975]
- Satisfied 'N Tickled Too [Columbia 34103, 1976]
- Anthology, Vol. 1 (1966-1976) [Columbia 34466, 1976]
- Music Fuh Ya' (Music Para Tu) [Warner Brothers 2994, 1977]
- Brothers [Warner Brothers 3024, 1977] soundtrack album
- Evolution (The Most Recent) [Warner Brothers 3094, 1978]
- Taj Mahal and The International Rhythm Band Live (Direct Cut) [Crystal 5011, 1979]
- Going Home [Columbia 31844, 1980]
- The Best of Taj Mahal, Vol. 1 [Columbia 36528, 1981]
- Taj [Rhino 79433, 1987] with Jesse Ed Davis, Wayne Henderson, Ralph MacDonald
- Live & Direct [Laserlight 15297, 1987] Taj Mahal & The International Rhythm Band
- Shake Sugaree -Taj Mahal Sings And Plays For Children [Warner Brothers 42502, April 1988] his own children appear in a children choir; recommended to introduce kids to various musicstyles - Audio Cassette
- Like Never Before [Atlantic 2081, October 1991] with Sonny Rhodes, Dr. John, David Lindley, Sheryl Crow, Hall & Oates, Paul Barrére, Howard Johnson, The Pointer Sisters, DJ Jazzy Jeff & The Fresh Prince
- Mule Bone [Rhino 79432, November 1991] with Calvin Samuels
- Don't Call Us [Atlantic PDJ810002, 1991]
- Taj's Blues [Columbia 52465, June 1992] compilation of 1967-1974 recordings with Ry Cooder, Al Kooper, Jesse Ed Davis, The Pointer Sisters
- The Collection [Castle 180, June 1992]
- Dancing The Blues [Private Music 82112, September 1993] with Etta James, Bill Payne, Richard Hayward
- World Music [Columbia 52755, June 1993]
- The Rising Sun Collection [Just A Memory 3, September 1994] live set recorded in Montreal, 1980
- Live at Ronnie Scott's, London [DRG 1441, January 1996] recorded in 1988 with Wayne Henderson
- Phantom Blues [Private Music 82139, February 1996] with Bonnie Raitt, Eric Clapton, Dean Parks
- An Evening Of Acoustic Music [RFR 1009, October 1996] live album with Howard Johnson
- Señor Blues [Private Music 82151, June 1997] 1998 Grammy Award for "Best Contemporary Blues Album"
- Big Blues: Live at Ronnie Scott [Castle 2, February 1998]
- The Real Blues [Sony 28418, May 1998] - Audio Cassette
- In Progress And in Motion 1965-1998 [Columbia 64919, October 1998] 3CD Box set with The Pointer Sisters, Ry Cooder, Elvin Bishop, Boz Scaggs
- Blue Light Boogie [Private Music 82173, April 1999] with James Brown, Hall & Oates, Sheryl Crow
- Best of the Private Years [Private Music 82189, April 2000] with Eric Clapton
- The Best of Taj Mahal [Columbia 65856, September 2000]
- Live at Ronnie Scott's [Castle 154, June 2001]
- Sing a Happy Song: The Warner Bros. Recordings [Rhino 7749, August 2001] 2-CD Box set
- Martin Scorsese Presents the Blues: Taj Mahal [Columbia/Legacy 89080, September 2003]
- Take a Giant Step: The Best of Taj Mahal [BMG 48341, June 2004]
- Sugar Mama Blues [Just A Memory 9153, July 2004]
- The Essential Taj Mahal [Sony 94967, April 2005] 2-CD set compilation album
- Songs For The Young At Heart [EarthBeat! 74558, September 2006] compilation album
- World Blues [Music Avenue 250178, July 2007] compilation album
- Maestro: Celebrating 40 Years [Heads Up 3164, September 2008] with Billy Branch, Toumani Diabaté, Angélique Kidjo, Los Lobos, Deva Mahal, Ziggy Marley, Ivan Neville (The Neville Brothers), The Phantom Blues Band plus Leo Nocentelli and George Porter jr. (both The Meters)

Taj Mahal & The Phantom Blues Band:
- Shoutin' in Key [Hannibal 1452, June 2000] live at the Mint, Los Angeles in November 1998 with Denny Freeman

Taj Mahal & The Hula Blues Band:
- Sacred Island [Private Music 82165, April 1998] Hawaiian music and Hawaiian-flavored blues
- Hanapepe Dream [Tone Cool 51173, June 2003]

Taj Mahal / Toumani Diabate:
- Kulanjan [Hannibal 1444, August 1999] collaboration with the Diabate from Mali and other West African musicians

Taj Mahal / Vishwa Mohan Bhatt / N. Ravikiran:
- Mumtaz Mahal [Waterlily Acoustics 46, May 1995] Taj with two musicians from India - SACD

Taj Mahal / Linda Tillery / Eric Bibb:
- Shakin' A Tailfeather [Rhino 72940, October 1997] a music album for children - Audio Cassette

