One of my all-time favorite albums is The Real
Thing, a 1971 live album by Taj Mahal. He hadn’t started incorporating Caribbean and African music into his music yet, so the focus is on traditional American blues and folk as featured in his first several albums. “Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie Any Mo’”, a short instrumental featuring Taj’s whistling that precedes the title track of his classic Giant Steps album is expanded to nearly a side’s length, and features some awesome solos by John Simon (an engineer and producer who worked on so many great albums - Music From Big Pink, The Band – on which he played the tuba in “Rag Mama Rag” – Cheap Thrills, Songs of Leonard Cohen, etc) that you’re sure to own at least one) and the honorable John Hall (who served in the US House of Representatives from 2007 to 2010.
About half the album was written by Taj Mahal, and about half of it is his interpretation of standards by bluesmen like Sleepy John Estes and Blind Willie Johnson. I have always liked his original songs the best. The album also features some heavy brass in the form of a four tuba horn section that backs Taj’s banjo on several tracks, including this one:
(“Tom and Sally Drake” by Taj Mahal)
I read an interview where Taj said he preferred playing outdoors because the audience felt more comfortable moving around and dancing – I saw him play at the Minnesota Zoo’s amphitheater years ago and it was one of the funnest, most memorable experiences I’ve ever had watching a musician perform in my life.
There’s a recording of Bruce Springsteen and members of his E Street Band performing on WGOE radio (Richmond, VA) in 1973 that features Danny Federici playing the tuba, which he introduces as their bid to compete with Chicago (who they opened for that night at the Richmond Coliseum. You can hear Federici’s tuba on The Wild, the Innocent and the E Street Shuffle on the song “Wild Bill’s Circus Story”.
I intended this post to be about the tuba’s early 70s resurgence but I recorded the wrong song off my old cassette of the Springsteen show. This one’s pretty good, anyway, although Federici plays the accordion instead:
(“You Mean So Much to Me” by Bruce Springsteen)
My favorite thing about that recording is the sponsors that the DJ thanks at the end – if you got bored during that song and missed it go back and skip to about eight minutes into the track. Are these real sponsors? Is this a joke?
Anyway, until I uploaded the wrong song the point of this post was how awesome the tuba is. More tuba, please. If you haven’t heard the new album by El Le Faunt and his Traveling Circus, click on this link and check it out – if only for Bennie Netzley’s kickass tuba.