Maria Muldaur has gone south since her ‘70s hits—to listeners’ delight.
Thursday, November 11, 2004
You wouldn’t guess it to look at Maria Muldaur, but the chanteuse’s career touches on almost the entire span of 20th century American music.
While she’s still best known for her 1970s FM radio hits “Midnight at the Oasis” and “I’m A Woman,” Muldaur soaked up blues directly from the source as a teenager when she was befriended by Victoria Spivey, the Texas blues great who made her first recording in 1925. Over the years, Muldaur has starred in musical theater, sung straight-ahead jazz with Benny Carter and New Orleans funk with Dr. John. She performs on Saturday at the Jazz & Blues Company with keyboardist Chris Burns, drummer Jimmy Sanchez and guitarist Archie Williams.
“Midnight” was the hit that brought Muldaur a national audience in 1973, turning her first Warner Bros. album into a platinum seller. But she had started collecting the various elements of her blues-drenched Americana sound much earlier, singing country-and-western tunes before she entered grade school.
“It was kind of odd, because I was a little Sicilian girl singing ‘It Wasn’t God Who Made Honky Tonk Angels’ at age five,” says Muldaur, 62. “But I was listening to people like Kitty Wells and Hank Williams.”
A little later she discovered R&B, and by high school she was singing in an all-girl doo-wop group. In the early ‘60s, Muldaur got caught up in the folk revival, listening to delta blues, bluegrass and gospel. Hanging around Washington Square Park, she made common cause with other music-obsessed young people, joining the Even Dozen Jug band with John Sebastian and David Grisman. Just as important, she became a protégé of blues legend Spivey, who taught Muldaur the finer points of the genre.
When the Even Dozen band broke up, Muldaur moved to Boston, where she joined the Jim Kweskin Jug Band and eventually married the group’s blue-eyed soul singer, guitarist Geoff Muldaur. They broke up a few albums later when he joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band, and she moved to LA to launch her solo career.
Her relationship with bassist John Kahn of the Jerry Garcia Band, brought her to the Bay Area in 1976, and her sound evolved, drawing more deeply on the Dr. John-inspired swamp blues feel she perfected on Louisiana Love Call. For a while, she was spending so much time in New Orleans that people thought she had moved there.
“Logistically it just never came together,” Muldaur says. “I was just too busy on the road. But I’d run into people and they’d say ‘Oh, what are you doing here?’ One of these days I’ll move there for good, but in the meantime I’m carrying that music around with me where ever I go.”
Though her music no longer fits the constricted formats that dominate commercial radio, Muldaur’s voice is more commanding than ever. In the ‘90s she recorded a string of albums for Telarc so full of torchy tunes that Bonnie Raitt remarked, “Maria, with music like this, who needs Viagra?”
Raitt was one of the stars who joined Muldaur on her 25th album, 2001’s rootsy Richland Woman Blues on Stony Plain Records. With friends such as John Sebastian, Roy Rodgers, Angela Strehli, and Alvin Youngblood Hart contributing pungent guitar solos, the album is a gritty tour through the Delta.
Muldaur displayed her sultry side on last year’s tribute to Peggy Lee, A Woman Alone With the Blues. Her throaty voice is now perfect for purring and growling classics like “Fever,” “Some Cats Know” and “Black Coffee.” She still has her high range, but now she’s just as powerful down low.
“It’s the one reward for getting older,” Muldaur says. “Everything goes south, and my voice went south too.”
Maria Muldaur performs Saturday November 13, 7:30pm at the Jazz & Blues Co., San Carlos and 5th, Carmel, 624-6432.