Taj Mahal at The Belly Up

The headline might read like the collision of two great venues to the uninitiated, but to music fans it means a night of wonderful music.

Decades ago Taj was kicking around Santa Monica with a couple like-minded musicians​ (Ry Cooder and Jesse Ed Davis), equally interested in exploring and expanding vintage music from various regions of the country and beyond. He and Cooder were especially equipped for the journey, each moving through the years and many miles of musical stylings. Myriad borders were broken down over the ensuing decades.

Down the coast at The Belly Up in Solana Beach Taj Mahal led his Sextet through an eclectic set list.

The classic “Fishing Blues” was nearly mandatory, telling the tale of how the distaff side always seems to do better in that endeavor. “CC Rider,” which has been covered by folks ranging from Ma Rainey to Elvis Presley and Eric Burdon to Mitch Ryder was assayed, featuring guitar solos from Trey Hensley and Rob Ickes (the latter on dobro). 

In several of his introductions, Taj indicated that his Sextet would be adding “hot sauce to some traditional tunes,” like “Black Jack Davy” and “Wild About My Lovin’.” He seemed to create the set list on the fly, especially at the beginning of the evening, which certainly provided a freshness to the proceedings. 

Soon he shifted his focus further west and assayed a “trilogy of songs” influenced by Hawaii. That gave Bobby Ingano the spotlight on steel guitar. “The New Hula Blues” and a couple instrumentals (including “Sleepwalk”) brought out the tasty slack key stylings. 

Taj took the opportunity during the instrumentals to kick back and let the melodies wash over him. 

Holding down the rhythm section were Kester Smith on drums and the Sextet’s key player, bassist Bill Rich, hiding in plain sight.

As a purveyor of authentic blues and roots music, Taj is a living link to the many threads of our country’s music. He has assembled a first class band able to not only recreate the original sounds of the music, but to gently push the music forward. 

(photos by Brad Auerbach)

Brad Auerbach has been a journalist and editor covering the media, entertainment, travel and technology scene for many years. He has written for Forbes, Time Out London, SPIN, Village Voice, LA Weekly and early in his career won a New York State College Journalism Award.