He appears on the following albums:
Michael Bloomfield - - Live at Bill Grahams Fillmore West [Columbia KC-9893, 1969]
Noble "Thin Man" Watts - Return of the Thin Man [Alligator 4785, 1987]
Rory Block - Best Blues and Originals [Rounder 11525, 1987] compilation from her '80s albums
Various Artists - Peace Is the World Smiling [Music for Little People MFP2104, 1989] project for world peace with Taj Mahal, Pete Seeger, Holly Near, Sweet Honey in the Rock and many others - Audio Cassette
Various Artists - Slidin'... Some Slide [Bullseye Blues 619533, November 1993]
Joe Louis Walker - Great Guitars [Polygram 537141, April 1997]
Various Artists - Songs of Janis Joplin: Blues Down Deep [House of Blues, April 1997]
Various Artists - Paint It Blue: Songs of the Rolling Stones [Ruf 1020, October 1997]
Various Artists - Every Woman's Blues: The Best of the New Generation [Shanachie 9009, March 1998]
Various Artists - Wolf Tracks: A Tribute to Howlin' Wolf [Telarc 83427, May 1998]
Various Artists - Big Blues Extravaganza: The Best of Austin City Limits [Columbia/Legacy 65324, May 1998]
Various Artists - Slide Guitar: The Streamline Special [Columbia/Legacy 65518, June 1998]
Jimmy Rogers - Blues Blues Blues [Atlantic 83148, October 1998]
Various Artists - Mali To Memphis: An African-American Odyssey [Putumayo 145, January 1999]
Various Artists - Folk, Gospel & Blues: Will the Circle Be Unbroken [Columbia 65804, October 1999] 2 CD Set
Various Artists - Blue Haze: Songs of Jimi Hendrix [Ruf 1053, September 2000]
Big Bill Morganfield - Ramblin’ Mind [Blind Pig 5068, February 2001]
Maria Muldaur - Richland Woman Blues [Stony Plain 1270, February 2001]
Various Artists - Avalon Blues: A Tribute to the Music of Mississippi John Hurt [Vanguard 79582, June 2001]
Various Artists - The Handy Award Nominees, Vol. 1 [Music Blitz 30011, July 2001]
Various Artists - Live Concert Rock Classics [Sony 52890, August 2001] 3 CD Box Set
Various Artists - Blind Pig Records' 25th Anniversary Collection [Blind Pig 2002, October 2001] 2 CD set
Various Artists - Divine Secrets of the Ya-Ya Sisterhood (Soundtrack) [Sony 86534, May 2002]
Various Artists - Hey Bo Diddley: A Tribute! [Evidence 26124, July 2002]
Various Artists - A Salute to the Delta Blues Masters [Telarc 83575, October 2002] 3 CD Box set
Various Artists - Red Hot + Riot: The Music and Spirit of Fela Kuti [MCA 113075, October 2002]
Various Artists - The Story of the Blues [Sony 86334, June 2003] 2 CD set
Various Artists - Live at the W.C. Handy Blues Awards, Vol. 1 [Tone Cool 51163, October 2003]
Jamie Oldaker - Mad Dogs & Okies [Concord 2267, August 2005]
Darrell Leonard & Joe Sublett - Texacali Horns [New Light Entertainment 91008, October 2006]
J.J. Cale & Eric Clapton - The Road to Escondido [Reprise 44418, November 2006]
Dale Hawkins - LA, Memphis & Tyler, Texas [Rev-Ola 188, November 2006]
Phantom Blues Band - Out of the Shadows [Delta Groove 111, November 2006]
Various Artists - Goin' Home: A Tribute to Fats Domino [EMI 5080532, September 2007] 2 CD set
Johnny Hallyday - Le Coeur d'Un Homme [Warner 81082, November 2007]
Fatboy Slim - LateNightTales [Thrive 90779, October 2007]

Various Artists:
- The Roots of Taj Mahal [Catfish 141, April 2000]

U.K. visitors looking for Taj Mahal albums? - Canadian visitors looking for Taj Mahal albums?

Video:
- Sounder [1972] DVD Taj as Ike in this tale of a family of Black sharecroppers struggling to survive the Great Depression - On VHS - He did the soundtrack
- The Man Who Broke 1000 Chains [1987] he is prisoner in this movie with Val Kilmer as a World War I vet, who escaped from a Southern work camp
- Bill and Ted's Bogus Journey [1991] DVD as a gatekeeper in this parody of Terminator 2 starring Keanu Reeves, Alex Winter - On VHS
- Zebrahead [1992] DVD Taj Mahal was the composer of the music score for this interracial love story - On VHS
- Once Upon A Time When We Were Colored [1996] DVD he appears in this drama about Southern African American culture, adapted from the autobiography of Clifton L. Taulbert - On VHS
- Outside Ozona [1998] VHS he is disc jockey Dix Mayal in this offbeat drama about a group of strangers, brought together under unexpectedly dangerous circumstances, Meat Loaf is his boss. Taj Mahal also supplied some songs for it
- Songcatcher [2000] DVD as Dexter Speaks in this period melodrama set during the 1910s - On VHS

Books:
- Taj Mahal: Autobiography Of A Bluesman - Taj Mahal, Stephen Foehr [August 2001]
- Children of the Blues: 40 Musicians Shaping a New Generation of Blues Tradition - Art Tipaldi [February 2002]
- Blues-Rock Explosion [April 2002]

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