Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal have reunited for an album of music by the legendary blues duo Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.
Friends and collaborators since they first got together in the Rising Sons in Los Angeles in 1965, Cooder and Taj Mahal first heard Terry and McGhee as teenagers.
“I was about nineteen, and I wanted to go to these coffee houses, ‘cause I heard that these old guys were playing,” says Taj Mahal. “I knew that there was a river out there somewhere that I could get into, and once I got in it, I’d be all right. They brought the whole package for me.”
Harmonica player Terry and guitarist McGhee, both originally from the south-eastern United States, had active solo careers as well as collaborating with some of the most celebrated musicians of their time. But they were best known for their forty-five-year partnership, which began in 1939 and included mesmerising live performances around the world and numerous acclaimed recordings.
Their Piedmont blues style became popular during the folk music revival of the 1940s and ’50s. They travelled in the same circles as Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, Leadbelly, and Josh White, among others in a rich mix of writers, actors and musicians. As a new generation emerging in the 1960’s drew inspiration from folk and blues, Terry and McGhee toured the world. They were named National Heritage Fellows in 1982 in recognition of their distinctive musical contributions and accomplishments.
“We’ve been doing this a while,” says Cooder, whose son Joachim played drums and bass on the album alongside Cooder on vocals, guitar, mandolin, and banjo and Taj Mahal on vocals, harmonica, guitar and piano. “Perhaps we’ve earned the right to bring it back.”
Taj Mahal concludes. “We’re now the guys that we aspired toward when we were starting out. Here we are now… old timers. What a great opportunity, to really come full circle.”
The album, entitled Get on Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee, is released on Nonesuch Records on April 22.