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August 14, 2020 2 min read
Spin Notes #1
“Without music, life would be a mistake” ― Friedrich Nietzsche
Clearly we agree. And in that spirit, we welcome you to our firsts Spin Notesblog series, a quasi-regular celebration of great music on LP to enjoy on your Andover products and more. When the spirit moves us we will end the week on a high note with some musical suggestions to start your weekend. Some weeks we will offer up some popular classics, and other weeks we will dig deep and suggest some obscure greats to draw your attention to. We will cover all genres from Albinoni to Zappa, and we hope that somewhere in this series we will be able to introduce you to some music that you would not have otherwise noticed.
Born in NY in 1942 as Henry Saint Clair Fredericks, Jr. Taj-Mahal grew up about an hour away from our offices in Springfield, MA. So what better way to start off the series than with a “local”?
Taj Mahal’s parents were both musically inclined. His mother was a member of a local gospel choir, and his father was an Afro-Caribbean Jazz pianist and arranger. He was exposed at an early age to the influences of World Music, which you can hear on much of Taj’s instrumentation and arrangements. When Taj was eleven, his father was killed in a construction accident. When his mother later remarried, Taj’s learned guitar by using his stepfather’s, and received lessons from a friend who was a nephew of the famous bluesman Arthur “Big Boy” Crudup.
By the time Taj attended the University of Massachusetts, he took his stage name based on an appreciation of Gandhi and the issue of social tolerance. At Umass, he led a Rhythm and Blues band called “Taj Mahal and the Elektras”.
After moving to the West coast, Taj formed Rising Sons with Ry Cooder and Jessie Lee Kincaid. Taj Mahal’s first self titled LP was 1968’s The Natch’l Blues.Also in 1968, Taj performed in the film The Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
In other film credits, he wrote the score for the movie Sounder, and its later sequel.
In 1997, Taj won a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album for Senor Blues, followed by a second Grammy for Shoutin’ in Key in 2000. As you might imagine, there is a lot more to the story, but it's time to shut up and play some music.
This Week’s Taj Mahal spin is Happy To Be Like I Am. Its Taj’s forth album for Columbia Records and was released in 1971. As reviewer Mark Deming wrote: “Anyone who delivers an arrangement of ‘Oh Susanna’ that marries a hard-boogeying rhythm section with a fife as lead instrument is clearly not aiming for a purist's approach to the blues...”
The entire album has some interesting departures from the norm: whether it’s a tuba accompanying the electric bass, or tuned cowbells. Cleary Taj was interested in experimenting with new and unique forms. It doesn’t always work, but when it does its impressive. Check it out!