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'Texas Sheik' Mixes Old Sounds With New Style.

Emmy Award-winning musician Geoff Muldaur has collaborated with artists from Jerry Garcia to Bonnie Raitt. His latest album with his band the Texas Sheiks draws on his jazz and blues background. He shares more from his past -- as well as a few tunes -- in the Fresh Air studio.

27:11

Other segments from the episode on December 31, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 31, 2009: Interview with John Doe and The Sadies; Interview with Geoff Muldaur.

Transcript

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John Doe, The Sadies Rock The 'Country Club'

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. To end the year on a good note, we
have two great music performances for you today as part of our holiday
week series of memorable interviews from 2009. Later, we'll hear from
Geoff Muldaur, who has a new CD of old-time country blues. First, some
classic country songs from John Doe.

As the co-founder of the L.A.-based band X, John Doe is one of the
leading voices and songwriters of punk rock in the '70s and '80s. This
year, John Doe made a CD called "Country Club," featuring country music
classics by Johnny Cash, Merle Haggard, Willie Nelson, Roger Miller and
others, along with a few originals. Backing him up on the CD is the
Canadian-based band, The Sadies. Two of the Sadies, guitarist Travis
Good and bass player Sean Dean, came to our studio with John Doe last
May.

Well, welcome to FRESH AIR. It's so great to have you here. I'd like to
start by asking you to play a song, and I have a request: a song from
the new CD, "(Now and Then) There's A Fool Such as I," and do you want
to say a few words about the song, John, before we hear it?

Mr. JOHN DOE (Musician): I heard it as a kid, for sure, and then
somewhere in my mind there was a very - I mean that was Hank Snow's
version. Somewhere in my mind, Bob Dylan did a slower version of it, and
I tried to find it, and all he did was the Elvis version, which is sort
of rock 'n' rolly, not good, and someday I'll find the Bob Dylan version
of "A Fool Such as I."

GROSS: Unless you invented it, and that version doesn't really exist.

Mr. DOE: I think maybe I did. Maybe I just blended the two or something.
I don't know.

GROSS: Well let's hear your version.

(Soundbite of song, "(Now and Then) There's A Fool Such as I")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Pardon me if I'm sentimental when we say goodbye.
Don't be angry with me should I cry. When you're gone, yet I'll dream a
little dream as years go by. Now and then, there's a fool such as I.

Now and then, there's a fool such as I am over you. You taught me how to
love, and now you say that we are through. I'm a fool, but I'll love
you, dear, until the day I die. Now and then, there's a fool such as I.

Now and then, there's a fool such as I am over you. You taught me how to
love, and now you say that we are through. I'm a fool, but I'll love you
dear until the day I die. Now and then, there's a fool such as I. Now
and then, there's a fool such as I.

GROSS: That sounds great. Thank you for doing that, and that's John Doe
singing and playing guitar, Travis Good on lead guitar, Sean Dean on
Bass, and that's a song on the new album by John Doe and The Sadies
called "Country Club."

GROSS: Okay, here's my take on you singing country.

Mr. DOE: Yeah.

GROSS: A lot of country is a kind of weepy singing because some of the
songs are so sad about, like, tragic love, being an alcoholic, like all
the horrible things that can happen to you, and I don't think you do
weepy, but you have this kind of, like, desolate sound when you're
singing some of these songs that really works.

Mr. DOE: Inside I'm weeping.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Now I love "A Fool Such as I," and I sometimes think when I hear
it how different would the song be if it was a fool just like me. It
just doesn't quite work the same.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: Well that's the beauty of country music is it has this weird,
colloquial but sort of statesman prosaic. Like, I was thinking about -
we do a song live, "There Stands the Glass."

GROSS: I love that song. Oh, okay, now you've got to do a few bars of
it. I was going to ask you to do it, but I figured well, they don't
necessarily know it.

Mr. DOE: Okay. All right, but anyway, this is like "There Stands the
Glass." That's a really weird sentence. It makes total sense, but it's
like aloft the glass is before me.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: Drinketh me down the glass of beer.

