Taj Mahal returning to Alaska as part of tour
FILE - In this Feb. 8, 2009, file photo, Taj Mahal arrives at the 51st Annual Grammy Awards, in Los Angeles. The artist known as Taj Mahal, who has played an average of 125 concerts a year since 1968, turns 70 somewhere on the road between Kansas and Colorado in May. But his next stop is Alaska, a place he first visited sometime in the 1970s and a place he has returned routinely since. Two things keep him coming back: the fish and the widespread appreciation for a musician who travels this far north and stops somewhere besides Anchorage. (AP Photo/Chris Pizzello, File)
JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) — It takes a certain type of person to get on stage under a name taken from a building renowned as one of the most beautiful ever constructed, without being laughed out of the room.
Henry Saint Clair Fredericks is that type of person, and he has long preferred the name Taj Mahal, which he says arrived in a series of dreams a few decades ago.
Under that moniker he has done 50 albums, pulled in a couple Grammys and traveled to the ends of the Earth, performing his style of the blues and an array of genres, averaging 125 shows a year since 1968.
Taj Mahal is on the road again, and his next stops will be in Alaska, which he visited for the first time in the early 1970s. He says he has been drawn back many times by the eclectic mix of people and the equally impressive range of fish.
He has spent a lifetime on the road, playing guitar and singing, and fishing when he has the time.
The slim, lanky 20-something Taj Mahal was introduced to the world in a January 1969 issue of Rolling Stone that also announced the break-up of the English psychedelic group Traffic and highlighted the short-lived Kozmic Blues Band, then called The Revue.
Taj Mahal was described as wearing an "Amish cowboy hat with the band made of beer-can pop tops," and heading to Los Angeles High School to give a blues lesson to a gym full of wary teenagers.
His renditions of blues classics such as "Corinna, Corinna" and stories of what the blues means and where it came from got the crowd clapping, stomping and lining up for autographs. An executive from Columbia Records was so impressed by the enthusiastic response that he said Taj Mahal would need police protection by the end of the year and would be the one to deliver blues to young black kids, turning them on to greats like Muddy Waters, who struggled to resonate with that crowd.
As it turned out, things were slower-building than the Columbia exec would have liked, but Taj Mahal, now armed with graduate studies in ethnomusicology, still makes a point of telling audiences about the music he plays and gives credit to those who wrote and first performed the songs he uses to bring crowds to their feet.
When he gets to talking about fishing, it is again apparent that he is a shade different from his early musical inspirations who hailed from the Mississippi Delta, like Muddy Waters, who also sang about the catfish blues.
Taj Mahal got a fishing pole and a book about the fish of North America from an uncle from South Carolina when he was 4 or 5, and he was raised fishing the waters around New York.
"There probably used to be salmon in those rivers, but so many of them were part of the Industrial Revolution," Taj Mahal says. "With the ecological clean-up, some of them are coming back, but it's nothing like what you have around Alaska."