Born Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica D’Amato in Greenwich Village, New York on September 1943, she married Greg Muldaur in the 1960’s and voila, she was Maria Muldaur. The rest as they say is history. Sprouting out of the roots revival in the early 1960’s, Muldaur has gone on to have a lengthy career in the music industry. She continues to release albums, tour and write music almost 50 years later. Her biggest commercial hit came in 1974 with the release of her song “Midnight at the Oasis”.
Recently Orcasound had the pleasure of talking to Maria from her home in San Francisco about her recently released Christmas album, the staggering amount of musical legends that she has worked with and what music she listens to.
Orcasound: Happy holidays ahead of time.
Maria: Thank you!
Orcasound: Are you doing anything special for the holidays?
Maria: I’m doing a bunch of shows based on my new Christmas CD, Christmas at the Oasis. I get kind of tired of all the sappy, syrupy, oversentimentalized Christmas tunes that are pumped out every holiday season and you hear them in the elevators, you hear them in the malls and everywhere. As an antidote to that I gathered my own collection of what you just might call Christmas songs for hipsters. Songs from the 20s, 30s and 40s by some of my favourite blues and jazz artists. So whenever I had the chance to do a Christmas related gig I would do those tunes. People asked me for years to put them on a CD. I resisted the idea. Then a couple of years ago we did a live show that was recorded for a local radio station that wanted to play it on Christmas Eve. The recording came out so well that it turned into the album Christmas at the Oasis. I no longer was the one artist not putting out a Christmas album. I joined the ranks of all my other artist friends and actually I have to say it’s been a lot of fun. That’s what I’m doing for the holidays. Going around with my band and performing these songs. We just did a show last night. It was big fun.
Orcasound: Where did you play last night?
Maria: Well, we played a little jazz room called the Rrazz Room (in San Francisco), which is where the Christmas at the Oasis album was recorded two years ago.
Orcasound: Please give me your gut reaction to a few well known musicians you have worked with or known.
Orcasound: Let’s start off with Dr. John.
Maria: Ah, the good Dr. John. I met him in the early 70s when he came to Woodstock (New York), near where I was living, to record and I just fell in love with his wonderful piano playing. When I had the opportunity to do my first solo album a few years later when they asked who I wanted on the album I made a grand wish list and put him at the top of it. Lo and behold, I found myself recording with people like Dr. John as well as Ry Cooder and a lot of my favourites. And over the years Mac, I call him Mac because his real name is Malcolm John Rebenneck Jr., we’ve toured and recorded together a lot. In the 80s we did a lot of duo gigs. I kind of became addicted to that funky New Orleans piano style that he plays. Kind of bluesy. Kind of R&B. Kind of Louisiana and kind of funky. He’s been a huge influence on my music.
Orcasound: Moving on to Jerry Garcia.
Maria: Jerry. What can you say about Jerry Garcia? My boyfriend all during the 70s was a wonderful bass player named John Kahn, who played in Jerry Garcia’s band. Not the Grateful Dead but the Jerry Garcia Band. Also in that band was Elvis’s drummer, Ron Tutt. I used to love to hear them play and they would ask me to sit in. Eventually they asked me to join the Jerry Garcia Band. So I’m on several of their recordings. Jerry was a very special, a very magical musician. And, of course, we all miss him terribly.
Orcasound: David Grisman
Maria: He’s one of my earliest musical cohorts. We were in a band together when we were still in our teens. Nobody knows this, but we were a bluegrass band called Maria and the Washington Square Ramblers that featured David Grisman and a few other stellar players. Shortly after that little stint we were in a band called Even Dozen Jug Band together. David and I are still quite close. He doesn’t live far from where I live in the San Francisco Bay area. He recently collaborated with me and another dear pal John Sebastian on a project I did two years ago that was nominated for a Grammy called Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy. It was our nostalgic return to our roots. It’s fun when we get together and we all get a chance to collaborate.
Orcasound: Bob Dylan. Who I know you’re a big fan of.