GROSS: Okay, do a few bars.

Mr. DOE: Okay.

(Soundbite of song, "There Stands the Glass")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) There stands the glass that'll ease all my pain,
that'll settle my brain. It's my first one today. There stands the glass
that'll hide all my fears, that'll drown all my tears. Brother, I'm on
my way.

I'm wondering where you are tonight. I'm wondering if you are all right.
I'm wondering do you think of me in my misery. There stands the glass.
Fill it up to the brim 'til all my troubles grow dim. It's my first one
today.

Mr. DOE: The short version.

GROSS: It's amazing about how a song about such misery can make me so
happy.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: I loved hearing you. That's a great performance. I love what you
did with the there. That was really so big, it was so great.

Mr. DOE: Well, Webb Pierce did a great version. I used to do it in a
higher key. I had to accept that. And then Ted Hawkins did…

GROSS: Oh, I know that version, too, that's a great version.

(Soundbite of bellowing)

Mr. DOE: And there would be like a five-minute there.

GROSS: Yeah, he was this, like, homeless singer in California or
someplace.

Mr. DOE: Yeah.

GROSS: My guests are John Doe, Travis Good of the band The Sadies and
bass player Sean Dean. And there's a new album by John Doe and the
Sadies, which is called "Country Club," and it's an album of classic
country songs and a few originals, as well, and of course John Doe was
one of the founders of the classic punk band X.

So let's do another song. By let's, I mean you do another song.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. DOE: You can join in.

GROSS: No, thank you.

Mr. DOE: Okay.

GROSS: From the new CD, and I have another request, and this is "Stop
the World (And Let Me Off)," which is the song that leads off the CD. Do
you want to say a couple words about why you chose it?

Mr. DOE: Actually James Intveld, who's a singer in Los Angeles, has done
this song for years, and I would see him do it once in a while. There's
a festival called the Hootenanny. I saw him do it there, and it's just
such a great song, so let's get the tempo here.

(Soundbite of song, "Stop the World (And Let Me Off)")

Mr. DOE: Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of goin' 'round n'
'round. I played the game of love and lost. So stop the world and let me
off.

My world is shattered don't you see? You no longer care for me. I miss
the wonder of your kiss. How could you leave me here like this?

Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of goin' 'round n' 'round. I
played the game of love and lost. So stop the world and let me off.

Stop the world and let me off. I'm tired of goin' 'round n' 'round. I
played the game of love and lost. Oh, stop the world and let me off.

GROSS: That's great. That's "Stop the World" from the new CD by John Doe
and the Sadies, and they're here performing live in the studio. We have
John Doe on vocals and guitar, Travis Good on lead guitar and Sean Dean
on bass, and the new CD, "Country Club," is an album of country classics
and originals. I'm really grateful that they're here performing live for
us today.

John, have you met any of the great country songwriters, either ones
whose work you do on the CD - I know some of them are dead but not all
of them - or other great ones over the years?

Mr. DOE: Yeah, I've met several singers. I met Johnny Cash at the first
Farm Aid, and I've met Merle Haggard a few times. He's such a nut.

GROSS: Really? In what sense?

Mr. DOE: He just goes off on these tangents, and he just, you know,
holds forth, and he's just - but he's really good about it. You know,
he's nice about it. There's a little bit of the, like, you know,
jailhouse like I'm going to tell you a story, and you're going to
listen, you know, which is great.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Well, he spent enough time in jail to justify that.

Mr. DOE: Well a little bit, you know, and there's plenty, of course,
that you wish you would have met. I wish I would have met Roger Miller.

GROSS: Oh yeah, I'm glad you brought him up because you do a Roger
Miller song I really love on the CD, "Husbands and Wives." And I'll
confess, it took me a long time to come around to Roger Miller.

