Roots run deep

Maria Muldaur brings her “Bluesiana” sound to Reno

Maria Muldaur performs at Rollin’ on the River on July 2at 6:30 p.m. Opening act is Nothing Like a Dame.

Wingfield Park

300 W. First St.
Reno, NV 89501

American roots music might make one think immediately of the Deep South—New Orleans dixieland, Nashville country, Texas blues and Appalachian mountain music. However, Maria Muldaur, known for her traditional blues and jug band sounds, hails from New York City. Growing up in Greenwich Village in the 1950s and ’60s exposed Muldaur to poets, musicians and artists who gravitated there, turning it into the epicenter of a folk revival.

“I was inspired and turned on by everything I heard,” recalls Muldaur. “We listened to the legends on scratchy 78s—the original blues artists from the South. I loved all of the music.”

At that time, people in the urban North were being exposed to American roots music—including bluegrass, jug bands, blues and Cajun. Muldaur, who met a lot of the early blues legends who came to perform in New York, was greatly influenced by what she heard in the clubs. Her exposure to these greats inspired her to pursue a musical career that encompasses many different forms of American roots music. She learned at the feet of Doc Watson, Reverend Gary Davis, Mississippi John Hurt and Victoria Spivey. She left New York for North Carolina and learned to play the fiddle.

She has been successful in many genres, garnering her Grammy and WC Handy Blues Award nominations. She produces almost all of her own material and records an album annually. Muldaur started out exploring blues, bluegrass, Appalachian music, and she recorded five albums with the popular Jim Kweskin Jug Band. She has taken side trips into gospel, jazz, big band, pop music and even recorded several children’s albums. She is best known for her pop hits “Midnight at the Oasis” and “I’m a Woman.”

Her 2009 album, Garden of Joy, was a sort of trip down musical memory lane, going back to her beginnings 45 years ago and reuniting with some of the original members of her Even Dozen Jug Band. Her 2008 album, Yes We Can, features legendary female performers and addresses politics and world affairs. Muldaur describes the style as “recovered soul.” She emphasizes that she is not a nostalgia act. Though she has big hits from the 1970s that most people recognize when she plays them onstage, and her music is often associated with “old timey” sounds, Muldaur prefers to highlight her current material.

“I like to focus on the present and the future,” explains Muldaur.

She has returned to what she loves best—the blues.

“What I have mostly been doing in the last 20 years is what I call Bluesiana music,” says Muldaur. “It’s what I describe as swamp funk and bluesy gumbo mix.”

Muldaur fell in love with the great New Orleans style of Dr. John, known for his piano and guitar music combining jazz, blues, zydeco, and boogie woogie. Her association with Dr. John led to her developing her “Bluesiana sound,” focusing on Louisiana blues and soul.

“What I truly love the most is my Red Hot Bluesiana band,” Muldaur says. “In my music, I like to pay tribute to the early blues legends who inspired me so much.”

Her sound was described in the Willamette Week as blending “the smoky sensuality of Billie Holiday, the upbeat spunk of Ella Fitzgerald, and the low-down gutsiness of Alberta Hunter.”

Maria Muldaur & her Red Hot Bluesiana Band create very danceable music. She loves to see people dancing at her shows and getting into the music.

“I love to see the looks on people’s faces when I’m onstage,” says Muldaur, talking about why she loves to perform. “The best is when it’s effortless. When you have a really great band backing you up, and everyone is flowing together. It just feels good. It’s inspiring to see people get into it.”

Over the 46 years of her career, she has completed an odyssey of American roots music, absorbing and incorporating influences contemporary and classic. She says people will often ask her when she is going to retire. In reply, she says, “Why would I want to do that? I love what I do and as long as I do, I will keep doing it.”