I was about to board a ferry boat for a family vacation when my cell phone rang. I wasn’t expecting a call, but I answered.
“Hey man, this is Taj!”
Yes, it was the one and only legendary Taj Mahal, winner of multiple Grammy awards, member of the Blues Hall of Fame, and the man who introduced Duane Allman to a song that would become the Allman Brothers’s signature song, “Statesboro Blues” (the song on which Duane learned to play slide guitar.)
I had been expecting Taj to call in a few days, but he was calling now, with my ferry due to leave in 5 minutes. Still, take every opportunity you get! We spoke for 5 minutes, then scheduled a follow up. Much of what I learned from Taj will be included in The Unbroken Circle, but Taj asked me to clarify a topic that has been the subject of much confusion: While Blind Willie McTell was a great slide guitar player, Ry Cooder is a great slide guitar player, and the version of Statesboro Blues played by the Allman Brothers is a slide interpretation, neither Willie McTell nor Ry Cooder played Statesboro Blues in a slide style.
Taj Mahal told me that:
“often time in urban legend, was that Ry Cooder was the one that played slide guitar on Statesboro Blues. Which blows my mind, because it’s clearly listed on the back of my album who plays on what. Jesse Ed Davis played slide on Statesboro Blues. People always thought that Ry played that. Ry played no slide on my album. He played slide on the Rising Sons (but not on Statesboro Blues) and slide on his own albums, but he never played slide on mine. He was just 17 but he was already one of the best guitar players in the United States as far as I’m concerned. Just a lot of guys have a lot more ‘ink’ but he was heads above all those people, and that’s why I wanted to play with him. Ry had all that stuff going: Banjo, mandolin, slide guitar, finger picking guitar, he was there man! He could sing all the great harmony parts too.”
Let the record be clear!
Taj also shared some news on his upcoming performances at New York City’s Blue Note (advertised as the “Taj Mahal Trio”), where I will be seeing him in September: “If you can, our quartet guy, he plays horns and the vibes. He won’t be here til the 14th, but from the 14th on it’s going to be a quartet instead of a trio. So if you can, come to one of those shows.”
I highly recommend seeing Taj live, and while I am sure the Trio performances will be great, if you want to see Taj in a quartet you know what to do!