I'd always meet songwriters who admired Roger Miller, and all I knew
were hits from the '60s that I really hated like "King of the Road,"
"Dang Me" and "England Swing Like A Pendulum Do," and I thought, like,
what exactly do you like, you know? But it turns out he's really a great
songwriter. He has great ballads.

Mr. DOE: It was hard to find a song that we felt we could pull across
because a lot of them are really sort of jokey, and it was sort of a -
great melody on all of them and great wordplay, but I think it was kind
of common knowledge they were all taking amphetamines to beat The Band,
and so…

GROSS: Was that right?

Mr. DOE: Oh, I think so. I don't think I'm blowing anybody's cover. I
mean, Waylon Jennings talks about it all the time in his book. Anyway,
that's sort of, I think, where some of it came from, and that's where
the jokey, like, I'm really not taking this seriously, you know.

The one thing about country music, to go back to another question...

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. DOE: ...about why I wouldn't - people would say you have such a
great voice, you should do this sort of record, and I thought well, if I
do that, and it has this smooth, Nashville background, it's going to be
exactly what people hate about country music, which is too soft and too
weepy and too, you know, all these negative things about country,
whereas with the Sadies, it's really rough, not - rough like rough and
tumble, you know. It's got a serious edge, and even as much as we tried
to smooth it out, you can't smooth that. You can't smooth these guys
out.

GROSS: Yeah, I understand what you're saying. I want you to do "Husbands
and Wives," the Roger Miller song that you do on the new CD, and I mean,
yeah, he does have some great ballads, including "More and More I Miss
You Less and Less." Why did you choose this one? You said you were
looking for a ballad, didn't want to do one of the jokey songs, thank
goodness.

Mr. DOE: I think it was - well, we thought about doing "Engine Engine
Number 9," but that also has this sort of funny thing. I was hoping I
could sing "Baltimore," and you know, bring back the hometown, but I
think just people splitting up, you know, or the other people you admire
who stay together, and it's just a beautiful song.

GROSS: It is. Why don't you do it for us.

(Soundbite of song, "Husbands and Wives")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) Two lonely hearts, broken, looking like houses where
nobody lives. Two people each having so much pride inside neither side
forgives.

The angry words spoken in haste, such a waste of two lives. It's my
belief pride's the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands
and wives.

A woman and a man, a man and a woman. Some can, some can't, and some
can.

Two lonely hearts, broken, looking like houses where nobody lives. Two
people each having so much pride inside neither side forgives.

The angry words spoken in haste, such a waste of two lives. It's my
belief pride's the chief cause in the decline in the number of husbands
and wives.

A woman and a man, a man and a woman. Some can, some can't, and some
can.

GROSS: That's John Doe along with two members of the band The Sadies,
Travis Good and Sean Dean. Their CD is called "Country Club." More after
a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview and performance with John Doe and
two members of the band, The Sadies, guitarist Travis Good and bass
player Sean Dean. Their CD of classic country songs is called "Country
Club."

I'm going to end by asking you, John, to do a song that I know is not
featured on your new CD, but I know you are doing it on the tour that
you're doing now, and it kind of fits with the tone of the new CD. It's
an original called "A Little More Time" from your solo album, "A Year In
The Wilderness."

I listen to this song and I always figure there's a story behind it, and
I can't quite figure out, like, what the story is. So is there a story
behind the song or...

Mr. DOE: There's a story behind every song. But yeah, there is.

GROSS: Would you tell it?

Mr. DOE: Yeah. Two - one person is my daughter in the song, the other
person is someone I'm very much love with, and I wasn't able to spend
time with - enough time with either one.

And once your kids start growing up, and time passes, even with the
relationship, whether it's your kid or not, you realize that as you do
each thing, like what we're doing right now, this is the only time we're
going to do that, right? You know, I was on your show 15 years ago, but
I'm never going to be here again, and that's sort of a wonderful and a
little bit scary - not really - but it's, you know, got to make sure
that you're here to be a part of that. So, so anyway...

GROSS: Would you do the song for us?

