Trouble making that car payment? Having a tough time selling your house in a stalled real estate market? Consider the plight of the gal in Memphis Minnies Tricks Aint Walking:
Times has done got hard, work done got scarceStealing and robbing is taking placeBecause tricks aint walking, tricks aint walking no more And Im going to grab somebody if I dont make me some dough.
The Depression-era song is about a prostitute who is penniless and desperate because clients (tricks) can no longer afford her services. As far as the blues goes, these lyrics are much darker than the garden-variety my woman and my dog done left me. This woman is truly desperate.Maria Muldaur does a lovely job of Tricks Aint Walking on her about-to-be-released album First Came Memphis Minnie (Stony Plain Records). Muldaur, singing with a husky timbre, strikes a perfect balance between world weariness and the strength that emanates from a steel-spined sense of survival.Muldaur and her band play at Hermanns Jazz Club on Monday and Tuesday night. Most of us remember the singer from her 1974 mega-hit Midnight at the Oasis. Muldaur, phoning recently from her San Francisco home, promised to sing what she affectionately calls that goofy song in Victoria.Fans know Muldaurs much more than the sultry crooner who sang about sheiks and belly dancers. Over a long and varied career, the 69-year-old has interpreted an incredible range of music: blues, R&B, gospel, funk, country, old-time favourites. The new collection of Minnies songs, First Came Memphis Minnie, reflects her lifelong passion for the late singer who, like Muldaur, was a pioneer in a male-dominated field. Minnie wasnt only a fine singer, she was a great acoustic and electric guitarist who once bested Big Bill Broonzy in a Chicago cutting contest. Muldaur was first introduced to Minnies music in 1963 by Victoria Spivey in New York City. Spivey, who worked with everyone from Louis Armstrong to Bob Dylan, had just launched her own label. She was interested in recording a new group, the Even Dozen Jug Band (jug bands were big in the 60s).But Spivey thought the Even Dozen Jug Band needed something extra: sex appeal. Thats where Muldaur came in. Shed spotted me when I was a young beatnik babe on the emerging folk music scene in the early 60s, Muldaur said. Spivey said [to the Even Dozen Jug Band], You boys sound good, you all play real good. But you should get that little gal I saw, the one with the pigtails. You get her in the band and youll have something.This was before womens lib, Muldaur added, laughing. I didnt feel insulted to be asked to join a band strictly for my sex appeal. It sounded like fun.Spivey took the novice singer, then known as Maria DAmato, under her wing. In her apartment, Spivey played recordings of different blues singers for her, seeking material. Muldaur was suitably impressed.But the song that somehow made the deepest impression on my young soul was the scratchy 78 of Memphis Minnie singing Tricks Aint Walking, she said.For some reason, Muldaur didnt end up recording the song back then. She did perform it often in concert. Now, half a century later, she has included it on First Came Memphis Minnie, her 40th album.For those unfamiliar with them, the recording is an excellent introduction to both Muldaur and Memphis Minnie. It also features guest appearances by such vocalists as Bonnie Raitt, Ruthie Foster, Rory Block and the late Phoebe Snow and Koko Taylor. Snows contribution is a previously recorded version of Minnies My Girlish Days. (She died last year after suffering a cerebral hemorrhage).Muldaur remembers first meeting Snow in 1971 outside a Greenwich Village club. She was a chubby gal in a baggy sweatshirt and jeans. Their mutual connection was Memphis Minnie. Most musicians, let alone the general public, hadnt heard of her. Phoebe pulled out her guitar and sang In My Girlish Days. And played great guitar. And I heard that voice my jaw dropped, Muldaur said.No one on First Came Memphis Minnie sings better than Muldaur, who interprets Me and My Chauffeur, Crazy Cryin Blues and the truly terrific Im Sailin with a righteously raspy voice. It strikes me that Muldaur, destined to be forever pegged as Ms. Midnight at the Oasis, is underrated, as are so many talented musicians. I totally agree with you, said Holger Petersen, who owns and operates Stony Plain Records. Shes so totally good and dedicated at what she does. I dont think theres anybody I know what works as hard when she has a concept.Aside from the latest disc, Petersens label has recorded several roots/blues records with Muldaur. He was originally introduced through their mutual friend Amos Garrett, the guitarist who plays the thrilling solo on Midnight at the Oasis. For her two-nighter in Victoria, Muldaur performs with her Red Hot Bluesiana Band. Theyll play some Memphis Minnie material and other popular Muldaur tunes such as Dont You Feel My Leg and It Aint the Meat (Its the Motion). Midnight at the Oasis reached No. 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. Its still her calling card, pulling her to such far-flung locales as Japan and Borneo. People ask me if I ever get sick of singing it, Muldaur said before I got the chance to ask. And my answer is a big, Hell no!
Maria Muldaur and the Red Hot Bluesiana Band play Monday and Tuesday night at Hermanns Jazz Club. Tickets are $27.50 in advance (Hermanns, Ditch Records, Lyles Place, eventbrite.com). They also perform Sunday at Vancouver FanClub and Wednesday at Nanaimos Queens Hotel.
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