Maria Muldaur’s Don’t You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker.
Released by The Last Music Company, the album sees the vocalist, and revered interpreter of American Roots music, pay tribute to Blue Lu Barker, the New Orleans singer who, from the late 1930’s onwards recorded dozens of Blues and Jazz songs for Decca, Apollo and Capitol.
This will mark Maria’s 41st album in a distinguished career that has established her as a preeminent and revered interpreter of American roots music, and it is her first studio album in six years.
For this stunning set, Maria pays tribute to the wonderful Blue Lu Barker, the popular vocalist and songwriter of the late 30s and early 40s whom Billie Holiday once cited as her biggest influence.
Muldaur was introduced to Barker’s songs by her friend Dr John at the 1973 album sessions that spawned her million-selling hit, Midnight at the Oasis, and a sassy take of Don’t You Feel My Leg made it onto the record.
This fine new recording came about following a concert of Blu Lu’s music that Muldaur gave in New Orleans in 2016, and she’s joined by Crescent City A-Listers David Torkanowsky (piano), Roland Guerin (bass) and Herlin Riley (drums), amongst others.
NEW ORLEANS – When a 24-year-old Blue Lu Barker stepped up to the microphone at Decca Records studio in Manhattan in 1938 to record “Don’t You Feel My Leg,” she had no way of knowing that that initial recording would turn out to be such an enduring piece of blues artistry.
An immediate hit, the song instantly established Barker as a leading female blues vocalist, fueling a recording career that continued unabated throughout dozens of blues and jazz releases on Decca, Apollo, and Capitol Records.
Billie Holiday once told an interviewer that “Blue Lu Barker was my biggest influence.”
“’Don’t You Feel My Leg’ was considered quite ‘risqué’ in its day, but compared to the over-amped, kinetic, frenetic, bumpin’, grindin’, booty-shakin’, in-your-face X-rated explicit lyrics that prevail in today’s music, I find its playful, sly, tongue-in-cheek innuendo to actually be a much sexier approach.
Imagination is always the best aphrodisiac,” says Maria Muldaur, whom after a decades-long career as a recording artist and performer, remains a revered and preeminent interpreter of American Roots music.
Longtime friend and session pianist Dr John first introduced her to the naughty, bawdy blues of Blu Lu Barker during the 1973 album sessions that spawned Muldaur’s million-selling hit, “Midnight At The Oasis.”
A sassy take of Barker’s “Don’t You Feel My Leg” ensued and made it onto the record. “Listening now to Blu Lu’s young light lilting voice and delivery, I can see in retrospect how Dr John heard some of that same quality in my young singing and was moved to suggest that song to me,” says Muldaur.
In the wake of Muldaur’s hit single, Warner Brothers executives would ultimately reject an overwhelming number of requests from DJs to release “Don’t You Feel My Leg” as a second single, in an effort to prevent her from being branded as a sex symbol rather than as a serious artist—but to this day, it remains the most requested song at her shows.
Muldaur eventually met Danny and Blu Lu Barker, resulting in a friendship that lasted for many years. “Because of my friendship with Blu Lu and Danny and my longtime association with that song, I was invited to New Orleans in 2016 to put on a concert paying tribute to Blue Lu in New Orleans.
Needing to come up with two hours’ worth of Blu Lu Barker material for the concert, I started doing some in-depth research of all their past recordings, hoping to come up with enough tunes to fill the evening.
I had previously only heard a few of their early recordings besides “Leg.” To my surprise and delight, I discovered that they had written and recorded dozens of songs equally naughty, bawdy, witty, and clever as ‘Don’t You Feel My Leg’.
Most of them were recorded in New York City in the early 40s, with some of the finest jazz players on the NYC jazz scene, and besides the wonderfully funny, suggestive lyrics, I was really struck and quite charmed by Blue Lu’s delivery of these tunes… droll, sly, full of sass and attitude, yet understated…a bit girlish and coy.
Her cool nonchalance and crisp ladylike diction in contrast to the naughty, risqué lyrics made them smoulder with innuendo all the more. These were songs by hipsters, for hipsters,” says Muldaur.
Muldaur’s performance in tribute to Blu Lu that year featured a stellar band of NOLA musicians and created a wave of demand for an album—a demand that she was inspired to fulfil.
For this outing, Muldaur brought in New Orleans A-listers David Torkanowsky on piano (Irma Thomas, Neville Brothers, Solomon Burke), Roland Guerin on bass (Steve Earle, Chris Thomas King, Allen Toussaint), and Herlin Riley on drums (Wynton Marsalis, Cassandra Wilson, Dr John), among others.
Muldaur adds, “as we sit here in 2018, you might well ask why a vintage gal like me feels it is important to present these vintage tunes at this point in time.
Well for one thing, in an era when so many aspects of sexuality are dealt with and discussed with such deadly seriousness, I find the lighthearted playful expressions of sexuality in these songs a pleasant and welcome respite from the fraught discourse prevailing today…and for another…these are all basically hip, fun happy songs, and I think we could all use a big dose of HAPPY right about now.”
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