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Geoff Muldaur Takes Texas Sheiks On The Road.

For decades, singer songwriter Geoff Muldaur has been reinterpreting blues and jazz of the '20s and '30s. Today, we'll play some of the tracks from Muldaur's new album, Texas Sheiks, and he'll perform some songs live. Muldaur's band, also called Texas Sheiks, is currently on tour.

42:54

Other segments from the episode on December 7, 2009

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, December 7, 2009: Interview with Geoff Muldaur; Review of books for holiday gifts.

Transcript

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Geoff Muldaur Takes Texas Sheiks On The Road

TERRY GROSS, host:

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross. My guest, Geoff Muldaur, has had a
lifelong passion for jazz and blues of the '20s and '30s. His recordings
reinterpreting that music are not only enjoyable in their own right,
they've led many listeners to seek out recordings from that era. Muldaur
was a founding member of the Jim Kweskin Jug Band in 1962. The band was
together for about six years and 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, re-emerging 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.

He's brought his guitar and will perform for us later, but let's start
with the opening track from his new CD. This is "The World is Going
Wrong" featuring Muldaur on vocal and six-string banjo.

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

Mr. GEOFF MULDAUR (Musician): (Singing) Strange things have happened
that 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 mornin', ain't got no home. No use
a-worryin' '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 lovin'…

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 Steven Bruten(ph)?

GROSS: Yeah.

Mr. MULDAUR: My longtime friend from Fort Worth, Texas, and eventually
Austin, Texas. I met Steven 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. 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. 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 Louis
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-wap 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 Louis 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, Mugsy Spanier(ph), 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, Mugsy 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. In other words, if a male sang the original, then a female could
sing this time, or if it was a group effort, it would be a single, solo
effort. So I tried to mix it up per usual. 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 cannot
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? So how did – when you were listening to blues, you
know, when you were young, did you feel a connection to the world of the
blues singers, or did you feel like you lived in this very distant
world, distant in time and place and class?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, that's – there's a good question. You know, I didn't
feel comfortable in the world that I knew around me.

GROSS: Why not?

Mr. MULDAUR: You know, it was – it wasn't the best of childhoods for me,
but music was an escape. I don't know that I identified with the world
of the musicians that I was listening to, but I identified with some
mysterious spirituality that was in there, some feeling, and this is not
uncommon. You know, how come a flute player from the south side of
Chicago named Paul Butterfield picked up the harmonica and became one of
the greatest blues harmonica players of all time? See, you just don't
know who's going to get hit with this kind of feeling or ability, and
I'm very grateful I was hit with a little of it.

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: My guest is singer, guitarist and banjo player Geoff Muldaur. His
new CD is called "Texas Sheiks." 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 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.

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.

Mr. MULDAUR: So it goes on like that.

GROSS: It's a nice song. It's called "Got To Find Blind Lemon Jefferson-
Part One," and it's on Geoff Muldaur's album, "The Secret Handshake,"
and he's performing for us today in the studio. He has a new CD called
"Texas Sheiks."

So how did you get put in prison, which we hear about a little later in
the song?

Mr. MULDAUR: No, no, no, just jail, just for the night.

GROSS: Jail, right, yeah, I'm sorry, yes. And that happened how?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, I'll tell you how it happened. I was so cold. It was
in the high 20s, and I had moccasins on and a Martin guitar with me, and
I went into a little cop shop on the outside of town, and I asked them
if I could stay there. This is going to be a little hard to believe, but
this is what happened. And they said, well, you've got to get out of
here. You can't stay here. And I said look, if I were to run at you, you
would then tackle me and arrest me, right? And then you could take me to
jail. And they said this guy's so crazy, let's take him downtown. And
they took me downtown and let me sleep up there for the night.

GROSS: So you really did ask there for, like, you know, room for a
night.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. MULDAUR: Yeah, yeah. So that's why even in the lyric, I write it
that way. Somebody said don't write it that way. I said that's what
happened. I asked to get in jail.

