Taj Mahal, Ry Cooder Announce New Album, ‘Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee’

Taj Mahal and Ry Cooder have announced their new collaborative album, Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

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The new LP, which is set for release on April 22, is the duo’s first collaboration in more than a half-century.

To celebrate the announcement, the two musicians have released a new live video for the song, “Hooray Hooray,” which fans can watch below. “They were so solid. They meant what they said, they did what they did … here’s two guys, a guitar player, and a harmonica player, and they could make it sound like a whole orchestra,” Mahal said in a statement about his connection with Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

Added Cooder, “It was perfect. What else can you say?”

The forthcoming 11-song album features Mahal on vocals, harmonica, guitar, and piano, as well as Cooder on vocals, guitar, mandolin, and banjo. And Joachim Cooder is on drums and bass.

The songs for the LP are drawn from recordings and live performances by Terry and McGhee, who Mahal and Cooder first heard as teenagers.

“Down the road, away from Santa Monica. Where everything was good ‘I have got to get out of here,’ was all I could think,” Cooder added. “What do you do, fourteen, eighteen years old? I was trapped. But that first record, Get on Board, the 10” on Folkways, was so wonderful, I could understand the guitar playing.”

“I started hearing them when I was about nineteen, and I wanted to go to these coffee houses, ‘cause I heard that these old guys were playing,” said Mahal. “I knew that there was a river out there somewhere that I could get into, and once I got in it, I’d be all right. They brought the whole package for me.”

Mahal and Cooder originally joined forces in 1965, forming The Rising Sons when Cooder was just seventeen. The band was signed to Columbia Records but an album was not released and the group disbanded a year later. The 1960s recording sessions, widely bootlegged, were finally issued officially in 1992.

This new LP is the duo’s first recording since then.

Terry, who played harmonica, and McGhee, a guitarist, were both from the southeastern United States. They both had solo careers but were best known for their 45-year partnership, which began in 1939.

Their Piedmont blues style became popular during the folk music revival of the 1940s and ’50s, centered in New York City’s flourishing club scene for jazz, boogie-woogie, blues, and folk music.

Said Mahal, “You got the south on steroids when you got the music of the south, the culture of the south, the beauty of the south, through Brownie and Sonny.” He said McGhee as a “solid rhythm player. To really play behind the harp like that. He would set stuff up. He wasn’t making many notes. Sonny had all the notes, running around. But Brownie, he laid it down.”

“This thing of squeezing the thumb and first finger and a little bit of the second finger, which I still do. I’d forgotten where it came from,” Cooder explained. “That’s what Brownie did. I saw him do that and said, ‘I think I can do that.’”

Mahal said Terry is “a wizard harmonica player.”

“Sonny had incredible rhythm for one thing,” added Cooder. “Making sounds with his voice and the harmonica so you couldn’t tell quite which was which. He was good at that.”

“We’ve been doing this a while,” Cooder continued. “Perhaps we’ve earned the right to bring it back.”

Taj Mahal concludes. “We’re now the guys that we aspired toward when we were starting out. Here we are now … old-timers. What a great opportunity, to really come full circle.”

Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee Tracklist:

  1. My Baby Done Changed the Lock on the Door
  2. The Midnight Special
  3. Hooray Hooray
  4. Deep Sea Diver
  5. Pick a Bale of Cotton
  6. Drinkin’ Wine Spo-Dee-O-Dee
  7. What a Beautiful City
  8. Pawn Shop Blues
  9. Cornbread, Peas, Black Molasses
  10. Packing Up Getting Ready to Go
  11. I Shall Not Be Moved

Photo by Abby Ross / Nonesuch

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