|Taj Mahal was
born Henry St Claire Fredericks in New York and raised in Springfield, Massachusetts,
taking up guitar in his teens. In his early twenties he played in clubs round Boston, then
moved to LA and formed the Rising Sons with Ry Cooder. Though the group's Columbia album
was shelved, Taj made several iconoclastic recordings for the company like
Blues" and "Giant Step/De Old Folks At Home". In the 1970's he investigated
Caribbean idioms like reggae and steel band music ("Music Para Tu" (1976);
And Direct" (1979)), while also writing and playing music for the movie
On his 1990's recordings "Like Never Before", "Dancing The Blues" and "Phantom Blues" he began to call up blues and R&B memories of his youth, rearranging numbers like 'Mockingbird' and 'Lonely Avenue' with ingenuity and gusto. His instrumental versatility, now encompassing guitar, banjo, keyboards and harmonica, found a showcase in the music he wrote and played for the Lincoln Center production Mule Bone. In a 1995 encounter with N. Ravikiran and VM Bhatt, Mumtaz Mahal (Waterlily Acoustics), the trio applied African-American and Indian stringed instrument methods to Robert Johnson's 'Come On In My Kitchen' and the R&B classic 'Stand By Me' - just the sort of inquisitive, capricious idea that makes Taj's music so bracing.
Taj Mahal has made innovative music for 30 years, constantly refreshing himself with draughts from the wellsprings of the blues. On top of that, he has become a prime, though not always acknowledged model for younger black musicians of the 1990's who have gone exploring in the backwoods of early blues.
Private Years Track Listing:
Shoutin in Key