• Downward Dog Productions brings Taj Mahal Trio for Sunday, 7 p.m. show at Mariner Theatre
Famed blues player Taj Mahal is probably the most requested musical artist ever to come to Homer, a musician whose range of talent spans a global history as much as a rich sound.
Downward Dog producer Michael Hayes said Taj has been to Alaska at least once that he’s known of, and comes to the Kenai Peninsula for fishing trips now and then.
“He’s a big fisherman. He’s probably the most requested artist we’ve ever had in the years we’ve been doing concerts. It isn’t sold out yet, but it’s on its way,” Hayes said. “He’s been around, forever. He even played with Jimmy Hendrix back in the ‘60s.”
Hayes works in conjunction with Whistling Swan in Anchorage, a promoter who brings big acts north. In order for costs to pencil out for smaller audiences like those in a town the size of Homer, the small towns work with big promotors on a package of tours. Especially for giant artists like Taj.
Taj is a composer, multi-instrumentalist and vocalist.
“He 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,” his biography reads. “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, New York on May 17, 1942, Taj grew up in Springfield, Mass. His father was a jazz pianist, composer and arranger of Caribbean descent, and his mother was a gospel-singing schoolteacher from South Carolina, according to his website.
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, he 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 United States but from all over the globe.
Taj says in his biography, “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, his website says.
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.
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.
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