Taj Mahal - lead vocals, guitar, dobro, banjo, harmonica; Jesse Ed Davis III - guitar; Gary Gilmore - bass; Chuck "Brother" Blackwell - drums
By the time Taj Mahal returned to Bill Graham's Fillmore West in January 1971, his unique and critically acclaimed music and stage persona had already made its impact on an enthusiastic San Francisco arts community. His shows in the Bay Area had become cultural events, and this performance was no exception.
Mahal had been raised in a loving, middle-class family that placed a heavy emphasis on education. He got his college degree at the behest of his mother, but as soon as he graduated, turned to his true labor of love: bringing a contemporary rock-flavored interpretation to traditional blues songs and Negro spirituals (many of which emerged after the Civil War).
This show, which is a partial set consisting of only seven songs, contains many classics that originally appeared on Mahal's Giant Step (which featured a title track that had been originally written by Gerry Goffin and Carole King and had been covered once already by The Monkees). "Farther On Down The Road," "I Ain't Gonna Let Nobody Steak My Jellyroll" and "Done Change My Way of Livin'" show just how convincing a blues singer Mahal could be. But the real highlights are "Ain't That A Lot Of Love (for One Heart To Hold)," later recorded by Neil Young, and "Statesboro Blues," which sounds very close to the arrangement the following year developed by The Allman Brothers Band.
Mahal was working with an exceptional band at this period, and the ensemble included Jesse Ed Davis III on guitar, Gary Gilmore on bass and Chuck "Brother" Blackwell on drums. Gilmore and Blackwell make a tight rhythm section, and Davis is simply an exceptional blues guitarist. Davis would leave Mahal's band shortly thereafter and strike out on his own. He is featured on several records with George Harrison and also performed at the legendary Concert for Bangladesh in 1972. Sadly, Davis died before reaching middle age, a victim of his own rock 'n' roll lifestyle.
Mahal went through several musical changes after this recording was made. He continued to explore the history of blues music, but ventured out into other genres including jazz and reggae. Today, Mahal's records can usually be found both in the world beat and the blues sections of most music outlets.