Taj Mahal to release single "Queen Bee" + announce new live album celebrating Tulsa music scene and the late great Leon Russell

Article Contributed by Big Feat PR | Published on Thursday, January 25, 2024

Today legendary roots star Taj Mahal announced the release of Swingin’ Live at the Church in Tulsa, released on March 8 2024 via Lightning Rod Records. Pre-order the album HERE. His latest project is an extraordinary set recorded live at the Tulsa studio best known as the home base of the late, great Leon Russell, a huge influence and personal friend of Taj. The ten songs reach across multiple genres that he has explored in his incomparable career, and feature “The Taj Mahal Sextet,” which includes Taj’s long-time quartet—bassist Bill Rich, drummer Kester Smith, and guitarist/Hawaiian lap steel player Bobby Ingano—augmented by dobro player Rob Ickes and guitarist and vocalist Trey Hensley. Taj also announced a U.S., Canada and Australia tour with dates including Los Angeles’ Luckman Fine Arts Complex. Tickets are on sale now - details below.

Accompanying the announcement, Taj released a single and live recording of his classic “Queen Bee,” which began as a Taj instrumental fingerpicking piece inspired by his mentor Mississippi John Hurt before it became the song that featured on his acclaimed 1977 studio album Evolution (The Most Recent), and later on Señor Blues, his GRAMMY winning 1997 studio album. Listen to “Queen Bee” HERE

“It's a fun song. It's a positive song, from a male's perspective, you know, to speak good about women,” says Taj about “Queen Bee,” adding, “I feel like there's an awful lot of angst between men and women these days, from whatever stripe or ethnic group or culture they're coming from, there's a lot of tension. You've only got so much string in this ball of yarn, and if you waste your time fighting with one another, you're gonna look back one day and realize that, boy, did I waste a lot of time, I could have been feeling good, talking nice, being nice to people, so many things you could be doing.”

At 81 years old, Taj can easily claim musical legend status. He has four Grammy Awards to his name (out of fifteen nominations) alongside a lifetime of other achievements and a career spanning seven decades, releasing nearly 50 albums, Taj is both an architect and custodian of the roots music sound. Proficient in 20 different instruments and a serial collaborator, Taj has worked with musicians including the Rolling Stones, Etta James, Angelique Kidjo, Ziggy Marley and more. There are few musicians that Taj’s music has not touched.

“Some of us were gifted by our ancestors to be in a long line of musicians,” says Taj Mahal. “It's in your DNA. Others are lucky to find it and put in the dedication that it takes to be able to get there. So that’s my life as an 81-year-old—still playing music, still enjoying it, still getting to do the things I want to do.”

“The Church” was purchased by Russell in 1972, who converted it into a recording studio / office for his famed Shelter Records label, which became a creative home to artists including, Tom Petty, Jimmy Buffett, Willie Nelson, and Stevie Wonder, among others. Current owners Ivan Acosta and Teresa Knox completed their renovation of the space in 2022, dedicating it to showcasing the legacy of the “Tulsa Sound” and creating opportunities for the next generation of musicians.

Taj first became aware of Oklahoma’s central role in American music through a family friend named James Brewer. “He was one of the coolest guys that we ever met,” says Taj. “Dressed sharp all the time, played alto a little bit with those territory bands out there like Ernie Fields and Bennie Moten.” Later, he solidified a connection to the region’s musicians through guitarist and close collaborator Jesse Ed Davis, who introduced him to such Tulsa-based players as JJ Cale, Bobby Keys, and, eventually, the force of nature known as Leon Russell.

Tulsa holds rich and tragic historical significance to Black history and culture. It was a hotbed for jazz and blues, with Tulsa a stop on the famed Chitlin’ Circuit and home to the Greenwood neighborhood known as Black Wall Street due to its thriving Black community, Black businesses and home to roughly 10,000 residents. It was all destroyed in the Tulsa Race Massacre of 1921 where a white mob killed hundreds of residents, burned more than 1,250 homes and erased years of Black success in the area.