Mr. DOE: Yeah, absolutely.

(Soundbite of song, "A Little More Time")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) There was a time when the sunshine played in your
soft blonde hair, reflected in your golden eyes. You lean back your
head, and you laugh about tomorrow. And then it came like a new day, the
sun in the sky high beam, water sparkled down the stream.

We knew this would all go away, but not today. And when it did, you are
better, better than the day you were born. Not quite so perfectly
formed. The only wish I had that day: that it would stay.

Just a little more time with you, with me, with you. Just a little more
time with you, with me, with you. Just a little more time with you and
me.

Down by the stream in the mountain, I promised you faithfully that I
would never leave. If and when I went away, I'd still protect you. And
now I'm gone...

GROSS: John Doe, along with musicians Travis Good and Sean Dean,
recorded in our studio last May, after the release of their CD "Country
Club." Our holiday week series of memorable interviews from 2009
continues in the second half of the show. I'm Terry Gross, and this is
FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of song, "A Little More Time")

Mr. DOE: (Singing) ...in Nebraska, but I'm around, so baby call me just
before you go to bed, before you lay down your head.
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'Texas Sheik' Mixes Old Sounds With New Style

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. We're ending the New Year with great
music as we continue our holiday week series of memorable interviews
from 2009. This next interview and performance with Geoff Muldaur was
recorded a few weeks ago.

Muldaur has had a lifelong passion for jazz and blues of the '20s and
'30s. His recordings reinterpreting that music, has led many listeners
to seek out recordings from that era. Muldaur was a founding member of
the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in 1962. That band inspired people like Jerry
Garcia and John Sebastian.

After the Jug Band broke up, Muldaur recorded with his then wife, Maria
Muldaur and teamed up with Paul Butterfield to form the band "Better
Days." In the mid-'80s he began a long sabbatical from performing,
reemerging in 1999 with the album, "The Secret Handshake." Now he has a
new CD called "Texas Sheiks" that features his old friend Jim Kweskin as
a guest star.

Here's the opening track "The World is Going Wrong" featuring Muldaur
singing and playing six-string banjo.

(Soundbite of song, "The World is Going Wrong")

Mr. GEOFF MULDAUR (Singer, musician): (Singing) Strange things have
happened like never before. My baby told me I would have to go. I can't
be good no more once like I did before. I can't be good, baby honey
because the world's gone wrong.

Feel bad this morning. Ain't got no home. No use a-worrying 'cause the
world gone wrong. Can't be good no more, like I did before. Can't be
good, baby. Honey, because the world's gone wrong. I tried to be
loving...

GROSS: That's Geoff Muldaur and the Texas Sheiks from the new album
"Texas Sheiks." Geoff Muldaur, welcome to FRESH AIR. I love the CD.
There's a nice story behind this album - well, nice is the wrong word
because it's about a good friend of yours who is sick, but tell us the
story behind it.

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, first of all, it's good to be here. And you're
talking about Stephen Bruton?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MULDAUR: My longtime friend from Fort Worth, Texas, and eventually
Austin, Texas, and I met Stephen in Newport, Rhode Island, when the Jug
Band was playing there. He drove up there when he was a teenager in a
jacket and tie to see our banjo player, Bill Keith, because at the time,
he was a banjo player. And you know, we played over the years in various
situations, recordings and some road work together, but he was mostly
the backup guy for Kris Kristofferson and Bonnie Raitt and others.

And it's tough to talk about him still, you know, because he passed away
this last May. And we put this album together so he could just have some
fun and forget about what was going on with all his treatments down in
Austin. So we got his friends together, and we made the "Texas Sheiks"
album.

GROSS: So he died before it was released.

Mr. MULDAUR: But he got to hear it.

GROSS: Good.

Mr. MULDAUR: On those beautiful earphones he had, and he was smiling,
you know.

GROSS: Good.

Mr. MULDAUR: You know, so.

