“The band I’ll be traveling with is called The Red Hot Bluesiana Band,” says Maria Muldaur about her current tour called Way Past Midnight. “Bluesiana is a name I made up years and years ago after I’d spent a lot of time touring with Dr. John in the ’80s, just touring as a duo which is big fun.
“I came home, and I was just addicted to that funky New Orleans sound that he did so very well. He taught me a lot about New Orleans music, and I felt I needed to incorporate that sound into my sound. So bluesiana is a word I made up to describe the kind of New Orleans-flavored blues, R&B and swamp funk that he loved to play.”
Way Past Midnight is a reference to her career-defining 1973 mega-hit “Midnight at The Oasis.” Her releases have covered all kinds of American roots music, including blues, gospel, R&B, jug band, jazz and big band. She’s recorded with everyone from Dr. John to Doc Watson, John Sebastian to Charles Brown. She duets with Taj Mahal on his latest Savoy album and has recorded on labels as diverse as Warner Brothers, Reprise, Telarc, Stony Plain and Spivey Records, the first ever label owned by a black woman.
She’s recorded 43 albums in 50 years, but Midnight at The Oasis is the one captured the biggest success. She told me in 2015: “Look, there are so many gifted and talented people that never have even one small hit. I just consider myself lucky. I’m not one of those spoiled rock stars that complains about how tedious it is to have to sing their hits night after night. Luckily, it was an interesting song. A lot of jazz people have recorded this song because it’s very well-crafted. So, you can improvise on it.
“I might feel differently if my hit had been ‘Wild Thing’ or some other three-chord piece of hideousy, but it’s a hip little tune and just to see people’s faces light up and couples squeeze each other’s hand and everything when I start to do it, I know I’m bringing back some very happy memories and apparently a lot of them are X-rated or so I’ve been told. I’m happy to have had that hit, too. I don’t think I’ll ever have another hit of that magnitude, but I’ve been able to do what I love to do and exploring what I love to do, and I intend to do many more years of it.”
Eight years later, Maria is slightly more sanguine about reprising the one song that made her career. “It’s just hard to believe, but time flies when you’re having fun making music. So, here I am still at it and still performing, and we put together a special show called Way Past Midnight because it is w-a-a-y past midnight.
“(Way Past Midnight) is a multi-media retrospective that features my band and I performing lots of old favorites from early in my career, as well as favorites from other places of my career. And it’s accompanied by stories I tell either about the song or about who’s recorded it with me or whatever, and it’s also illustrated by videos and photos of all those fun adventures of yesteryear.
“So, it’s a multimedia retrospective. It sounds fancy, but really, I’m sharing the music scrapbook of the journey through American roots music over the last 50 years with my audience. I did it with my 40th anniversary 10 years ago. Then, 10 years seems to have zipped by, so I thought it was a good time to celebrate this time with this show.”
I asked her if it was fun deciding what other songs to include on this tour? “Yes, the hard part was deciding by necessity of time constraints what not to put in. When I did this a few years ago, I took an informal journey of what fans’ favorites were. Of course, “Midnight at The Oasis went without saying. People also loved “Don’t You Feel My Leg.” These are the favorites that people 50 years later get excited about when I announce them. Go figure, a song about a camel. I will never understand it, but I’m forever grateful for everybody wanting that song so much. Then, other favorites like “Brickyard Blues” and a song I recorded with Doc Watson.” She does his “Honey Babe Blues.”
“I start at the very beginning with my discovering and love of Appalachian and old timey music and learning to play the fiddle with Doc Watson. Its loosely a chronology of my musical journey which happens to coincide with the chronology of America roots music itself. You know, old-timey, bluegrass/ I sing a beautiful duet or rather a song that I did a duet with Hoagy Carmichal called “Old Rocking Chair.” I tell an old poignant story of him coming to the studio and singing harmony with me on it, and then of course I segue into my more recent and at the other end of the evening a good time has been had by all.
“Having said that, though, I also have a fabulous jazz quintet out here (on the West Coast) called The Jazzable Quintet, and we do other kinds of gigs that are strictly jazz and swing gig. I just did a wonderful four nights at the San Francisco Jazz Center with Taj Mahal, an old buddy of mine. He just put out an album called Swing which is a tribute to the Savoy Ballroom which was like in the ’40s, and I did a guest vocal on it with him, a duet.
She shrugs her shoulders about being seductive at age 81. “I did an album a tribute to Blue Lu Barker in New Orleans. Blue Lu Barker was the wonderful New Orleans blues woman who wrote and recorded ‘Don’t You Feel My Leg,’ and she recorded it back in 1942, the year I was born.
“I did an album in ’73, and people have loved it all these years, and I became a friend of hers, and her husband Danny Barber because when they started getting mailbox money (royalty checks) from us they couldn’t be any happier. They had no idea a song they had written 35 years prior was suddenly getting these huge royalties.
“Blue Lu has passed on, but I did an album called Don’t You Feel My Leg, the Naughty Blues of Blue Lu Barker. And in doing the research for the album I discovered to my delight that they had written dozens of songs equally naughty and bawdy and funny as “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” and so it was a delightful repertoire of music to work with and those songs definitely have a sort of tongue in cheek sensuality and sort of a playful flirtatious and sexiness, and so I always think it’s fun to do those songs, especially old blues have a wonderful way of expressing sexuality and sensuality that’s playful and not so serious as people try to express it today.”
So, what’s her secret to being seductive as a geriatric? “I have a couple of things going for me: one, I’m Sicilian. I stopped doing all those naughty substances years and years ago, while certain other people in my line of work have never figured out how to stop, or they figured out how to stop too late. So, I’ve had a healthy lifestyle.
“I have one addiction I have to confess, and that’s swimming. I have to swim every day of my life. When I’m home, I swim seven days a week and during Covid I swam almost every day even in the winter. I mean it’s just good for the body and spirit and soul to get in that pool and swim every day and easy on your joints. It’s relaxing, and I can see several of my great album ideas have come to me while swimming, and somebody suggested it’s because water was a conduit of spirit, and I think that person was right about that. It’s just wonderful. It’s like spiritual exercise as well as just moving my body around every day. So, if I look better than Keith Richards, that’s probably why.”
Check out Maria Muldaur tour dates here.