Taj and the Soft Road

Betcha goin’ fishin’ all of the time

Baby goin’ fishin’ too.

Bet your life your sweet wife

Goin’ to catch more fish than you.

Many fish bites if you got good bait,

Here’s a little tip that I would like to relate.

Many fish bites if you got good bait.

I’m a goin’ fishin’, yes, I’m goin’ fishin’

and my baby’s goin’ fishin’ too.

“Take a Giant Step” was the album most played by my faction of peeps back there in the Sage country commune. That’s where I first heard Taj Mahal.

Taj’s deep mellow voice was like warm biscuits and honey. He brought the funk soft like a cloud and real like frieght cars rolling clickity, clackity, in the distance. The whistle moaned kind of low but you knew it was powerful at the source. 

When I listened to Taj Mahal I felt like all was right with the world. He taught me things about America I never learned in school. He taught me about black history, the history of music and song and showed me how it ran in my blood.

Before Taj made his wonderful albums –Taj Mahal, Giant Steps/De old Folks at Home, both with Jesse Edwin Davis (that’s him in the video) on guitar, and The Real Thing with those great horns — he was in a band called the Rising Sons with another musician with a strong musicological bent, Ryland P. Cooder.

The Rising Sons were fine and funky Los Angeles canyon dwellers.

From Barney Hoskyns’ book on the history of the music biz in LA,  “Waiting for the Sun”:

“The great should-have beens of the mid-sixties Los Angeles scene, The Rising sons, were remarkable not simply for being, as many people put it, the Rolling Stones to the Byrds Beatles, but for an interracial pop group at a time when such a thing was unthinkable in California.

Fronted by the giant Taj Mahal, a Harlem boy by way of the folk-blues scene in Cambridge, Mass. the sons played a raw electric version of country blues which breifly made them the hottest thing in Hollywood.

(My note: He’s a big  ol’ Taurus, like Rob Riggle big. Why do you think he won that nickname?)

Mahal had come west with fellow folkie Jessie Lee Kincaid in late 1964,

hooking up shortly afterward with bassist Gary marker, bald-headed jazz drummer Ed Cassidy and Kincaid’s guitar prodigy acquaintance Ryland Cooder. The teenage Cooder was already something of a legend on the folk-blues circuit, having been hired by Ed Pearl at the Ash Grove to back Jackie DeShannon (me: who, at this time, was experiencing the pleasure of a young Jimmy Page’s “company”), then going through her own folkie phase. As a blues devotee Cooder was a distinct anomaly at Santa Monica High, where he was still studying in 1963.

‘If anyone there even thought about music, they probably thought about surf music,’ he recalled. ‘They had surfing and records and dances and a certain style of clothes, and they were sort of acknowledging that music existed, but I could see it was a low-grade experience for them.’

When Taj Mahal started pitching up at the Ash Grove, Cooder instinctively bonded with him.

‘He was real raggedy and I was real raggedy, so we went to the Teenage Fair in Hollywood and played Delta blues in the Martin Guitars booth. The Byrds were the big thing at the time, so it was different. And all of a sudden we had a blues band.’

Ryland is in the middle in the back.

Taj Mahal was a great presence in the film  Sounder (1972).

Doesn’t look like that version is plentiful. Netflix only has the Disney version with no Taj or Cicely Tyson.

They have it at Amazon from private sellers but it’s kind of pricey.

It’s a good family movie. You could think of it as an investment. Teach the kids or grandkids about racial inequality in America.


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