GROSS: I'm always interested in hearing how people discover music that
isn't the music being played or listened to by their generation. How did
you discover early jazz and blues?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, you know, I'm a kid of the '50s, and actually, it
started a little earlier than that for me because my brother had this
record collection of '78s and LPs of jazz people. So I used to spend all
my time in his room after school and listening to Bessie Smith and Louie
Armstrong and Bix Beiderbecke and all these great jazz players. And in
amongst that stuff were little smatterings of country blues, you know,
they'd put them on an anthology or something. All of the sudden, there
would be a Lead Belly piece or a Blind Lemon Jefferson piece or a Blind
Willie Johnson piece, and you go: What is that stuff? You know, it was
very mysterious to me, the country blues thing.

And at that time in America, there wasn't a huge difference in the
feeling of things between what I was hearing on the street corner with
doo-wop music and, you know, which was so gospel related, and the pop
music at the time, I'm out, you know, as a 13-year-old kid buying Fats
Domino and Little Richard and Jimmy Reed. You know, we're living outside
of New York, and we're dancing to Jimmy Reed. So times were very
different, and there were influences coming from all over.

GROSS: Well, you've been generous enough to bring your guitar with you,
and I'd like you to play one of the first early jazz or blues songs that
you fell in love with, that made you really want to seek out more music
from that period.

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, I couldn't help but fall in love with Lonnie Johnson.
I mean, he was on some of those jazz records with Louie Armstrong, Duke
Ellington. And then my friend Joe Boyd(ph) and his brother Warrick(ph)
and myself went down to Philadelphia, picked him up and brought him up
to a party when we were living in Princeton, New Jersey.

GROSS: Well, let's back up a second. He was - what was he doing in
Philadelphia? Wasn't he working at a hotel or something?

Mr. MULDAUR: He was. I thought he was washing dishes. Other people said
he might have been a cook or something. But he came out of that door
with a suit on and his big guitar case, and we took him up to the home
of Murray Kempton(ph), who was a journalist, and passed the hat for him.
And you know, we just kept screaming for these blues things, including
this tune - I'll play a little bit for you - called "Jelly Roll Baker."

(Soundbite of song, "Jelly Roll Baker")

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) She said Mr. Jelly Roll Baker, let me be your
slave. Gabriel blows his trumpet, then I'll rise from my grave for some
of your sweet jelly roll, yes I love your sweet jelly roll. It's good
for the sick, yes, and it's good for the old.

I was in a hospital, all shot full of holes. Nurse left a man dyin' just
to get a jelly roll. She loved her jelly, yeah, she loved her sweet
jelly roll. She'd rather leave a man dying than to miss her sweet jelly
roll.

GROSS: Oh, that's great. So when you were listening to that as a kid,
did you know what jelly roll - what was intended by the word jelly roll?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: That's a good question because I was saying things around
the house I'd always get in trouble for, and I didn't know - I hit this
stuff so young.

GROSS: Right.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: And especially the Bessie Smith stuff. So yeah, I knew by
then, and that's one of the tunes we were asking for at that party, and
you know, double entendre, you know, when you're young.

GROSS: Well, if you're just joining us, my guest is Geoff Muldaur, and
he has a new CD called "Texas Sheiks," and we're talking about how he
first discovered early blues and jazz.

You did an album in about 2003 of songs that Bix Beiderbecke played on
or that were from his period. So these are songs from the late '20s and
'30s, and in the liner notes...

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: ...in the liner notes to this, you write: In my house, in my
father's world of rah-rah Ivy League grads, Bix lore was common fare.
Everyone seemed to have a Bix story about meeting him, drinking with
him. And later you write that the trumpeter, Muggsy Spanier came to your
house and spent time in your brother's room listening to music. How did
your family know these people?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, my brother was out there doing reconnaissance. He was
10 years older than I was. So when he was 18, going into 52nd Street and
down to the Village, I was eight. So when he was hunting up these people
- and my parents loved Dixieland and that kind of music anyway. So
they'd go down there to Nick's(ph) or to Ryan's(ph) and these clubs in
New York, and you know, when everybody starts having those cocktails and
having fun, you meet people. So somehow, Muggsy Spanier came out to the
house, and that was impressive.

