To me there are no musical boundaries, Marie Muldaur told me last week. "I sing what I want and I dare anyone to stop me. I've always done what I wanted to do and I made a good living at it."
Muldaur is on the fifth week of a successful tour that comes to the Bellows Falls Opera House on Saturday, November 14. Doors open at 7 p.m., and the show starts at 7:30.
Muldaur is certainly best known to most people for her huge hit single from 1974,"Midnight at the Oasis," a sexy, sassy single with a memorable Amos Garret guitar solo that reached the #6 spot on the Billboard Hot 100 that year.
The fact that in the early 70's Muldaur was a dark-haired beauty with a serious babe-factor going for her didn't hurt album sales either. In fact, her photo has graced many of her album covers. "Midnight at the Oasis" has gone on to be one of the most played songs of the 70's era, and probably still gets airplay on dozens of radio stations every day.
But, if all you know about Maria Muldaur is that one song, then you really know nothing about her. It's something of an aberration in a career that, since the release of that song, has included 35 albums, an average of one every year.
Muldaur says that the huge commercial success of "Oasis," along with the follow-up single, "I'm a Woman," and the success of the two albums they were on, was a "happy accident."
"I never had commercial aspirations," she said. "I just sing music I love."
Born and raised in New York City's Greenwich Village, music she loved in the early 60's included jug band music, and she was in the two most influential American jug bands of the era, The Even Dozen Jug Band and Jim Kweskin & His Jug Band. Between them the two bands released six albums and spawned important careers for John Sebastian (the Lovin' Spoonful), David Grisman, Stefan Grossman, Kweskin, and Geoff Muldaur, who would become Maria's husband and musical collaborator on two other albums. They would divorce in 1972, and Maria would embark on her long and prolific solo career.
Maria was there at the epi-center of the early 60's folk music scene which included Bob Dylan and Joan Baez. She objects to the use of the "F" word, in this case, folk.
"Don't use the F word. I don't like the word 'folk,'" she told me. "It makes me picture some long haired, pretty young thing with quivering nostrils playing a nylon string acoustic guitar. I call what I play roots music - blues, rock, country, soul, jazz, gospel - the music that is timeless. I've done that all my life.
"A perceptive music writer once told me that I invented the genre that became Americana music before anyone had ever heard the word. My career could be described as a long and rambling odyssey through American music."
She has performed with many of the greatest names in music over the last five decades, and when asked to name her favorites, the list is impressive.
"Benny Carter and His All Star Big Band," she began. "Dr. John, Doc Watson, John Sebastian, Bonnie Raitt, Phoebe Snow - how much time have you got? I could go on and on."
Maria recently had her interest in jug band music renewed when she heard some new young bands on the radio. She called old bandmates John Sebastian, David Grissom and Dan Hicks, among others, told them she had an idea for doing a new album in the jug band tradition, and the result is Maria Muldaur & Her Garden of Joy, subtitled Good Time Music for Hard Times.
Maria said she enjoyed hunting down the songs on the album, some of which go back to the late 1920s. Two of the cuts are new songs penned by the impossible-to-label Hicks. She said there is a good reason that light hearted, humorous music was popular during the Depression, and is making a come-back now.
"I worked with a lot of jazz greats over the years," she said. "Guys who played during the Depression. They told me that even in the worst of times, people would skip eating in order to be able to afford to go out and listen to music. And it's true. We're getting great audiences and selling an amazing amount of CDs despite the economy.
"It's gratifying to pick stuff that I hear and enjoy, to find that it's timely again and that people want to hear it. Everything old is new again. I'm very grateful to discover that. I had no idea that there was such interest and popularity in jug band and roots music. I think some of this new found interest can go back to the popularity of the soundtrack to 'O Brother Where Art Thou.'
"Roots music is gaining in popularity with absolutely no help from the above ground music media. It's truly grass roots, it's under the radar. It's like the way people are getting sick of junk food and wanting to eat good, nutritious home cooked food."
Maria's touring band is an example of the new generation of young roots musicians. The touring Garden of Joy Jug Band features rag time guitarist phenom Kit Stovepipe, the Gallus Brothers, Devin Champlin and Lucas Hicks from the Crow Quill Night Owls on multiple acoustic instruments - mandolins, fiddles, banjos, jugs, tubs, kazoos, harmonicas and Kurt Jensen on the bass and washtub. Many of them played on the new CD as well.
Tickets are $24 in advance, and $27 at the door. There are a limited number of "Angel" best-of-house seats at $33, available only online at www.brattleborotix.com. Tickets are available at Village Square Books, Fat Franks, and Boccelli's in Bellows Falls, Misty Valley Books in Chester, VAULT and Radio Shack in Springfield, and at www.bratteborotix.com.
For more information, go to vermontfestivalsllc.com, or call 463-9595.