GROSS: Yeah, just do those two lines for us.

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, let's see.

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

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Please, Mr. Policeman, please put me in your
jail. Well, please, Mr. Policeman, please put me in your jail. I got to
get me some rest 'fore I get back on the trail ‘cause I got to find
Blind Lemon, gotta find Blind Lemon, I got to find Blind Lemon, see that
his grave is kept clean.

GROSS: Geoff Muldaur will perform more songs for us in the second half
of the show. His new CD is called "Texas Sheiks." I'm Terry Gross, and
this is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: This is FRESH AIR. I’m Terry Gross, back with Geoff Muldaur. He’s
had a life-long passion for music of the ‘20s and ‘30s. His own
recordings, as well as those he made with Jim Kweskin Jug Band and his
former wife Maria Muldaur, were inspired by recordings from that era.
Geoff Muldaur’s new CD is called “Texas Sheiks.” Jim Kweskin is featured
as a guest star.

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. Why a jug band, with literally a jug?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, I think, his friend who called himself Bruno Wolfe
thought about the jug. And, you know, we got Fritz Richmond to pick up
the jug and try it out. And he was so quick to make it fun that it sort
of - you know, and we used the jug on certain tunes but he also played
washtub bass and he had a great bass head. And he was a great part
singer. And we just used the whole jug band idea as a sort of, you know,
loose and groovy kind of thing.

And it was just an excuse to do anything we wanted, you know, sort of
like when Terry Gilliam did the “Brazil” thing, it became an image of
some mystical place. There’s no real connection, you know. So, this
whole idea of a jug band - and I guess you may know, I mean all the folk
groups then wore striped shirts and had stage pattern. It was very
commercial in those days. And so, the Jug Band was sort of a precursor
of the Grateful Dead, you know, but acoustic.

GROSS: We want you to play a song that you did in the Jug Band period?

Mr. MULDAUR: Oh, yeah, let me see here. This is one of the first things
I ever did with the Jug Band, Jim Kweskin Jug Band, it’s called “Wild
About My Loving.”

(Soundbite of song, “Wild About My Loving”)

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Listen here, people, about to sing this song.
Gone to St. Louis and it won’t be long. Wild about my loving, I like to
have my fun. If you want to be a girl of mine, baby, bring it with you
when you come. Don’t need no sugar in my teeth ‘cause a girl I love
sweet enough for me. Wild about my loving. I like to have my fun. If you
want to be a girl of mine, baby, bring it with you when you come.

GROSS: That’s Geoff Muldaur performing in the studio. And he has a new
CD called “Texas Sheiks.” 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…

(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.” How did the band split up?

Mr. MULDAUR: Well, Jim had been joining a sort of a communal situation
in Fort Hill in Boston, and they were buying up these little houses and
fixing them up. And the communal – the community he was living in
started to be more important to him than singing vo do dio do or
razzmatazz songs. So, he just decided to break it up. And it really got
to us, especially myself and Fritz. I sort of thought I was in a band
for my life. You know, I thought I had signed on for life but it was the
best thing that ever happened to me.

GROSS: Why?

Mr. MULDAUR: Because, I couldn’t - I knew very quickly that I had to
learn the craft of music. In the Jug Band everything was done, you know,
yakking back and forth across the room laboriously for months on end,
coming up with these unique arrangements, which I had a major part in.
And I knew I couldn’t just take that out in the world. So, I started
taking courses over at the Berklee School of Music, private lessons, and
learning how to read and write, you know. It’s been very helpful. That’s
why I get to do arrangements for people and write charts and write
documentary film scores and things like that.

So, what looked like a disaster was just the next, you know, was just
one door closes, another one opens. And then all of a sudden Maria and
I, you know, we’re making albums with Amos Garrett and moving to
Woodstock. And our manager Albert Grossman was getting us together with
people and then all of a sudden I’m with Paul Butterfield and life just
kept expanding.