GROSS: Were you there? You were there?

Mr. MULDAUR: Oh, I was sitting there listening to him. I remember him
talking about kicking his mute around the room to get individual types
of bumps in it so his sound would be different than anybody else's.

GROSS: Oh, that's almost avant-garde.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, there you go. That's typical of avant-garde, you
know, keep going back with it. But - and he also talked about Bix, and I
remember that, just sort of shaking his head, you know, sadly.

GROSS: Your Bix Beiderbecke record is so much fun. I think we should
hear a track from it, and this is you singing lead on "Take Your
Tomorrow (And Give Me Today)," and do you want to say anything about why
you chose to put this on the CD and how you arranged it?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, the original reason for the CD was to do the chamber
arrangements of the piano pieces. So they're all on there.

GROSS: Of the Beiderbecke piano pieces.

Mr. MULDAUR: Yes, yes. And you know, we wanted to spice it up with some
of the old tunes, and we decided to do them in ways that have never been
done. I don't like to try and re-create the sounds of others. I try and
sort of get an impression, I guess. I'm sort of an impressionist.

GROSS: Okay, so this is Geoff Muldaur from his album from about 2003
that's a tribute to Bix Beiderbecke.

(Soundbite of song, "Take Your Tomorrow (And Give Me Today)")

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Why should I wait for happiness? I've grown
impatient, more or less. I cannot wait somehow. Show me a bluebird now.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Take your tomorrow, and give me today. For
your tomorrow is too far away, and every dawning, I've waited in vain. I
find each morning brings only rain. How can I borrow tomorrow today?
With clouds around me, all heavy and gray. What your tomorrow may bring
don't mean a thing. That's why I say take your tomorrow, and give me
today.

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Well, you know, when skies are gray I can not
say...

GROSS: That's Geoff Muldaur, from his album, "Private Astronomy: A
Vision of the Music of Bix Beiderbecke." Geoff Muldaur has a new CD
called "Texas Sheiks."

That's really so much fun to listen to. One of my favorite quotes about
you comes from Loudon Wainwright, who said: Geoff Muldaur was and is one
of my musical heroes. When I listen to him sing and play, I can hear the
coal mine, the cotton field, last but certainly foremost, the boys'
boarding school.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: He is such a clever guy.

GROSS: Isn't he?

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: GROSS: My guest is Geoff Muldaur. His new CD is called "Texas
Sheiks." More after a break.

This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview and performance with Geoff
Muldaur. His new CD "Texas Sheiks" features jazz and blues from the '20s
and '30s.

You wrote a song about looking for Blind Lemon Jefferson's grave. Blind
Lemon Jefferson was one of the great blues performers. So the song is
about wanting to find his grave so you could make sure it was clean.
What - you actually did this. The song is based on an actual trip that
you made. What inspired you to do it?

Mr. MULDAUR: Probably alcohol.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: You know, I was up all night in New Orleans, as usual. I
was living down there when I was 18...

GROSS: Uh-huh.

Mr. MULDAUR: ...and hanging out at these crazy places with these crazy
people. You know, it was 1961, and things were swinging. And so we were
down over at, you know, near the Cafe Du Monde, a little south of there,
having some red beans and rice, and I thought about this tune: One kind
favor I'll ask of you, please see that my grave is kept clean. And I'd
go...

GROSS: That's one of his songs.

Mr. MULDAUR: Yeah, yeah. And I goaded these four guys that were with me
into cruising around the streets to look for brooms. And we found them,
and by the time the sun was up, you know, in the morning, we were
hitchhiking to East Texas through the Bayou country. You know, this is
not a recommended trip for anybody.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: So I'm here to tell the tale. The first trip ended up in a
turnaround, which is – which I wrote about in the song, spending the
night in jail in Lafayette. But I got there eventually.