“A lot of the people that caused that Massacre to happen were highly unevolved human beings.” stated Taj, “Unfortunately, this country didn't start with the best of people, some of them didn't have brains above their ankles and they did not know how to handle the success of people they viewed as relegated to the bottom of society. Fortunately there has been a tremendous amount of music and art, to come out of the state of Oklahoma and there's a great diverse population that's there. The people have tried to make their way and there's been some progress that has been slow. Clearly and obviously, people have been working to evolve themselves past those kinds of ugly examples of what human beings can do, to and with, and against one another. Let's hope that the lesson from that doesn't fall on deaf ears, and that we continue to evolve.”

The album was recorded in front of a live audience and features Taj’s sextet and continues his legacy of confounding genre where he has pioneered an eclectic roots music sounds that draws on Blues, Soul, reggae, Latin, R&B, Cajun, Caribbean, gospel, West African, jazz, calypso, Hawaiian slack-key, and countless other musical styles which he weaves throughout an astonishing body of work. The set ranges from some of the songs he is best known for—“Corinna,” “Queen Bee”—to the instrumental “Twilight in Hawaii” (representing his long association with the Aloha State’s musical traditions, especially through his Hula Blues Band) to a glorious closing jam on T-Bone Walker’s “Mean Old World” that stretches beyond the ten-minute mark.

Taj studied Animal Husbandry at the University of Massachusetts before heading to Los Angeles in 1964 to pursue music. He began his solo career with such pioneering projects as The Natch’l Blues and the expansive double album Giant Step/De Old Folks at Home, demonstrating his ambitious sense of possibility for American roots music. The 21st Century has seen Taj working with many of the remarkable musicians who were directly influenced by his work and his example, including Keb’ Mo, Los Lobos, and Ben Harper. His reunion with Ry Cooder on 2022’s Get On Board won his latest Grammy, for Best Traditional Blues Album, and his most recent studio release, Savoy, is a collection of classic jazz songs.

With Swingin’ Live at the Church in Tulsa, all the variables came together—a well-seasoned band being pushed by talented guests sitting in; a musically sophisticated audience; a venue that not only offered a sense of history, but also top-of-the-line acoustics as both a performance and recording space.

“People don't pay me for the music,” says Taj Mahal. “They pay me for what it takes me to get there. I would gladly play music for free if I could be heard, but I found I can make a living at it. And then I can come to a place like the Church, and it's all the great things at one time.”

Track List

01 - Betty And Dupree

02 - Mailbox Blues

03 - Queen Bee

04 - Lovin' In My Baby's Eyes

05 - Waiting For My Papa To Come Home

06 - Slow Drag

07 - Sitting On Top Of The World

08 - Twilight In Hawaii

09 - Corrina

10 - Mean Old World

2024 Tour Dates

Jan 28 - Feb 4, 2024    Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise 2024, Fort Lauderdale, FL

Feb 22, 2024    Campbell Hall, Santa Barbara, CA

Feb 23, 2024    Luckman Fine Arts Complex, Los Angeles, CA

Feb 24, 2024    Performing Arts Center San Luis Obispo, San Luis Obispo, CA

Feb 25, 2024    Annenberg Theater, Palm Springs, CA

Feb 26, 2024    Ikeda Theater, Mesa, AZ

Feb 27, 2024    Fox Tucson Theatre, Tucson, AZ

Mar 01, 2024    Lensic Performing Arts Center, Santa Fe, NM

Mar 02, 2024    Pikes Peak Center, Colorado Springs, CO

Mar 03, 2024    Paramount Theatre, Denver, CO

Mar 05, 2024    The Ridgefield Playhouse, Ridgefield, CT

Mar 06, 2024    Music Hall, Portsmouth, NH

Mar 07, 2024    Hart Theatre At The Egg, Albany, NY

Mar 09, 2024    Koerner Hall, Toronto, ON

Mar 10, 2024    National Arts Centre, Ottawa, ON

(All featuring Sona Jobarteh except Ridgefield Playhouse)

Mar 30 - 31, 2024    Byron Bay Bluesfest 2024, Tyagarah, Australia