GROSS: Yeah, you and Maria Muldaur were married and performed together
and did a couple of albums together. Do you want to do a song from that
era of your life?

Mr. MULDAUR: Yeah, I’d love to. This came out of the Jug Band but it fit
really nice with Amos Garrett and his beautiful electric guitar playing.
This is called “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?”

(Soundbite of song, “Gee Baby, Ain’t I Good To You?”)

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Love makes me treat you the way that I do. Gee
baby, ain’t I good to you? Nothing’s too good in this world for a girl
like you. Gee baby, ain’t I good to you? I bought you a fur coat for
Christmas, a diamond ring, a Cadillac car, most everything. This love
makes me treat you the way that I do. Gee baby, ain’t I good to you?

Mr. MULDAUR: So it goes on like that.

GROSS: Very nice.

(Soundbite of laughter)

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: My guest is singer, guitarist and banjo player Geoff Muldaur. 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 6 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, you know, 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? 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 Lomaxs, 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…

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) (unintelligible)

Mr. MULDAUR: 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.

(Soundbite of laughter)

GROSS: Nice. Really good. Thank you so much for doing that. That’s "Wild
Ox Moan." My guest is guitarist and singer and arranger Geoff Muldaur,
and he has a new CD called “Texas Sheiks.” So, do you feel that age and
experience is, like, changing your taste at all in music, like this -
not necessarily what you want to listen to, but what you want to perform
or arrange?

Mr. MULDAUR: It is getting that way. In other words, I do have plans to
move away from the vocal because I’m a second tenor, and you can’t sing
like this forever. Although it just - I’m singing in the same keys I did
when I was in the jug band when I was 19, so the same tunes and the same
keys. So, I’m very, very lucky, but it’s a knock wood. And my chamber
arrangements, I just as happy other people would sing some of the stuff
I've put to chamber music, the Tennessee Williams poems, et cetera. So,
I’m planning in a more classical way, my model being Giuseppe Verdi, you
know, because he didn’t, you know, his greatest operas were written at
the age of 70-plus, you know. So, I got a lot of ideas and a lot of
things I want to do, but digging down and shouting the blues, you can’t
do that forever.

GROSS: Geoff Muldaur, thanks so much.

Mr. MULDAUR: Thank you.

GROSS: Geoff Muldaur’s new CD is called “Texas Sheiks.” Let’s hear
another track from it. This is “Please, Baby.”

(Soundbite of song, “Please, Baby”)

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Please, baby. Please, baby.

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Won’t you come back to your daddy one more time?

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Please, baby. Please, baby.

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) When I get my money, I'll give you my last dime.
When you left me, baby, you left me feel so blue. You know, babe, I
didn’t love anybody but you.

Unidentified Group: (Singing) Please, baby. Please, baby.

Mr. MULDAUR: (Singing) Won’t you come back to your daddy one more time?
I’m so blue, baby. I'm so blue…

GROSS: Coming up: Our book critic Maureen Corrigan recommends some books
to give as holiday gifts. This is FRESH AIR.
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Book Suggestions For A Passionate Holiday

TERRY GROSS, host:

Book Critic Maureen Corrigan has assembled her annual list of holiday
book buying recommendations. She calls it suggestions for a passionate
holiday, and she's definitely not talking about kissing Santa under the
missile toe. Here's her list.

MAUREEN CORRIGAN: It began to feel to me like an Internet version of one
of those parlor games - charades or statues - that people supposedly
played at Victorian house parties during the holiday season. I had sent
a few friends this email: I’m putting together a list of books that
people have written about their passions. Can you help with some
suggestions? The deluge began. The books I’m about to recommend - mostly
slim volumes about places or things that the writers themselves deeply
love - made the cut because either I came up with the suggestion myself
or I heartily agreed after reading it.

