Monday, April 21, 2008

TAJ MAHAL AT THE WATTS MUSIC FESTIVAL


Watts, a black community in south central LA, famous for it's riot and it's towers, has a free music festival every year, it's not a big deal, basically it's just for the benefit of the community. It's held outdoors in the summer and there's always at least one headliner, one year it was Taj Mahal, a guy I've seen many times and I always enjoy his music.
It's a small event and the stage is only about 18" high and the audience is usually less than a couple of hundred. Taj came on and I was there with my camera, immediately in front of the stage there was an old drunken guy in the first row who started mumbling a request for Taj to play Corina, Corina right from the start and he kept it up throughout the entire performance mumbling his request at the end of every song. He wasn't disruptive, he was too drunk for that, he was just insistent. Taj ignored him and played the set he'd come to play.
When he finished and when the applause died down he set his guitar down and stepped off the stage and walked to the rear where there was a concession selling beer and drinks, he bought two beers and came back to where I was sitting on the edge of the stage, he went over to the old guy who was only about 10 feet from me and stuck one of the beers in his hand and then grabbed him by his lapel, "Alright motherfucker, you want to hear Corina? sit down and shut the fuck up" and with that he deposited him on the edge of the stage right next to me, he then sat down next to him, picked up his guitar and started to sing 'Corina': he gave the old guy not only a beer but an individual performance. From my point of view as a photographer it was unbelievable, I was within about 2 feet of Taj and I had my wide angle 24mm lens on, perfect! As he sang I kept shooting getting great stuff everytime, I think I shot a full roll of 36 on them.
When they were processed I was very pleased with the results, I had lots of very intimate shots of this unique performance. I had an artist friend Tony who was a wonderful painter and when he saw my shots he asked if he could borrow one, he'd like to copy it in a painting which he did and it was marvellous, an oil painting about 15" by 24" which he titled 'The Blues'. The woman in the painting is Randy Crawford who also performed that day.


A couple of years later Taj was in town again and he performed at McCabes Guitar center in Santa Monica, Tony and I went taking the painting with us. We went backstage after the performance and I asked Taj if he remembered the incident at Watts, he did: Tony presented the painting to him and he was very touched by the gift.
And then many years later after I'd retired and moved to northern California I met a kindred spirit, another record collector, but he put me to shame, he had rooms FULL of music, I only had one, but his obsession had extended to video also. One day when chatting with him on the phone Taj's name came up and he mentioned that he'd shot a video of him many years earlier, I mentioned shooting at the Watts festival and he had the realisation that that was where he'd shot his video. He called me back a little later to tell me that he'd found it and had just watched it and realised that the guy sitting on the stage right next to Taj taking all the photographs was me! Small world. He gave me a copy of the video on a DVD.
The second cut below has long been one of my favorite Taj song, it's with the Pointer Sisters from his 1972 album, 'Recycling the blues and other related stuff'- there's a nice picture of him on the cover with Mississippi John Hurt.

12 comments:

DarceysDad said...

Cool! Enjoyed that one, gf. Seriously good photos.

goneforeign said...

Thanks D/D, There's far too much of our blog filled with rubbish just now, time for some music posts!

Teclado e Mouse said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
ejaydee said...

This looks shady...I've checked it out, don't click.

Anyway, another nice story, but I thought you meant Corrina, Corrina by Bob Dylan, and then I thought you were recording him singing as well as taking pictures, which I realise would require more than just the usual 2 arms

Gman said...

Mr. T: Besides that video I took at the Watts Tower Festival many years ago, I'm sure I saw your image on my toast this morning as well. Thanks for blowing my cover. Just kidding.

Blimpy said...

Great photos, and that painting is awesome.

I assume you photographed it before it was given to Taj?

Mr DNA said...

goneforeign,

Thanks for your post. If I've heard Corina Corina before, I don't remember, so listening to that and reading your story on my spur-of-the-moment day off work with the Brighton sunshine streaming in from the balcony makes me feel very good indeed. I shall now put the computer to sleep and go for a walk on the beach.

treefrogdemon said...

I love that first photo with the reflection in the glasses!

goneforeign said...

Ejay: I wasn't familiar with Dylan's version so I googled it, there's a whole website devoted to the song and a list of 160+ recorded versions which doesn't include Dylan or Taj but there's an explanation why, it's worth a look.
HTTP://www.panhandlecountry.com/cc/cchome.html

steenbeck said...

My favorite version is Mississippi John Hurt. It's just so sweet. Have you heard it?

steenbeck said...

And did you find the Dylan version, Goneforeign? cause I could post that, MJH and I actually have Bob Willis and His Texas Playboys doing it, too.

ejaydee said...

I know the Dylan version, but I'd love to hear the MJH and my old friend Bob Wills.