There’s something about Taj Mahal that just makes me feel good. He brings such spirit and positivity to every thing he does; even the deep blues. Our featured song this week was written by Chris Smith in 1911, but first recorded in 1928 by traveling songster (and son of freed slaves) Henry Thomas (a.k.a. “Ragtime Texas”), who cut 24 sides for the Vocalion label between 1927 and 1929. (He is believed to have died around 1930). The song was one of two Thomas recordings that appeared on the Volume 3 of the groundbreaking and influential 1952 Harry Smith Anthology of American Folk Music set. A full album of Thomas recordings called Henry Thomas Sings the Texas Blues came out in 1962, at the height of the folk revival, though it did not contain that song. Nonetheless, it made its way into folk circles, where it was performed by Jim Kweskin and others, and in 1965 “Fishin’ Blues” received its widest exposure yet when a version was included on the Lovin’ Spoonful’s smash “folk-rock” debut album, Do You Believe in Magic. (Their songwriting credit for the song was “Traditional.”)
It’s been a signature tune for Taj Mahal for much of his solo career, which began in earnest with his self-titled 1968 debut album on Columbia. That record instantly established him as a top blues/roots music interpreter and songwriter. He recorded “Fishin’ Blues” for his fantastic two-disc third album, released in 1969, Giant Step/De Ole Folks at Home. The first of the two records was electric, the second (where “Fishin’ Blues” appears, credited to Henry Thomas and Taj) was acoustic.
On this cool solo version, from a 1993 appearance on Austin City Limits, Taj plays a chiming McPherson JL-40M, a unique-looking instrument that sounds pretty darn good to me! —Blair Jackson