"I think that blues artists, men and women alike, are some of the most important cultural elders, and I do not think that they should be relegated to 78’s on some dusty shelf in the Smithsonian. It is music that still resonates and is very relevant today, even though the music emerged one hundred years ago. That is why I have been doing this because at the moment, it is my life’s passion," says Maria Muldaur. Muldair is most often associated with her hit seventies song "Midnight At The Oasis," but is regarded in music circles as one of the most prolific blues and jazz singers of our day.
On May 15, Muldaur’s Naughty, Bawdy & Blue, the third CD in her trilogy dedicated to revisiting the songs of great blues artists from the early twentieth century, hits the streets. The album is the sequel to Sweet Lovin’ Ol’ Soul and Richland Woman Blues, both of which were nominated for Grammy Awards. Muldaur recently took time to talk about these three records, her 2006 release of This Heart of Mine, a tribute to the love songs of Bob Dylan, and her love for the music of Peggy Lee.
"With Naughty, Bawdy & Blue, I pay tribute to just the classic blues queens. They were different from the rural country blues artists like Memphis Minnie. They were like our first pop stars. They were the first people to sell millions of records in the twenties. Times were hard and money was scarce. It was quite an accomplishment because they were black women who came from financially and restrictive backgrounds and regions. To rise above all of that, and come out strutting in all this finery, performing all over the country while selling millions of records, is quite an accomplishment. On top of everything else, they were sexually liberated before the term women’s lib was coined. They sang about and celebrated every nuance of sexual liberation (including) the fun, heartache, joy and humor. It was a vital expression of human sexuality," says Muldaur.
Concerning the blues artists of yesteryear Muldaur says, "I don’t want them to be overlooked. I hope to do my tiny little part to keep them as more than just a good memory. I think I have succeeded, because now other female artists are coming up to me and saying that they have recorded such and such a song of Memphis Minnie’s. Before listening to my record, they had not heard of her. Memphis Minnie was unique because she recorded more than two hundred of her own songs. My little records open the door for other people to get turned on to the same thing," she says.
Muldaur’s interest in the blues is not a new development. "It has been my passion for forty-five years. I am just passing a torch or a lit candle along. It is a much more vibrant form of musical expression than modern, self-involved pop lyrics. I hate what I call, ‘dear diary’ music with it’s ‘poor me," lyrics. I just want to stab myself when I hear it. It makes you realize why shrinks get paid one hundred and fifty dollars an hour to sit and listen to this drivel," she says.
In contrast to much popular music Muldaur says, "The blues expresses the human emotions of pain, joy and sorrow, but in such a way that the listener and singer transcend the problem by the end of the song. It is not with offering some kind of ‘goody two shoes’ platitude about thinking positively. It does it through the expressing (of the emotions) and gets you over it."
While many singers today have sought to add longevity to their careers through the recording of old standards, and younger artists are, fitting classic tunes with new arrangements Muldaur’s passion goes beyond the music. She wants to ensure that proper homage is also paid to the artists. It was this heartfelt desire that led her to record A Woman Alone With The Blues an album filled with the songs of Peggy Lee.
"I was shocked when there was just a minor mention of her (Lee) passing. I think she is one of the great singers in the jazz and pop vein. Her career spanned fifty years of recording and performing. She had big hits in every decade of those fifty years, and I think she had more than eighty albums. She was also a very prolific songwriter of good songs. She was so classy, and very inspiring to me," Muldaur says in discussing her interest in Lee’s music.
"I tried to cover material from all periods of her career. Once I dug into the project and saw what a prolific songwriter she was, I tried to do as many songs that she had written or co-written and that I could fit onto the record. I included "I’m Going to Go Fishing," which she co-wrote with Duke Ellington," she says.
"I wasn’t going to do "Fever," but the producer was aghast that I wasn’t going to do it, so we came up with a still recognizable, but fresh spin (for "Fever").
Peggy Lee started (in music) as a ‘chirp,’ which is an old bebop jazz expression for a female singer who fronts a band. She then recorded with Benny Goodman in 1939 before writing a big hit called, "Waiting for the Train to Come In." She also wrote, "I Don’t Know Enough About You."
In some respects, Muldaur’s decision to record an album of Bob Dylan love songs, This Heart of Mine, could not be more distanced from Peggy Lee or the blues pioneers. Public perception, mine included, often associates Dylan with an age of unrest and protest in America.
"I have been a fan of Bob’s work since I first knew him back in the Village (Greenwich) in the early sixties. I think some of his best work, Time Out of Mind, (1997) and Love and Theft, (2003) has been done in the last six years or so. "Moonlight" (Love and Theft) is so beautiful, and has such evocative imagery. Each line is like another impression from a painting. It is very bucolic and idyllic. It is also seductive, romantic and dreamy. The chord changes are very hip and jazzy," she says. Muldaur says that when she ran into Bob Dylan about the time that she was thinking of recording "Moonlight," he encouraged her to include the song on her album.
Muldaur says that the recording of This Heart of Mine, "Made me realize that he (Dylan) has written some of the best love songs in the English language."
"I do not write songs so whatever genre that I am working within, I need to find songs that really resonate with me. The mark of a great song is one that is very personal and universal at the same time. I love about the blues because whatever the topic is it has a very personal and descriptive quality to it, and yet it touches upon very universal themes. Those are the best songs, and I don’t know how to do any other songs. I am buoyed by them," says Muldaur.
"The songs that I picked for the blues albums and the Dylan album talk about all the different sides (of love), the plaintive, the bittersweet, the longing, the humorous and the sexy. It covers it all. I picked the songs that rang my bell." They will ring your bell as well, when you hear the incredible vocal interpretations of Maria Muldaur.