Still red hot

At 60, Maria Muldaur
returns to America's roots

Tour schedule

Story by Shawn "Speedy" Lopes

Some things never change, says Maria Muldaur, whose long and storied career as torchbearer of American roots music brings her to Hawaii for an interisland tour, with a Saturday night performance at the Hawaiian Hut. Now, just as in her early days as a young singer, she says people are looking for more substance in their music and often find themselves returning to popular music's primary forms.

"By the late '50s, Elvis got drafted and was replaced by Pat Boone and pop music was pretty vapid," recalls Muldaur, who credits early rhythm and blues pioneers, Southern folk artists and legendary country and western singers with inspiring her to pursue a career in music. "It was a pretty whitewashed pop culture being offered over the airwaves and on television. It wasn't nourishing or interesting in any way and young people were just bored out of their minds with it. Bluegrass, blues and R&B had an authenticity to it and kids were very moved by it, wanted to learn about it and play it."

By the 1960s, a resurgence of original American music had evolved into its own subculture and Muldaur dove headlong into it.

"It was a cultural explosion," remembers Muldaur, who began singing in New York City in the same legendary Greenwich Village scene that gave voice to such folk-and-blues-based legends as Bob Dylan, Richie Havens and John Hammond, Jr. "It was a time when a lot of early blues and country artists were being rediscovered or discovered for the first time and exposed to urban audiences. That was something that really interested me and motivated me to get involved in music, which I've been doing to this day."

After stints with the Even Dozen and Jim Kweskin Jug Bands, and recording two albums with ex-husband and bandmate Geoff Muldaur, Maria released her first solo album, a self-titled platinum debut in 1973, which earned her her biggest hit to date in the seductive "Midnight at the Oasis." While the single is a far cry from the fiery, rootsy songs that illustrate her current style, she is still grateful for the opportunity to be heard by an international audience.

"Having a hit was never my goal, so it was an interesting surprise," she relates. "It was an interesting stop along the way on my very long and winding odyssey through various forms of American roots music. In subsequent albums, I never thought I'd arrived at pop stardom, I just thought 'Wow, now I have a larger audience to turn on to the music I love.' "

Having just celebrated her 60th birthday several weeks ago, Muldaur believes she's now begun to hit her stride with a funky, musical gumbo of New Orleans-based R&B and blues, with the assistance of her famed Red Hot Bluesiana Band, which she calls her most dynamic and cohesive unit to date. "I've had the band for about 10 years now and I'm very happy with them," she explains. "They're just awesome. There's no groove we can't cut. You're in a good place if you can say your last record is your favorite and your present band is your favorite and I can say that easily."

Considering her long-standing reputation, it comes as no surprise that Muldaur's latest album, the Grammy-nominated "Richland Woman Blues," includes appearances by such folk and blues luminaries as Taj Mahal, Bonnie Raitt, John Sebastian and Tracy Nelson.

"It's really great to be able to look back and see what wonderful musicians I've been privileged to work with and see that we're all still making good music," she says. "It's not about pop stardom at all. My whole motivation has been to make good music and that's why I'm still doing it after all these years."


Singing the blues

Featuring Maria Muldaur and the Red Hot Bluesiana Band

Interisland tour schedule:

>> Tomorrow at the Alii Resort Room of the Royal Lahaina Resort on Maui, doors open at 7 p.m.
>> Saturday at the Hawaiian Hut, Ala Moana Hotel, doors open at 8:15 p.m.
>> Sunday at the Kilauea Military Camp Theater on the Big Island, starting at 2 p.m.
>> Saturday, Oct. 12, at the Orchid Village Restaurant, Waiakea Villas, on the Big Island, doors open at 7 p.m.
Tickets: $20 advance, $25 at the door
Call: 661-3611 (Maui), 537-9611 (Oahu) and 985-7167 (Big Island)

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