GROSS: And did you sweep the grave?

Mr. MULDAUR: Of course. They had moved it by the time I got there, but
it is a beautiful little graveyard. You know, we found one big
graveyard, and we were standing in it. It was all these people with sort
of coiffed hair and white belts, and it just didn't feel right. I said
Blind Lemon could not be in this graveyard. And I looked across this
field, sort of a flood plain, and there was this little island of dirt
with little trees on it, you know, and grass and a little split-rail
fence with these scissor-tail flycatchers going up and down off of the
fence. And I looked over there, and I said he's there. He's got to be
there. And we ran across that field and found him and found his mother
and his sister. It was beautiful.

GROSS: Who moved his grave?

Mr. MULDAUR: Some blues society.

GROSS: Good.

Mr. MULDAUR: So as you can tell from this, it took a few years before I
got back there, but I got back there.

GROSS: Well, would you perform some of your song about Blind Lemon
Jefferson, about looking for the grave?

Mr. MULDAUR: Why, certainly.

GROSS: Thank you.

Mr. MULDAUR: Let's see if I can remember this one.

(Soundbite of song, "Got To Find Blind Lemon-Part One")

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) With my broom in my hand, headed out from Jackson
Square. With my broom in my hand, headed out from Jackson Square. I had
to get to East Texas, find that graveyard somewhere. Well, down on
Highway 90, not (unintelligible) Lafayette. Well, down on Highway 90,
not (unintelligible) Lafayette. I had one dime in my pocket. I was
hungry, and I was soaking wet.

So it goes on like that.

GROSS: My guest is Geoff Muldaur. His new CD is called "Texas Sheiks."
More after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: Let's get back to our interview and performance with Geoff
Muldaur. His new CD, "Texas Sheiks," features jazz and blues from the
'20s and '30s.

So, you met Jim Kweskin, and with him formed the Jim Kweskin Jug Band.
And, obviously, you found someone in him who was a musical kindred
sprit. I mean, he’s even on the new CD, on the "Texas Sheiks" CD…

Mr. MULDAUR: He sure is.

GROSS: …performing "Blues in the Bottle," which is one of the songs he
was famous for with the Jug Band. It must have been amazing performing
with the Jug Band in the ‘60s at a time when probably, like, a lot of
the people in the audience were really high, and probably some of the
people on stage were, too.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: There was a sense of kind of community at that time, I think it’s
fair to say, between performers and audiences that was based in part on
liking this music that other people didn’t like or didn’t know about,
and also about sharing in this alternative culture. So can you talk a
little bit what it was like for you being a performer in that period?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, you know, there were two - there were different sets
of circumstances. The one you just mentioned was the most common, but we
became sort of a curiosity piece for television. So we were on a lot of
television shows. We’d come out to L.A., we’d do the, you know, we did
"The Johnny Carson Show." We did "The Steve Allen Show." We did three of
those. And we’d do all the, you know, whoever was having a weekly
variety show, like Pat Boone or Al Hirt.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Oh, really?

Mr. MULDAUR: Oh, yeah. And so we were sort of a curiosity, and we sure
weren’t playing for our compadres in those audiences. And it was really
interesting. They love those good old chunky, you know, funky things.
You know, you’d get this square audience in a studio in Burbank, and
they were just loving it.

GROSS: Why don’t we hear what the band actually sounded like together?
Is there a track that you’d particularly like to hear?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, I - gee, you know, Jimi and I have been playing
recently. And "Blues My Naughty Sweetie" might be good one.

GROSS: Oh, that’s perfect. Okay, let’s hear that. That’s the opening
track from, I think the album’s just called "Jug Band Music."

Mr. MULDAUR: You got it.

GROSS: So, let’s hear this. This is Geoff Muldaur with the Jim Kweskin
Jug Band.

