Get On Board by Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal


In 1995, Neil Young sung “People my age don’t do the things that I do” on a wonderful song called “I’m The Ocean”. He was 50 years old at the time. These words came back to me a few days ago, when I walked Bruno around Hassocks golf course in the early morning, met Andy in Lindfield for our weekly tea-drinking, talking-bollocks lunchtime meeting, went to Hove to watch Sussex play cricket for a few hours in the afternoon and then went to see The Besnard Lakes in a small upstairs room in a Brighton pub with Peter until late in the evening.

I’m 67 years old and have been retired for two years. I’m supposed to be sitting in my chair, completing crosswords and falling asleep in front of daytime TV. However, I feel compelled to do as much as I can, while I’m able to. Having experienced lockdowns and more or less completed my recovery from a hip operation, I feel motivated to be as busy as possible over the Summer.

My mother used to tell me never to grow old. I would always ask her if she wanted me to die young. I was reminded of this the day before my busy day, when my sister and I took my aunt, aged 103, into a residential care home in Enfield. She told me that she didn’t like being old and felt it would be easier if we were all culled at age 65. I explained that this would mean that my sister and I would no longer be here and she looked a little crestfallen and said she would think again.

All this was put into perspective when a close member of Roo’s family suddenly died three days ago, aged 71, after suffering a heart attack. I’m writing this paragraph on Hassocks railway station, waiting to get a train to Brighton, to meet Pete for a huge fried breakfast before thrashing him at snooker. I’m looking forward to seeing Rob in London on Friday, for six pints and a curry. Meeting Peter for a dog walk on Sunday will be enhanced by coffee and an enormous portion of cake. Andy and I will each eat a large sandwich on Monday lunchtime before Paddy and I attempt to drink Norwich dry next week. That will be followed by a Tye Green Cricket Club reunion on Thursday for a steak meal and Greene King beer before the week is finished off by watching Brighton beat West Ham whilst drinking a gallon of Harvey’s. Having lost 10 kg in the first year of the pandemic, I’ve quickly reclaimed 7 kg. Should I live life to the full while I can, or eke it out slowly and dully? The answer may be, as Billy Bragg sung, “Sweet moderation. Heart of this nation”. As long as my heart is willing to co-operate.

Ry Cooder is 75 years old and his career has had four very distinct phases. He came to prominence playing session guitar on such seminal albums as “Safe As Milk” (Captain Beefheart), Neil Young’s first album, “Let It Bleed” and “Sticky Fingers” (Rolling Stones) and Little Feat’s first album, before embarking on a solo career that saw him release ten albums in 12 years between 1970 and 1982. He only released one solo album between 1982 and 2005, but he did release 15 soundtrack albums (including “Paris, Texas”). In his wonderfully disgraceful older age, he has released six solo albums which display a unique combination of virtuosity, imagination and a warm cantankerous nature. “Election Special” was a particularly pointed commentary on American politics; “Chavez Ravine” tells the story of Chavez Ravine, a semi-rural Mexican-American community in Los Angeles that was earmarked to be developed by a construction of public housing called “Elysian Park Heights” only for the City Council to change its mind and sell off the whole area to the baseball team Brooklyn Dodgers who subsequently built the Dodgers Stadium there and changed their name to the Los Angeles Dodgers.

Henry St. Claire Fredericks Jr is 80 years old and adopted the stage name, Taj Mahal in 1960, after a series of dreams about the love and social tolerance displayed by Mahatma Gandhi. He formed Rising Sons with Ry Cooder, Ed Cassidy (later of Spirit), Kevin Kelley (later of The Byrds) and Gary Marker (later of The Magic Band). In a parallel career to Ry Cooder, Taj Mahal released 12 albums between 1968 and 1977, before moving to Hawaii and dropping out of the music business (but continuing to make music for its own intrinsic pleasure). He resumed his music career in 1987 and has released a further 17 studio albums, frequently collaborating with other musicians.

Saunders Teddell was born in 1911 and was known as Sonny Terry. Walter Brown McGhee was four years younger and was known as Brownie McGhee. Sonny Terry was a blind harmonica player and Brownie McGhee played guitar. Together, they recorded some of the most authentic and long lasting folk blues music of the pre-rock’n’roll era. In 1952, they released a 10 inch album called “Get On Board”, consisting of nine songs. The collection was subtitled “Negro Songs By The Folkmasters” and included additional vocals and percussion by Coyal McMahan.

Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal have paid homage to the original “Get On Board” by recording covers of Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee’s recordings, although they have chosen some songs from other albums. The covers of the two albums are very similar. One of the songs on the original “Get On Board” was called “Rising Sun”, which presumably was the inspiration behind Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal’s band name, although they chose not to cover this song on the 2022 version. Songs from the original album that they did choose to record include “Midnight Special” and “Pick A Bale Of Cotton”.

This album is very loose and feels casual and spontaneous. The sound is of two maestros, enjoying each other’s company and having a great time recording some of their favourite music. The Rolling Stone says that listening to this album is “like a ride in a classic old car with long-gone shock absorbers“.

Growing old disgracefully, having a ball, enjoying each other’s company and finding fulfilment from music. Sounds like a template for a happy future.

Published by wilfulsprinter

Music lover

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