(upbeat old-time music) - Taj Mahal has been a force in American music for over 50 years.
His music is spicy stew of blues mixed with reggae, Latin, R&B, Caribbean, gospel, West African folk, jazz, and even calypso.
He's made more than 50 albums and played with everybody from Wynton Marsalis to the Rolling Stones.
(Satisfied N Tickled Too by Taj Mahal) ♪ Baby well I'm satisfied and tickled too ♪ ♪ Baby just to know that I'm in love with you ♪ ♪ Baby now I'm satisfied tickled too ♪ ♪ Baby just to know that I'm in love with you ♪ ♪ Baby now ♪ ♪ I've been ♪ ♪ You got me ♪ ♪ You want me ♪ ♪ You keep me ♪ ♪ You get me ♪ ♪ Great gosh you got me ♪ ♪ Honey now I'm going downtown hat caved in ♪ ♪ Coming back home now baby with a pocket full of tin ♪ ♪ Yeah, my money jingle ♪ ♪ Woman, I'm going downtown my hat caved in ♪ ♪ Coming back home now baby with a pocket full of tin ♪ ♪ Baby now I'm ♪ ♪ I've been ♪ ♪ I am ♪ ♪ You got me ♪ ♪ You keep me ♪ ♪ You want me ♪ ♪ Great gosh you got me ♪ ♪ I said I'm living in the country baby ♪ ♪ high up on the hill ♪ ♪ Daytime I hear the crows ♪ ♪ Night I hear the whippoorwill ♪ ♪ Oh I'm living in the country baby ♪ ♪ high up on the hill ♪ ♪ In the daytime I hear the crow ♪ ♪ Night hear the whippoorwill ♪ ♪ And I'm ♪ ♪ You got me ♪ ♪ You keep me ♪ ♪ You want me ♪ ♪ You like me ♪ ♪ You make me ♪ ♪ You got me ♪ ♪ Great gosh you got me ♪ ♪ Honey now the little red hen ♪ ♪ Said to the little red rooster ♪ ♪ Rooster you don't come round here much as you used to ♪ ♪ Crazy old rooster ♪ ♪ Well, the little red hen said to the little red rooster ♪ ♪ Mr. rooster you don't come round here ♪ ♪ much as you used to ♪ ♪ And I ain't been ♪ ♪ Mm-mmm ♪ ♪ Don't you tell no stories on me ♪ ♪ You know when you was here last ♪ ♪ Said I love you pretty baby better than I love myself ♪ ♪ When I get home mama ♪ ♪ Don't put your juicy juicy loving on no shelf ♪ ♪ Ooh love you pretty baby better than I love myself ♪ ♪ I get home don't put the juicy loving on the shelf ♪ ♪ You keep me ♪ ♪ You got me ♪ ♪ You want me ♪ ♪ You have me ♪ ♪ You get me ♪ ♪ You make me ♪ ♪ Great gosh you got me ♪ ♪ Satisfied and tickled too ♪ ♪ Baby just to know that I'm in love with you ♪ ♪ Baby now I'm satisfied tickled too ♪ ♪ Baby just to know that I'm in love with you ♪ ♪ Baby now I'm ♪ ♪ I been ♪ ♪ You got me ♪ ♪ You keep me ♪ ♪ You want me ♪ ♪ You get me ♪ ♪ Great gosh you got me ♪ - Taj, let's talk about Satisfied and Tickled Too and our old friend John Hurt.
- Always liked John's tunes.
He always was kinda whimsical.
And funny, kind of things tickled him personally.
You know, he was that type of person.
But yeah, I like that song, it's kinda like, you can play it in so many different styles.
You know, you can kind of bluegrass it, you can play it more bluesy, you can shuffle it.
It's kind of a bluesy love song, you know?
- It's a great one.
- That's one of those tunes that melody came through and it just lives with me.
- Let's just talk about your background a little bit.
Your family was from Cheraw, South Carolina, your mother.
- Yeah, my mother's people were both in Cheraw and in Bennettsville.
- And where was your dad from in the Caribbean?
- His family came from St. Kitts and Nevis.
St. Christoper and Nevis.
- And lots of music in your household?
- Yeah, lots of music in the culture, I didn't really know that there were, people didn't have music.
I mean, when I grew up, it was aside from being an interesting black community within a larger community of Europeans, everybody that I knew around me had music going.
You know, Mr. Eralatta would come home every day, take his shoes off, his tie, his wife would put the grappa there or whatever it was he was drinking and take out the paper and turn on the opera.
And then the opera came on.
- This was in Springfield, Mass.?
- Springfield, yeah.
And, you know, on Saturday the radio would play Larry Chesky and then people would polka, you knew all the different types of dances that people had culturally, you know, this bunch did the Hora, these guys would polka, everybody polka'd here and there, my mother was a schoolteacher, you know?
Dad was a jazz piano player, quit playing outside the house and touring, traveling, you know, when I came along.
And so, he had the great records in the house and we had a piano and musicians came round, my mother sang gospel.
Rehearsed a lotta times and we had records going, and we listened to all the great people and classical as well as jazz and swing.
