Some Hallelujah Horns


Longtime and attentive readers of these pages will remember that I am a huge fan of Taj Mahal, having grown up listening to tapes of his albums on road trips as a kid. On my last trip home, I got to revisit the magic that is his album The Real Thing, a live set of songs mostly culled from his first three albums, including the also-childhood-recalling Giant Step/De Ole Folks At Home compilation. It was recorded at the Filmore East in 1971, and along with Mahal and the rest of the band, the horn section on the album produces some of the most joyous musical sounds I’ve ever heard in my life.

The horn section in question is Joseph Daley, Bob Stewart, Earl McIntyre and Howard Johnson (not the baseball player Howard Johnson or the reclusive hotel magnate/rumored Lindbergh baby Howard Johnson). Both McIntyre and Johnson played with Charles Mingus, and Johnson was one of the also-stellar horn section on The Last Waltz, The Band’s farewell concert film/album.

Here’s “Tom and Sally Drake,” where Mahal and Johnson duet on a tune that sounds like it could come straight from Harry Smith’s The Anthology of Folk Music, but with a little bit of tuba added on top:

Taj Mahal – Tom and Sally Drake

But the real pleasure of The Real Thing comes from hearing the redone live versions of songs from the previous albums. Some songs, like “Fishin’ Blues” (which I wrote about here, way back), remain pretty much unchanged from the original. But the introduction to Giant Step, the short-but-sweet “Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie (Any Mo’)” gets not only lengthened, but the beefy full-band treatment (“MAKE YOUR LIVE VERSIONS LONGER AND BEEFIER” would be the spam-email equivalent of that description).

Here’s the original:

Taj Mahal – Ain’t Gwine Whistle Dixie (Any ‘Mo)

And here’s the live version, complete with the obligatory “I don’t think you’re enjoying this quite enough” exhortation from Mahal to the crowd:

Taj Mahal – Ain’t Gwine Whistel Dixie (Any ‘Mo) (Live)

An even better example, and one that gives me the best kind of goosebumps is the redone “You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond,” a traditional song made popular by Blind Willie Johnson (later covered by both Donovan and Captain Beefheart, as well as TM). The original is also from Giant Step, and is good, but doesn’t even come close to the church-ed up and ecstatic live version. Just wait until those horns come in at 3:19, and you’ll understand everything. Not just my point, but everything. Everything about happiness and how fantastic music can be.

The original:

Taj Mahal – You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond

And the Real Thing rendition:

Taj Mahal – You’re Gonna Need Somebody on Your Bond (live)

That exultant feeling is only helped along by the fantastic lyrics, including

Oh I been listening to the music people since the day I was born/My momma raised me in a room across from the church by the tree/And that sweet gospel music, how it used to comfort me…

and his cries of “Hallelujah! Hallelujah!” that raise the energy to near-catastrophic levels, like the whole thing might come off the rails any second, but that we should just sit back, enjoy the ride and let it all wash over us while we can.

Buy Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home and The Real Thing.

PS: Quick self-plug here. I recently started a tumblr devoted to little things I draw called Adam Doodles. Check it out why don’t you!

posted by Adam


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