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Johnny Guitar

Taj Mahal -- Statesboro Blues (1967)

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About a month ago I had the radio on and this song came on: I was blown away! I finally picked it up a couple of weeks ago and have listened to it several times since.

I'm embarrased that I came to this early Taj Mahal work so late. I've always known about and respected his work, but this piece (and presumably that album, Taj Mahal from 1967) are possibly pivotal to electric slide blues/rock.

I know many of you have very deep knowledge of his work. I knew that Ry Cooder had played with Taj before Captain Beefheart stole him away (I think Beefheart saw Ry with Taj and made the move on him). I should have looked into this early period of his work much sooner. I'm always on the lookout for historical musical precedents, and once mentioned to slide mentor Fred Sokolow, "but you can't just go straight from Elmore James to the Allman Brothers; it seems like such a huge musical leap?" I mentioned that Quicksilver Messanger Service as being somewhere between those two camps, but the Allman Brothers' version of Statesboro Blues is so close to Taj's version (note: I mean the 1967 version and not the 1965 version on the Rising Sons CD), they must have been doing an homage.

So now: am I right to assume that it is in fact Ry Cooder playing slide on this track (it has to be)? The compilation CD I got has no musician listings, and the online Ry Cooder discography lists Ry as only playing rhythm guitar on this album (it has to be Ry playing slide).

If you haven't heard this track and are interested in rock blues slide I suggest you check this out. I doubt you will be disappointed.


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Hi John.

I'm not familiar with this track, or even era, of Taj. I was only vaguely aware that Ry played with him on a few tracks years ago.

I saw Taj decades ago in Sydney, Australia. He was great, came out alone with a wide brimmed straw which cast a shadow over his eyes for the whole show, so you never really got to see him properly. It was very effective in maintaining the mystique. What a voice!

I'll look into it all, thanks for that.


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Hey John and Kirk

I happened to read this post early in the a.m.

On my way to work today I took a detour to Tower Records, NYC.

I checked out the Taj Mahal section, and lo and behold:

A digitally re-mastered Sony release of Taj Mahal's first solo recording on CD. (recorded 1967)

Columbia/Legacy CK65858

8 tracks including Statesboro Blues

The band:

Jesse Edwin Davis- lead guitarand piano

Ryland P. Cooder-rhythm guitar, mandolin

James Thomas-Bass

Sanford Konikoff-Drums

This line-up must have played one session, then Ry was replaced by another player on rhythm guitar. Jesse Davis played lead on all the cuts throughout. Taj says in the liner notes that almost all of it was played live in the studio, no overdubs.

After listening to the whole CD, I think that either Jesse Davis or Taj played slide, not Ry. It sounds like Ry was hired to play rhythm, and thats just what he did. Solid, simple, chunky chords and riffs.

Even in '67 Taj was an accomplished slide player and he is credited on the notes for arrangements, vocals, slide guitar and harp.

I'm not totally into 'roots blues' for lack of a better term. My reaction is that who ever played slide on Statesboro did a credible job, but Duane's versions on Live at the Fillmore took the craft of electric slide guitar to a whole nother level, and created a benchmark of tone and riffage that has yet to be surpassed. Quite simply, what Jimi was to electric guitar, Duane was to slide.

Maybe Duane heard this cut, maybe not. It doesn't matter. It all is what it is.

Nonetheless, its an interesting album of early Taj playing blues standards like Dust My Broom , EZ Rider and Walkin Blues. A nice recording, but hardly a groundbreaking benchmark. But it was on sale for $9.99 so I bought it.

Of course while I was there I decided that I really needed to refresh my Ry Cooder discography since all of mine are on vinyl or cassette. $80.00 later I left Tower records with 4 Ry Cooder classic CDs


The Slide Area

Paradise & Lunch

Bop Till You Drop

and one I never had:

Ry Cooder- first released in 1970. (I haven't heard this one yet.

If they had had a copy of Into The Purple Valley (my favorite) I would have bought that one too.

Maybe next time.

This is why I try to avoid Tower Records. Damaging to my wallet.


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Thanks for that Barry. I found that Statesboro Blues track. Very rough and ready, wasn't it, but when you consider the date -- 1967 -- it's amazing. I can hear Ry's distinctive voice in there singing harmony. It must be a different version though ... there's no slide on this.

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Apparently Ry played in Taj's band for a while. That may not be the same track as the one on the 'Taj Mahal' CD. I noticed several CDs in the bin at Tower records with Statesboro. I selected the one that was recorded in 67 with Ry. It does have slide, and some 'Duane-ish' licks.

I have never actually heard Blind Willie McTell's version either (he wrote it). I wonder if that is who they were all copying (stealing) licks from?


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You might be hearing the Rising Sons Statesboro Blues from 1965 with Ry Cooder (I haven't heard the whole thing but it is DIFFERENT -- and not in a good way) which Barry mentioned. I found both tracks on different CDs at Amazon and auditioned them on RA to be sure that I was getting the track which I wanted.

I don't have time to respond to the rest of Barry's points now but I hope to get back soon. I will mention that my main interest in this track is to push back the date of that very aggressive sleazy slide style. I can think of a few other things happening in 1967 which are similar (eg, the Johnny Winter album The Progressive Blues Experiment, and Captain Beefheart's Safe As Milk -- which of course has Ry Cooder on it) but not much before 1967 with the exception of Michael Bloomfield.

Any ideas where this style came from?

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