- So it was a really rich environment?
- Oh yeah, and in the culture, you know?
Always being impacted by Caribbean people, Latin people.
As well as southerners, the southern migration up the East Coast, so, it was to me, for all them people, when there weren't a lotta places for folks to go and dance and party, so what people used to do was they'd go come over to our house and you'd go over to their house, you know, in the afternoon, many afternoons on the weekend.
You'd move the furniture and there was a rug there, take the rug put it out on the line, beat the rug, leave it out there.
Sweep the floor, mop the floor, wax the floor, and set the furniture back up, set up the record player and people came over with food at night, brought their kids.
And the grown folks danced.
(Cakewalk Into Town by Taj Mahal) ♪ I had the blues so bad one time ♪ ♪ Put my face in a permanent frown ♪ ♪ Now, I'm feelin' so much better baby ♪ ♪ I cakewalk into town ♪ ♪ Well I woke up this mornin' feelin' so good ♪ ♪ You know I lay back down again ♪ ♪ Throw your big leg up over me mama ♪ ♪ I might not feel this good again ♪ ♪ My baby my baby ♪ ♪ Well I do love the way she walk ♪ ♪ When the woman gets sleepy ♪ ♪ I like the way she baby talk ♪ ♪ Well work gettin' scarce oh baby ♪ ♪ And work it done got hard ♪ ♪ Spend my whole day stealin' chickens ♪ ♪ There from the rich folk yard ♪ ♪ I would love to take a picnic in the country ♪ ♪ Get with you and stay all day ♪ ♪ Wrap my arms around you kiss you ♪ ♪ Hug my time away ♪ ♪ Well I love you pretty baby ♪ ♪ Whoo you know I do ♪ ♪ Anything in the world baby get along with you ♪ (he hums the melody) ♪ I got the blues so bad ♪ ♪ Put my face in a permanent frown ♪ ♪ Now, I'm feelin' so much better ♪ ♪ I can cakewalk into town ♪ - I think people would be surprised to hear that you worked on a dairy farm and really studied agriculture.
- Historically, there's two things that people all round the planet cannot do without.
Food, and music.
Somewhere around the 7th or 8th grade, I realized that.
I used to go the Eastern States Exposition.
Up in Massachusetts and all these kids were on farms at five years old, you know, they got a 1100 pound cow.
Right there, or heifer, or, they got horses and ponies and goats and chickens, you know?
It's like, wait a minute, what the heck am I doing?
I got cement and walls and, you know.
So, I was playing my way toward it, worked tobacco a couple years and then, eventually, got a shot on a dairy farm.
And got a vocational agriculture course, while I was in high school.
And I coulda started out earlier if I was in 4H or Future Farmers of America.
But anyway, got involved and started working on this farm.
And in fact, the folks were down the other night.
And it was really good.
You have to do a lotta work.
And dairy farming, is the only radio station, W-O-R-K, you know?
Were I able to be able to get the kind of loans that it woulda taken to get me in to a farm and land and animals and equipment and insurance and all that, back at that time, I probably woulda had a shot at it.
My shot came a little bit better with the music.
- Must've been a point when you were professional enough to say I want a different name.
People ask me this all the time, how did you pick Taj Mahal?
- Because, really had a lot to do with Gandhi because my mother used to say, if you came out disheveled in the morning, say you wrapped a sheet or something around you, she said go back and change your clothes, you look like Mahatma Gandhi.
You know, so.
Anyway, so we knew who Gandhi was and what he was doing and ran the British off the Indian subcontinent.
And that was, in peaceful protest.
So years later when Martin Luther King came along, what I didn't know, and found out later is that he spent a long time studying Gandhi.
And not only did he study Gandhi, he went to India and went to the Ashram that Gandhi lived in and he asked them could he spend the night in the same bed that Gandhi stayed in?
And, that was a real important thing.
And so, as I said, hey, you know what?
When you call my name, it's gonna always make you go hmm, I wonder how that guy got that name?
And then if you're really smart, you'll get in there and go dig into India and realize that there's an incredible story behind the Taj Mahal.
And you know, Shah Jahan.
And it's an incredible love story.
And it gets further out, that they were supposed to build another one across from it, that was gonna be made all black.
And the son came in and said, aw no, we ain't spending that kinda money, you crazy, dad!
(he laughs) And it never happened.
- I have a little neighbor who's like seven years old, six years old, he said, now is he named after the building or is the building named after him?
(he laughs) - Right.
- So I wanna talk about when you went out to LA in '64 and started the Rising Sons.
That was quite a band with Ry Cooder and Jesse Lee Kincaid.
- Jesse Lee Kincaid, who came out to California with me.
I was playing a lot up in and around Cambridge and New York you know, trying to get the engine started.
- And when I heard Jesse Lee play, I just said, man, where did you learn how to play those tunes?
He said, well there's this guy out in California, he's a bit younger than me, his name is Ry, Ry Cooder.
And I said, but, well how the hell is he learning them?
He said, I don't know.
He's just a really good player.
