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Maria Muldaur’s ‘continuum of life’

Singer and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band to perform in Saranac Lake

September 16, 2010
By PETER CROWLEY, For the News

    SARANAC LAKE — Born and raised in New York City’s Greenwich Village, Maria Muldaur — then Maria d’Amato — was fully involved in the folk revival of the early 1960s. Now, after nearly 50 years of busily excavating American music from the first half of the 20th century, she’s thrilled to see another revival unfolding slowly, steadily and deeply.

    Jug-band music, swing, old-time string bands, bluegrass, blues, New Orleans jazz — “it’s all enjoying a huge renaissance and proliferating at an amazing rate, even more I think than the original, what we jokingly call the ‘folk scare’ of the early ’60s,” Muldaur, 67, said Monday in a phone interview from her tour bus, en route to begin a five-week string of concerts.

    Saranac Lake will be the third stop. She and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band will perform at Saranac Village at Will Rogers at 7:30 p.m. Tuesday. If you miss it, they’ll play in Plattsburgh the next night.

    Muldaur said she “absolutely” sees more young people in her bands and at her shows now than a decade ago.

    “What I love is that this (American roots) music has proliferated without absolutely no help of the above-ground media,” she said. “You’ll ... virtually never see anything it in People magazine or ‘Entertainment Tonight’ or even Rolling Stone, and yet there’s more festivals, more clubs, more blues societies, more people playing and exploring and loving this kind of music.

    “It’s kind of the underpinning, and most people aren’t aware of it, but it’s there — it’s there strong.”

    She draws unending nourishment from the well of American music, and these days it’s easier to find old music that’s new to her.

    “My keyboard player has hundreds of hours of great American music in his iPod,” she said. “You could never finish listening to it.”

    For instance, there’s Emmett Miller. Friend and musical ace Dan Hicks turned her on last year to this white vaudevillian who influenced Jimmy Rodgers and Hank Williams musically, but then was not carried forward because his blackface minstrel shows were racially offensive.

    And then there’s Hezekiah Jenkins; some younger friends introduced her to him.

    “Ken Burns could have done a three-hour documentary on the Great Depression and not come up with a more accurate and compelling description of it than is in this one song called ‘The Panic Is On’ by Hezekiah Jenkins,” Muldaur said.

    “Here I am at this advanced age, still making discoveries that just delight me and give me something artistically I want to delve into.”

    In the 37 years since her breezy “Midnight at the Oasis” became a monster hit on pop radio, Muldaur has cranked out at least 27 albums, not counting compilations. She’s released 18 in the last 18 years.

    “I have not been sitting around at home eating bonbons and counting my royalties by any stretch of the imagination,” she said.

    She sure wasn’t a slouch before stardom, either. After high school she scoured the folk scene, even moving briefly to North Carolina to learn Appalachian fiddling from Doc Watson and his family. She joined the Even Dozen Jug Band with such notables as John Sebastian, David Grisman and Stefan Grossman, then moved to Boston and the Jim Kweskin Jug Band, where she met and married Geoff Muldaur. Their bond lasted long enough to produce a daughter and two post-Kweskin duo albums before they divorced in 1972.

    “I had no desire to be a solo artist. I had no idea how to be a solo artist,” she said. “I was petrified; I thought I’d get a job as a waitress. I had a young daughter to support.

    “And instead I got the chance through Mo Ostin at Warner Brothers, who invited me to make my own solo album.”

    Expect her Red Hot Bluesiana Band to live up to its name. Muldaur called it a “very tasty three-piece electrified band ... tinged with a lot of gospel and a lot of positive messages.”

    Muldaur has a huge repertoire, but you can still expect to hear her “Big Four” most-requested songs: “Midnight at the Oasis,” “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” “It Ain’t the Meat (It’s the Motion)” and “I’m a Woman.” This is the sultry stuff she’s known for, continuing the bawdy blues tradition that Bessie Smith and Ma Rainey made famous 50 years before her.

    “It’s really fun to watch the nostalgic and some X-rated memories that flicker across their face when I start doing these songs,” Muldaur said, “because apparently my music’s been the soundtrack to many a love and lust affair over the years, from what people tell me. I always laugh and say, ‘Well, glad I could be of help.’”

    Muldaur makes music for children as well as music for making children. Since 1992, she’s had a parallel career with kids’ albums: “On the Sunny Side,” “Swingin’ in the Rain,” “Animal Crackers in My Soup: The Songs of Shirley Temple” and the latest, “Barnyard Dance: Jug Band Music for Kids.”

    “It’s fun. It’s very innocent; it’s very uncontrived,” Muldaur said. “I always get the top-notch jazz and swing players to play on these, and I have always done songs that were hits for grownups in a kinder, gentler, more innocent bygone era, like ‘Would You Like to Swing on a Star?’ or ‘On the Sunny Side of the Street.’

    “I get a lot of letters from parents saying, ‘Thank you so much for saving us from Barney.’ You know, a lot of children’s music is so stupid and condescending, and I think children deserve to hear a hip clarinet solo as well as we do.”

    Does it feel weird singing sexy songs for adults on one hand and innocent songs for kids on the other?

    “No. It’s all part of the continuum of life,” she said.

Article Photos

Maria Muldaur
(Promotional photo)

Fact Box

If you go ...
Who: Maria Muldaur and her Red Hot Bluesiana Band
Where: Saranac Village at Will Rogers, Saranac Lake
When: 7:30 p.m. (doors open at 7) Tuesday, Sept. 21
How much: $25 at door, $20 advance (tickets available in Saranac Lake at Ampersound, Bean-To Coffee, Will Rogers and the Saranac Lake Area Chamber of Commerce; in Lake Placid at the Christmas Store)
More info: 518-637-4989 or 518-891-7117 (Will Rogers)



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