Ten Questions for Maria Muldaur

by Bob Putignano
Goldmine Magazine June 10 2005

Maria Muldaur’s, 30 years + in the music business, starting with her beginnings as a New York City lower Westside resident playing the small coffee houses of Greenwich Village, to her infamous recordings with the many of the giants of the music industry. I had the opportunity to catch up with Maria on the air at WFDU’s studios just west of where Maria’s career began in New York, from her home in Mill Valley California. I hope you enjoy this discussion with Maria as much as I did, as she has done so much for roots music and the related heavyweight artists she has performed with.

Bob P: Hi Maria: Special thanks to the good folks at Shout Factory for getting us together here on the radio, and for the new CD, “30 Years of Maria Muldaur, I’m a Woman”

Maria: Do you know its been 30 years since “Midnight at the Oasis” became a hit, and that I have made 30 albums since Midnight was first released? It’s really nice to finally see a lot of my music which was originally out on vinyl released on one CD, especially those tracks we call the Big 3: “Midnight at the Oasis”, “Don’t You Feel My Leg” and “It Ain’t the Meat, it’s the Motion” which we still close our live performances with.

Bob P: What was your involvement with this historical compilation?

Maria: I got to choose every track included. I am very happy with the Shout Factory label, as they could have put this CD without any involvement from me, but wanted my input.

Bob P: It’s good to see that a label has that kind of sensitivity.

Maria: They are righteous folks, and they care about the artists. We get our share of the pie, and they have a deep respect for the artists.

Bob P: Who are some of some of your favorite artists?

Maria: Believe it or not, I feel very blessed to have recorded with so many of them. I have recorded with Hoagy Carmichael, Linda Ronstadt, Bonnie Raitt, Aaron Neville, Benny Carter, Ray Brown, Charles Brown, Taj Mahal, Mavis Staples, and Dr. John. I love that duet with Mac “The Best of Me” and actually wanted that to be the title to this Shout Factory recording, but they wanted to go with what we used.

Bob P: How did you hook up with Mavis Staples?

Maria: Over 30 years ago, my old boyfriend used to be a talent scout for Johnny Carson, and asked me to help lug a bunch of heavy equipment to this church in New Jersey, where the Staples Singers were playing, and they wanted to record them. After the tapes were reviewed, The Staple Singers were given the opportunity to appear on Carson’s Tonight Show, and the rest was history. That TV broadcast got them off the Chitlin’ Circuit and allowed their music be heard by much wider audience on national televison, and the rest was history. Anyway, I was so moved by Mavis, and we remained friends from that moment on. About 10 years later I asked my soul sister (Mavis) to record with me and we did a Bob Dylan/Danny O’Keefe song called “Well, well, well” which appears on this compilation CD on Shout, and Mavis said to me “Baby sister, what took us so long!” We also recorded “Somebody Was Watching Over Me” also included on this disk, with some of the Neville Brothers, Bonnie Raitt, Ann Peebles, Tracy Nelson, Jon Cleary, and of course Mavis. We all just got down, got happy and “had church” right there in the studio. You know Mavis is so special and when she walks into a room she is like a ball of fire, the sun comes out, with light, warmth, love and joy. She is irresistible, infectious, a force of nature of the Holy Spirit, what I like to call the anointed one.

Bob P: Did you know that Mavis’s new CD “Have a little Faith” was just released on Alligator Records?

Maria: God bless roots labels! Good stuff does not go away, never. I thought I did some of my best stuff on small roots labels like Stony Plain, and those records I did with Dr. John on the Black Top label are some of my favorite records. I was doing duo performances with Dr. John and we started talking about doing a New Orleans recording together with Aaron Neville. Black Top records did not worry about how well it would sell nor did they care if it would be a big hit, they just wanted to make that record of what I called “Swamp Funk/Bluesiana music, that is how “Louisiana Love Call” was born.

Bob P: If you had to pick three tracks from “30 years of Maria Muldaur, I’m a Woman” which would you choose for me to play as part of this radio interview?

Maria: That’s easy, “Well, well, well”, “Somebody Was Watching Over Me” and “It’s a Blessing”.

Bob P: You have so many projects going on right now, please tell me more?

Maria: Well last year I did that tribute to Peggy Lee on Telarc “A Woman Alone with the Blues”, and got to play Carnegie Hall, and just did shows in Chicago with Nancy Sinatra, Rita Coolidge, Freddy Cole, Maureen McGovern, Nnenna Freelon, with a full orchestra in another tribute to Peggy Lee. I just played the Blue Note in NY with James Cotton, where I had a ball and would do it all over again at drop of a hat. Cotton is such a lovely, generous man, a doll, he bubbles over with spirit and vitality, and is such a pleasure to work with. I have a brand new CD coming out in August, also on Telarc called “Love Wants to Dance” where I do songs by Bob Dylan, Blossom Dearie, and Taj Mahal. I think it should be a soundtrack for a tropical love vacation, so breezy and intimate, I wish I was there now, (laughs). Danny Caron also plays guitar on the new CD, he is one my favorite guitarists. You know Telarc gives me complete artistic freedom, and trusts my artistic judgement, and I am not exclusive with Telarc, as I am also going to be working on a follow up to “Richland Woman Blues” on the Canadian Stony Plain label. “Richland Woman Blues” was so well received, and was nominated for a Grammy, 2 WC Handy awards, and won Best Blues Traditional album of the year given by Indie Awards. Did you know I recorded that CD in my living room? (More laughs) The follow up will also be an acoustic recording, just like the first one, and will pay tribute to the early women of the blues. I really love working with Holger Petersen at Stony Plain, and I always say that he that is the nicest guy in show biz. This is a great project, as you know without the origins of blues music, there would be no Rhythm &Blues, and with out R&B there would be no Rock and Roll. So without all of that legacy, what we would do?

Bob P: You seem to have an overwhelming plate of projects to work on?

Maria: It’s been an exciting time for me. I am proud about the Shout “30 years” CD, the Peggy Lee project, working with James Cotton, the new Telarc CD “Love Wants to Dance” and the upcoming Stony Plain follow up to “Richland Woman Blues”.

Bob P: Any final comments?

Maria: Absolutely. Roots music was created by and for the people, it is alive and well, with no hype from the media, and no major marketing strategies. It just shows that cream will always rise to the top, and roots music definitely here to stay!

Bob Putignano
Radio Host WFDU’s “Sounds of Blue”
President of the NY Blues and Jazz Society