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Don't You Feel My Leg

Maria Muldaur Sings the Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker

by Kate Gamm

 

 

Maria Muldaur

Maria Muldaur from a 1999 album


Listen to Maria Muldaur with Blue Lou Barker and Don't You Feel My Leg. This track is quite a unique duet from Maria Muldaur and Blue Lu Barker, (posthumously sampled from a 1989 JazzFest recording of Lu and her late husband, Danny Barker). Blue Lu was an early advocate for safe sex but was considered too risqué for recording in her earlier singing career! Vocals - Maria Muldaur and Blu Lu Barker (vocals - sampled from ‘89 recording courtesy of Orleans Records); Kenneth Blevins (drums); George Porter, Jr. (bass); Cranston Clemments (guitar); Chris Burns (piano); Leroy Jones (trumpet); Mark Mullins (trombone).

 

 

 

 

[The track is from an album produced by the New Orleans Musician's Clinic who brought together 100 musicians, songwriters and others to pay tribute to the legacy of New Orleans music].

 

Whatever the temperature of the Summer of 1974, no song captures the spirit of that year better than Midnight At The Oasis.  Earning a Grammy award nomination for 30 year old Maria Muldaur, it transformed a little known singer into chart topper on both sides of the Atlantic.

Maria Muldaur was born Maria Grazia Rosa Domenica D'Amato in Greenwich Village, New York City in 1943. She began her career in the 1960s as Maria D'Amato, performing with Jug Bands and was part of the Greenwich Village scene that included Bob Dylan - some of her recollections of the period, particularly with respect to Dylan, appear in Martin Scorsese’s film about Dylan, No Direction Home.

 

Here is a very brief video clip of Maria with the Jim Queskin Jug Band.

 

 

 

Maria married fellow Jug Band member Geoff Muldaur but began a solo career when their marriage ended in 1972. Her first solo album, Maria Muldaur, reached number 6 on the Billboard Hot 100 in 1974. Her 2005 release Sweet Lovin' Ol' Soul was nominated for both a Blues Music Award (formerly the W.C. Handy Award) and a Grammy Award in the 'Traditional Blues' category. In 2013, she Blue Lu Barkerwas nominated for a Blues Music Award in the Koko Taylor Award (Traditional Blues Female) category.

Over forty years on from her chart-topping Midnight At The Oasis, Muldaur’s 41st album pays tribute to vocalist and songwriter Blue Lu Barker, who made her mark in the 1930s and 1940s and was cited by Billie Holiday as her greatest influence.  It was Barker's Don't You Feel My Leg that made it onto Muldaur's 1973 solo debut album at the suggestion of Dr. John.  Despite the commercial success of Midnight At The Oasis, to this day Don’t You Feel My Leg remains her most requested song at live gigs.

 

Blue Lu Barker

 

Louisa Dupont Barker was born in New Orleans in 1913. Her father ran a grocery store and pool hall, making money during prohibition with bootleg liquor. Louisa left school when she was just 13 and married banjo player / guitarist Danny Barker. Danny played with the Boozan Kings early on in New Orleans and toured Mississippi with Little Brother Montgomery. In 1930, Louisa and Danny moved to New York where Danny worked with a variety of jazz musicians including Sidney Bechet, Albert Nicholas, James P. Johnson, Lucky Milliner and Cab Calloway; and Louisa with Cab Calloway  and Jelly Roll Morton amongst others. Danny wrote Don’t You Feel My Leg for Louisa to sing. In 1938, Louisa recorded her first sessions for Vocalion where the producer came up with her ‘Blue Lu Barker’ stage name. Lu and Danny went on to be contracted by Decca and then by the Apollo label in the 1940s – one of the Apollo sessions featuring a jam with Charlie Parker.

 

 

Listen to Lu singing Deep Blue Sea Blues in 1938 with Danny Barker's Fly Cats -
Danny Barker (guitar), Henry Red Allen (trumpet), Buster Bailey (clarinet), Sammy Price (piano), Wellman Braud (b), unknown (d).

 

 

 

Blue Lu’s most well-known recordings were made around 1938, often accompanied by Danny on banjo and guitar. Don't You Feel My Leg was a well-crafted song that seemed to encourage promiscuity and restraint simultaneously, 'always a good thing for the music business’ (allmusic.com). Blue Lu went on singing with a final recording in 1998 at the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival. She died in May of that year and was buried in New Orleans.

 

Blue Lu Barker singing Buy Me Some Juice with Danny Barker's Sextette

 

 

 

Maria Muldaur and Blue Lu formed a friendship that lasted until Lu's death in 1998. In 2016, having been invited to perform a tribute to her old friend in New Orleans, Muldaur discovered that Blue Lu had written and recorded dozens of equally naughty, bawdy, witty and clever songs with her husband and co-writer Danny Barker, guitarist of choice for Billie Holiday, Cab Calloway and Louis Armstrong.  “Besides the wonderfully funny, suggestive lyrics, I was really struck by Blue Lu’s delivery of these tunes …. droll, sly, full Maria Maldaur Don't You Feel My Leg albumof sass and attitude, yet understated. Her cool nonchalance and crisp ladylike diction in contrast to the naughty, risqué lyrics made them smoulder with innuendo all the more,” says Maria.

And so to the 2018 album release by Muldaur of Don’t You Feel My Leg – The Naughty, Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker, recorded in New Orleans with A-list Nola Sound Studio musicians:  David Torkanowsky on piano (Neville Brothers, Irma Thomas), Roland Guerin on bass (Allen Toussaint, Steve Earle), Herlin Riley on drums (Dr John, Cassandra Wilson).  Guitarist Chris Adkins has the honour of playing one of Danny Barker’s original 1938 Gibsons.   Recorded as live using vintage sound equipment, the album is true to the spirit and soul of New Orleans and Barker's funny, sassy and risqué material.

This album is the latest in a series by Muldaur celebrating the musical contribution of women from her own musical journey across folk, jazz, gospel and blues. One of these, the 2007 release Naughty, Bawdy & Blue, is a retrospective devoted to pioneering blues women of the early and mid-twentieth century, a celebration of jazz band accompanied blues performances.

Muldaur’s own voice has changed beyond recognition from the early days.  Over time that sweet, girlish voice (not unlike Blue Lu’s) has deepened to a rich, bluesy drawl.  Writing in the 1930s and 1940s, Blue Lu’s writing conveys sexuality by suggestion and innuendo, a ploy used in film, literature and theatre writing at that time.  What united Blue Lu and Danny, who enjoyed a sixty year marriage, are songs celebrating women taking control of their relationships with men.   Loan Me Your Husband, written by Danny, is an upfront bid for infidelity by a frustrated wife.   Handy Andy is like something from the music hall tradition, a barely disguised celebration of Andy’s sexual prowess.

And then there’s the title track – Don’t You Feel My Leg – well, the message is in the title!  

 

Here is a video of Maria recording Don't You Feel My Leg from the album.

 

 

 

Click here for details Maria Muldaur's album and to listen to samples.

 

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