Blues Queen Maria Muldaur | Sultry Blues Singer Returns to Morning Star in Fairfield

Maria Muldaur brings her Way Past Midnight show to Morning Star Studio on October 5, 2015.

It has been more than 40 years since Maria Muldaur rocked the charts with her eponymously titled debut album that made her a household name, thanks to the huge success of her single “Midnight at the Oasis.” And it has been more than 50 years since she first recorded “I’m A Woman” with the Jim Kweskin Jug Band. The sultry-voiced singer hasn’t slowed down. Muldaur continues to tour around the globe and promote her music, but this time she’s doing something different, which she calls the Way Past Midnight show.

“In the 40 years since ‘Midnight at the Oasis,’ I have put out 40 albums,” Muldaur said over the phone from somewhere in Canada, where she was currently on tour. “Every year I would travel with a new record, and my older material got pushed to the back of the shelf. This time I thought I would play some of my favorite tunes, and ones my fans love, and punctuate them with interesting little stories about the wonderful people and old times.”

As she has performed and recorded with legends such as Bob Dylan, the Grateful Dead, and Mavis Staples, she should have some good tales to tell. Muldaur will use slides, video clips, and photos to illustrate her yarns, and she’ll be backed by her three-piece Red Hot Bluesiana Band when she performs at Morning Star Studio in Fairfield on October 5.

Muldaur says she plays American roots music, which aptly describes the mix of blues, gospel, bluegrass, rhythm and blues, jazz, big band, folk, and pop styles she incorporates into her oeuvre. She said she was lucky to have been raised in NYC’s Greenwich Village during the great folk revival of the early ’60s, when there was a great mix of music in the air. She was only 19 years old when she joined the Even Dozen Jug Band, whose members included the mandolinist David Grisman, John Sebastian, and other notables.

“The Village was a mecca for free thinkers and free spirits during this period,” Muldaur said. “My friends and I would play these old 78s and field recordings by Alan Lomax in search of music from the mists of time. Then we discovered that the recordings weren’t so ancient and the musicians were still living in the rural South.” Many of the artists came to the city to play to new young audiences. “I got to meet and hear people like Victoria Spivey, Mississippi John Hurt, and so many more.” The singer spoke these names reverently, as if she were still in awe of their talents.

Muldaur said while she was just “a nice little Italian girl from the city” (her birth name is Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica D’Amato), she has loved the country blues from as early as she can remember. “The blues are an authentic form of human expression, not manufactured or contrived for the sake of selling, but something that is deep, natural, organic—part of the human soul and sprit,” she said. “It was much more appealing than the shallow ditties on the radio.” This was especially true during the Payola era when Muldaur first came of age as an artist, when teen idols ruled the airwaves.

She finds the appeal of this music even stronger now than when she was young. “The older you get, the more you realize what life is all about. American roots music stands the test of time because the music expresses what life is really about instead of just some wishful thinking. There’s sadness and romance, funny songs and ones about hard times and social injustice—real stuff with real concerns,” Muldaur said forcefully.

Her convictions are clear, but there are some pop songs Muldaur has successfully recorded—for children! These tracks are classics from the past, what Muldaur calls “lighthearted tunes from a more innocent era,” like “Jeepers Creepers,” “Singing in the Rain,” and “Would You Like Swing on a Star?” Muldaur is proud of her albums of songs for kids. 

“I got a call out of the blue from a now defunct label called Music for Little People who asked me to do an album for children,” she said. “I contacted the best jazz musicians in the San Francisco area where I lived and picked the best-crafted songs.” The results have been universally praised and have won numerous awards.

Muldaur also has recorded several albums in tribute to female blues artists of the past, such as Memphis Minnie, Bessie Smith, and Ma Rainey. “I love a lot of male blues artists, but it makes more sense to me to sing from a woman’s perspective,” Muldaur said. These recordings have also been critically acclaimed and award winning, and her version of Blue Lu Barker’s 1938 sensual “Don’t You Feel My Leg” has become one of Muldaur’s best known singles.

While Muldaur has played at other cities in Iowa, she proclaims a special fondness for Morning Star Studio and Fairfield. “I first played that place about 15 years ago. . . . there was a great vibe among the people there. They were musically and spiritually conscious,” she said. Muldaur had trouble explaining exactly what she meant, so she fell back to referring to her old hit. “The place feels like an oasis in a desert in the middle of the Midwest.” Except Muldaur’s show will be held earlier in the evening. One won’t have to wait until midnight to enjoy her presence.