Maria: Well, I just think that he is a very gifted writer and I think he was anointed at a certain point as a messenger of certain truths that people needed to hear at that time. We go way back to the early 60s too. I just think of him as within my life and I know this is true of a lot of people. He’s written songs, not just in the era of the protest songs he wrote, where he just has a way of expressing himself that is very deep and very universal. At various stages of our lives he’s written songs that just have an impact on me. They’ve helped me understand my own life and the world we’re living in. He quite a deep soul; and it’s still going strong. I keep thinking if he keeps touring I’m going to keep doing it too.
Orcasound: I have this photo of Bob Dylan meeting the pope and a number of people have remarked “Hey, it’s the pope meeting God”.
Maria: (laughter) I don’t think Dylan is God, but I think that’s pretty funny.
Orcasound: Ry Cooder
Maria: Ry Cooder. I just went to see him at a show here in San Francisco. His new album is called Pull Up Some Dust and Sit Down and we were all just jumping out of our seats. He’s so good. He is funky to the bone. This guy somehow captured a groove that somehow encapsulates the whole groove of American music and he lays it down. He lays down a trench when he plays. It’s magnificent, his new album.
Orcasound: I know you were born in New York. Do you go back often to New York?
Maria: I go when I’m gigging. I have friends there still. My daughter lives there. My almost 100-year-old aunt lives there. Various cousins, aunts and uncles. Short doses of New York is just fine with me. I’m a country girl now.
Orcasound: You’re pursuing folk and American roots music…
Maria: Don’t call it folk music because to me the words folk music conjures up the image of some young blonde there sitting on a stool at a coffeehouse strumming on a nylon string guitar singing what I call dear diary music. So let’s call it roots music.
Orcasound: What is happening with you nowadays, in terms of your music career?
Maria: I have my Steady Love album that just reached number one on the Living Blues chart. That was a major album for me. It’s been out a couple of months. It reached number one and as of this week it is number two on the Living Blues chart. I’m very proud of that album. I revisited my favourite musical place in the whole world New Orleans and did it with my favourite New Orleans musicians. It has some really wonderful uplifting songs on it. The players that contributed to that and that I collaborated with just outdid themselves. I put out an album a year so that’s my 39th album in the 38th year since “Midnight at the Oasis” came out. I have an album coming out also on Standard Time Records, which is where I’ve released a lot of my albums out of lately. It is a tribute to my longtime hero and role model in music, Memphis Minnie. I call myself the M.M. If you don’t know who Memphis Minnie was she was a blues singer. She not only sang the blues, but she wrote and recorded over 200 of her own songs. And also played an absolutely bitchin’ guitar and is an unsung hero. I got together with my blues sisters and we made this tribute (album). I produced it and I got some cameo appearances by Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster, Suzy Thompson, Phoebe Snow and others too. A tribute to a woman who was one of the forerunners of rock ‘n roll.
Orcasound: What’s on your iPod?
Maria: I don’t even have an iPod. I can’t be bothered with iPods. I have CDs and I’m a lover of Bonnie Raitt’s stuff and love the new Ry Cooder album. I listen to the old blues a lot. Just all the great American music. There’s a never-ending supply. I don’t much listen to what’s on the pop charts. I love Ruthie Foster. I love so many people. Old blues and gospel music. Mavis Staples, I love her. And Bob Dylan. But if someone new comes along that I really like I’m always open to new things.
Orcasound: You’ve recorded with so many people, is there someone that you haven’t recorded with that you’d like to record with?
Maria: I’ve recorded with Aaron Neville, Hoagy Carmichael. I’ve done all kinds of duets with Bonnie (Raitt), Taj Mahal. You name it. I would love to sing with Al Green. I almost did do it, but he got a call to go sing at the White House. This was in the 90s, so that never happened. I know him and I know he likes my music. I love his singing and I would definitely welcome the opportunity to do a duet with him sometime.
Orcasound: I hope we will see you in Montreal some time soon.
Maria: Yes! I haven’t played there in years. Tell them to get with it and invite me up there.