(Soundbite of song, "Blues My Naughty Sweetie Gives To Me")

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) There are blues that you get from loneliness. And
there are blues that you get from pain. And there are blues when you are
lonely for your one and only. The blues you can never explain. And there
are blues that you get from sleepless nights, oh, but the meanest blues
that be, they’re the blues that I’ve got on my mind, I mean, the ones
that are the meanest kind, they’re the blues my naughty sweetie gives to
me. Let’s hear it now.

GROSS: The Jim Kweskin Jug Band, with my guest Geoff Muldaur. And Geoff
Muldaur is a singer, guitarist and arranger. And his new CD is called
"Texas Sheiks." You left music for a few years. How long a hiatus was
it?

Mr. MULDAUR: It was about 17 years.

GROSS: Whoa. That’s really long. How come? I mean, you’re so passionate
about it and so good at it.

Mr. MULDAUR: It’s the classic crash-and-burn thing, you know. And I’m
alive and some of my friends aren’t. And I made a great effort to get
out of the lifestyle I was in. And, you know, I’ve continued with that
for the last 25 or six years. And, you know, after a while of working in
- believe it or not, I was developing software for the steel industry in
Detroit, Michigan when Bob Newirth(ph) came to visit me, an old friend
of mine. And he was in town recording Patti Smith. And he came up to my
office, and I had programmers and analysts and a fancy suit on and I was
making money. And he wasn’t impressed.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: He said, do you think anybody else can do this? And I went,
well, I guess so, Bob. He said, you hear anybody out there playing music
the way you play music? Well, I don’t know. I guess not, Bob.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: It was one of those. And he dragged me over to Italy that
fall. And that’s when I got the bug again. I said, you know what? I’m
not knocking these Northern Italians silly, but I love this. And I
started practicing. And that’s when I came up with the "Wild Ox Moan."
You know, I just, I got bit again. And I’ve been having the greatest
time ever since.

GROSS: Now, if you wouldn’t mind, I’d like for you to perform some of
the "Wild Ox Moan." Maybe you can tell us about it before we hear it.
The reason why I want you to do this, you go into this kind of like
blues falsetto in it, which is almost like a blue yodel.

Mr. MULDAUR: I do. But it’s something that the writer of this tune, if
she did write it - because it’s so different, I almost can’t believe
anybody wrote it. Her name was Vera Hall, and she was a schoolteacher
from outside of Tuscaloosa, Alabama. And she recorded at the Library of
Congress in the late ‘30s, for the Lomaxes, I guess. And she had these
little cracks she’d do in her voice. She did it with a few tunes. And
she did "The Boweevil" and she did children’s songs. And she – and I
heard her when I was - she was one of those tunes that was, you know, on
one of those jazz anthologies, you know…

(Singing) Mo, mo.

These little things like, and I just – I took to her. And so I arranged
what was an a capella tune for the guitar and came up with this thing,
the "Wild Ox Moan."

(Soundbite of song, "Wild Ox Moan")

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Well, round here, pretty woman and sit down on
daddy’s knee. I got something to tell you, woman. Well, don’t you holler
and plead. Well, I’m going up the country. Well, don’t you want to go?
Well, I’m going down to Texas, ‘cause that’s where I belong. Well, that
is where I belong.

GROSS: Nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Geoff Muldaur, thanks so much.

Mr. MULDAUR: Thank you.

GROSS: Geoff Muldaur, recorded in early December. His new CD is called
"Texas Sheiks."

(Soundbite of song, "Auld Lang Syne")

GROSS: You can download podcasts of our show on our Web site,
freshair.npr.org. And you can follow us on Twitter @nprfreshair.

I've been thinking about what to wish you for the new year. I wish
happiness and good health to you and your family, fulfillment in your
personal life and your work. And if you're out of work, I hope you find
a good job. If you have a loved one in Iraq or Afghanistan, I hope they
stay safe and well. So, best wishes for 2010 from all of us at FRESH
AIR. I'm Terry Gross.
..COST:
$00.00
..INDX:
121152944

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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