This was a big year for the pleasures of the palate, given the
popularity of the film “Julie and Julia.” There are a trillion books on
food out there, but if you’ve never read Laurie Colwin, you must, must,
hunt up her two unpretentious essay collections called “Home Cooking”
and “More Home Cooking.” Colwin died at 48 in 1993, and when I try to
explain the power of her novels and short stories to people, I usually
end up saying her writing makes me happy - which sounds sappy, but it’s
true.

I picked up her two books on cooking, definitely not my passion, because
I had exhausted the rest of her writing. Here are Colwin’s opening words
in an essay on coffee. I come from a coffee-loving family, and you can
always tell when my sister and I have been around because both of us
collect all the dead coffee from everyone’s morning cup, pour it over
ice, and drink it. This is a disgusting habit. None of the pleasure
Zadie Smith writes about in her terrific, just-published essay
collection “Changing My Mind” fall into the disgusting category.

They’re more endearing, like her prose valentines to Zora Neale Hurston,
Greta Garbo and Katharine Hepburn. This collection also includes some
poignant remembrances of David Foster Wallace and Smith’s own father, a
World War II vet who took part in the Normandy invasion. The great thing
about Zadie Smith as a critic is that you get the sense here that her
enthusiasms aren’t fossilized yet, but are still being formed as she
writes.

Nonagenarian P.D. James has, no doubt, been passionate about lots of
things in her long life, but to her worshipful readers - and I’m
definitely in that multitude - it’s her passion for investigating murder
most foul that we really care about. In a new little work of criticism
called “Talking About Detective Fiction,” James elegantly surveys the
British and American mystery traditions, makes some educated guesses
about the future of crime writing and shares some of her long-tended
enthusiasms for, among others writers, G.K. Chesterton.

James, of course, lives in England, which would be my number one fantasy
choice for where to spend the holidays - not going to happen anytime
soon, but armchair travel is cheap and profoundly pleasurable. I
received lots of intriguing suggestions for good books about place -
Pico Iyer on Japan, Ishmael Reed on Oakland. But the one recommendation
I found irresistible was Mary McCarthy on Florence, because I find any
occasion to read Mary McCarthy in all her tart brilliance irresistible.

The book is called “The Stones of Florence,” and in it, McCarthy unveils
what was then, in 1956, one of Italy’s lesser tourist cities. She loves
the handmade shoes, puts up with the then-mediocre food, and winces at
the sugary vision of the city crafted by Victorians like the Brownings.
McCarthy also talks a lot about architecture, and one of the most
revelatory appreciations of architecture I’ve come across is New Yorker
critic Paul Goldberger’s new book called “Why Architecture Matters.”

This isn’t a history of architecture, but rather something more elusive.
Goldberger explains: Everything has a feel to it, not just masterpieces,
but everything in the built world. The purpose of this book is to come
to grips with how things feel to us when we stand before them.
Goldberger roams from classic masterpieces like The Pantheon to the
architecture of memory, like the modest, two-family house of his
childhood in New Jersey.

Any book about great architecture has to discuss the New York City
skyline, and the minute I start thinking about New York, I think about
E.B. White and his magnificent essay on the city called “Here is New
York.” White wrote it in the summer of 1948, when he’d returned to the
city from Maine for a weekend and began to remember how magical New York
seemed to him as a young man. Here’s the first sentence: On any person
who desires such queer prizes, New York will bestow the gift of
loneliness and the gift of privacy.

On any reader who desires the prize of what I think is the essential
essay about New York, E.B. White’s “Here is New York,” will bestow the
gift of nostalgia tempered with an acceptance of the necessity of
change, as well as the gift of an enduring passion.

GROSS: Maureen Corrigan teaches literature at Georgetown University. You
can read a list of her suggestions and her complete review on our Web
site: freshair.npr.org, where you can also download podcasts of our
show. And you can follow us on Twitter at nprfreshair.
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