Taj Mahal - vocals, blues harp, chromatic harmonica, National Steel-bodied guitar, five-string guitar (banjo), fife; Howard Johnson - tuba, baritone saxophone; Bob Stewart - tuba, flugelhorn, trumpet; Joseph Daley - tuba, valve trombone; Earle McIntyre - tuba, bass trombone; Bill Rich - bass; John Simon - piano, electric piano; John Hall - electric guitar; Greg Thomas - drums; Kwasi "Rocky"Dzidzornu - congas
The early '70s were prime time for Taj Mahal, an advocate of the country blues and aficionado of international musical flavors. In February of 1971 he recorded his Fillmore sets that would become the live album, The Real Thing. A few months later, he was back at the historic East Coast venue for these sets that distill a similar repertoire in a slightly looser atmosphere.
By the early '70s, Taj's career as a solo recording and performing artist had really begun to take shape. He'd done his time in the Rolling Stones' Rock 'n' Roll Circus and was getting ready to score Sounder, an Oscar-nominated film in which he'd also appear the following year. Between the gigs, it was all about Taj honing his own stagecraft and toning up his original music, long based on traditional blues but sharpened up with some contemporary rock and soul accents. Taj grew up in Springfield, Massachusetts, where he schooled himself in blues, jazz, and African music while on the scene at Club 47 in Cambridge. He moved west to California and landed on fertile folk ground at the Ash Grove folk club. With Ry Cooder, he formed the Rising Sons who were among the first bands to use traditional instruments in their rock, country, and blues mix. Among the first interracial folk rock bands, they were signed to Columbia, but recordings didn't surface for decades (a special edition Rising Sons collection was released in 2008). As Cooder and Mahal's combination of traditional and contemporary music paved the way for Americana music, Taj embarked on a solo career. We catch up with him here at the Fillmore, scene of his live album, The Real Thing, recorded on February 13, 1971. On this night three months later, Taj turns in a set that's similar in substance as well as effect of his usual live set. He showcases material culled from his early solo work, like his self-titled solo debut from 1968, as well as 1969's The Natch'l Blues and 1970's Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home, the two record set featuring a live electric set as well as a full album's worth of solo acoustic country blues. He runs down "Ain't Gwine to Whistle Dixie No More" as well as Henry Thomas' pre-war "Fishing Blues," which he included on De Old Folks At Home. He does fine turns to "Good Morning Miss Brown" and "Going Up to the Country, Paint My Mailbox Blue," both from The Natch'l Blues. He notes that "Moving Home," is a story song, "about a friend from Louisiana." "You're Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond," is a traditional folk tune he plays Chicago blues style. "Tom and Sally Drake" is a completely psychedelic tuba and banjo jam, suitable for a soundtrack, which was not-coincidentally Mahal's next move. From here, he would go on to incorporate more and more international sounds into his music while forever remaining an advocate for the country blues. Taj's Fillmore sets are a glimpse at the still young musician, only just beginning what would become his lifetime journey into the music.