So I said, well, sat there and I said, man you thinking that guy would like to be in a band?
He says, well, we'll have to go out there and see.
He said, I don't have a number for him.
So literally, we drove out to California eventually, and, within the first couple of days I was out there I got a chance to go out and hang out and play with him.
And Ry was really excited and ready.
- And he was like 17 or 18?
- Yeah, 17.
And he played better than all them guys back east who thought they were hot stuff playing.
And, he wasn't, already you could hear he was working toward his own tone in the music.
And that's something that's paramount to being, if you can start out, you can know how it really goes, playing like the old man or, whoever it is, the mentor, but you still gotta have your own voice.
It doesn't do you any good.
- You started a rock 'n' roll band, basically, right?
- Well, - [David] Pretty rock 'n' rolly.
- Yeah, to a certain extent.
We were more blues positive than most guys were.
Once they started going towards those ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba-ba eighth notes, they usually left the blues behind.
(Fishing Blues by Taj Mahal) ♪ Said I betcha goin' fishin' baby all the time ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ Bet you life your own sweet wife ♪ ♪ Catch more fish than you ♪ ♪ Many fish bites if you got good bait ♪ ♪ Here's a little tip that I would like to relate ♪ ♪ With my pole and my line ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ Baby goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ Went on down to my favorite fishin' hole ♪ ♪ And I took myself a pole and line ♪ ♪ Caught a nine pound catfish on the bottom.
♪ ♪ Wham I got him ♪ ♪ Home to mama my supper time ♪ ♪ Singing many fish bites if you got good bait ♪ ♪ Tip that I would like to relate ♪ ♪ With my pole and my line ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ And my baby goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ Baby brother just about to run me out my mind ♪ ♪ Saying man can I go fishin' with you?
♪ ♪ Took him on down to my favorite fishin' hole ♪ ♪ Think that brother of mine did do ♪ ♪ Caught a seven pound perch ♪ ♪ on the bottom wham he got him ♪ ♪ Home to mama said he was real gone ♪ ♪ Baby and his line ♪ ♪ He's goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ Baby goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ You got to put 'em in the pot yeah put 'em in the pan ♪ ♪ Get it nice and brown ♪ ♪ Get yourself a batch of buttermilk hey babe ♪ ♪ Put that sucker on the table mama scarf 'em all down ♪ ♪ Singin' many fish bites if you got good bait ♪ ♪ Tip that I would like to relate ♪ ♪ With my pole and my line ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ Baby goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ Betcha' goin' fishin' baby all the time ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ Bet you life, your sweet wife ♪ ♪ Catch more fish than you ♪ ♪ Many fish bites if you got good bait ♪ ♪ Here's a little tip that I would like to relate ♪ ♪ With my pole and my line ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ Baby goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ I said betcha' goin' fishin' baby all the time ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ Bet your life your sweet wife ♪ ♪ Catch more fish than you ♪ ♪ Many fish bites if you got good bait ♪ ♪ Tip that I would like to relate ♪ ♪ With my pole and my line ♪ ♪ I'm goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ Baby goin' fishin' too ♪ ♪ I'm a goin' fishin' mama goin' fishin' ♪ ♪ Baby goin' fishin' too ♪ There were all these blues rock things that were happening at the time.
And that's how we got creative with that.
People like the Rolling Stones, we were playing and, we're in a club, I think we were playing the Whisky a Go Go.
And they were over here, you know, doing the kinds of things that they were doing.
And then they would look for blues clubs to go and hang out in.
And they came down to the Whisky a Go Go 'cause they heard there was a blues band playing down there.
And, I looked down at the floor in the middle of a set and there's Mick Jagger and Keith Richards, you know, and, Bill Wyman, and over here is, Eric Burdon, Chas Chandler, and, Hilton Valentine and in the back of the room is Ginger Baker.
- Oh man.
- And Eric Clapton and that bunch, you know.
And I was like, okay.
- When this set's over I'm gonna go over and talk to these guys and just.
So I got off stage, and I went down and sat down with them all, in amongst all the brilliant mates and blah blah blah.
Bloody good on yas, you know, and all this kinda stuff.
I just said to 'em, you doing any projects any time?
That you can see that we would be, you know, an addition.
A welcome addition to the project?
Let us know, we're wide open.
About three months, maybe four months later, eight first class round trip tickets came in the mail to the management office.
They said, these guys want you on this project that they're doing over there.
So, we went over.
And the project was the Rolling Stones Rock and Roll Circus.
And those guys are, I mean, the Stones were great.
They were fantastic.
There was no place they went or nothing that they had that they didn't share with us.
All I ever really wanted to do was to pick up the guitar and be able to just, do it.
- You've been doing that fifty years.
- 60, 64, maybe, 64 years.
- Wow, well you've done a great job with what you've done, that's for sure.
Influenced and inspired many people.
- See, all this stuff is like, from the spyglass of anthropology, you know, at this point.
- And how long are you gonna keep going?
- I'm still standing at 77.
- That's a good feeling.
(Slow Drag by Taj Mahal) - Yeah.