The Ron Kane Files

Writing About Music

Monday, April 30, 2007

Geoff & Maria Muldaur

Geoff & Maria Muldaur – “Pottery Pie”

I first heard (of) this record by a track appearing on a Warner / Reprise “loss leader” double sampler LP (sorry, can’t remember which one, as my LP’s are not in front of me). At the time, I was unaware of Joe Boyd – the record’s producer. I had probably seen his name on an Incredible String Band LP and thought he was British. Took years for me to understand that he was an American in England, producing records etc. It literally took until I got to read Boyd’s wonderful book, “White Bicycles – Making Music In The 60’s” to get that Boyd went from the U.S. east coast to England – to Burbank.

It’s likely Boyd knew Geoff Muldaur from Muldaur having been in Jim Kweskin’s Jug Band – remember ‘jug band music’? The Lovin’ Spoonful, Dan Hicks & His Hot Licks etc.? That funny wave of nostalgia for the 20’s, 30’s that came towards the end of the 60’s? One can even lump Ry Cooder’s debut album (Reprise 6402) in with the finely honed / produced U.S. nostalgia camp.

With groups like The Doors and Love – U.S. bands were encouraged (by sales, fan appreciation) to be loud, write hit singles etc. It took some time before the ‘hippie ethic’ transmogrified into ‘gentle hippie nostalgia’ – long hairs playing bluegrass music, hippie couples singing 30’s ballads in coffee houses etc.

One must wonder – was “Pottery Pie” produced (i.e. made) before Warner Brothers got involved? Even though it typifies a “Warner Brothers” album of that early 70’s era – it was made in Boston – likely where both Muldaur (and Boyd) were ‘comfortable’, and ‘established’. It’s a wonderful collection of songs – as though Muldaur was ‘hippie Tony Bennett’ – Catch It (by Eric von Schmidt – an old cohort of Bob Dylan and Richard Farina), I’ll Be Your Baby Tonight (from Dylan’s then-recent “John Wesley Harding” album), New Orleans Hopscotch Blues (which is the cut that I heard on the Warner/Reprise sampler album), Trials Troubles, Tribulations (listed as ‘traditional’, arr. By Maria Muldaur, Geoff’s wife – who went on to fame as the singer of “Midnight At The Oasis” in a few short years)…the list of great songs goes on and on.

The true acknowledgement of this album not being a “lost classic” was when Terry Gilliam used Muldar’s version of “Brazil” in his film of the same name, as the main theme. After this album, Geoff and Maria began making solo albums for Warner Brothers – I do not know the details as to why it was solo albums and not collaborations.

“Pottery Pie” sounds glorious in the new century – wow, they really don’t make them like this anymore, do they? I keep half-an-eye on the McCabe’s Guitar Shop live schedule, where it is not uncommon to see Geoff Muldaur perform on occasion. One of these days, I will go check him out, 35+ years hence from “Pottery Pie” – I never really got into his solo albums of the 70’s, but I bet they’re good records. Popular culture took care of Maria Muldaur. Joe Boyd wrote his story down, for all to read – just glorious. Man, when the art meets the aesthetic – just magic.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

Are you familiar with Kweskin's "America" lp from around the same time? I guess another one of the Warner's 20's/30's revival lps would be John Fahey's "After the Ball" although it may be from a year or two later. For some reason, whenever I think of the Maldaur's I think of Mel Lyman, which points to the star Mark Frechette of Zabriske Point. There was a joint "bio" of Dylan/Farina and the Baez sisters from a few years ("Positively 4th Street") which does a pretty good rundown of the Boston coffeehouse scene from which they sprung.


10:33 PM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...

Kweskin, Fahey etc. - great records. Did you hear the Rhino Handmade Jack Nitzsche CD with the previously unreleased '74 Nitzsche album? (Fahey is all over that).

I am a huge Richard Farina fan, so I devoured that book you mentioned, JB.

6:46 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think that is the first that I heard that Fahey plays on that unreleased stuff. I recently bought the 2 volumes on Ace of Nitzsche stuff. I slept on that Rhino reissue when it came out and now you cant even get it for less than an arm and a leg. I will trade you that 2 dvd-r set of Battisti stuff for a cppy?? I have heard that the singer-songwriter stuff of Nitsche that is on there is comparable to Holland era Beach Boys or Van Dyke Parks solo. Is that true? Nice FM write-up. To be honest I have never heard Tusk and was always intrigued by the Jodorowsky connection (if that is true).


2:15 PM  
Blogger Ron Kane said...


Can't comment on if Nitzsche's singer-songwriter album sounds like VDP or BB's - not a fan of those (apart from "Song Cycle").

I will happily send you a CD-R of the "unreleased" Nitzsche album, it's dynamite. Some of it sounds like Crazy Horse, but, then - it would! Liner notes say Fahey is the guitarist, and ears tell me this is true.

Contact me via the email link in my profile, w/ yr address etc.

- RK

10:15 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't know if your blog is still active or not, Ron, but I just "borrowed" your scan of the classic, wonderful Pottery Pie album, and I thought I should leave a few notes as a thank you. Pottery Pie has long been one of my very favorite roots music LPs, and I've been lucky enough to have spent some time with Geoff Muldaur, recollecting (not a bad pun!) the inspirations for each of his songs.

First of all, Geoff, Joe and his brother, Warwick Boyd, were all school buddies and fellow record collectors. They're all still in close touch with one other.

After leaving the Kweskin Jug Band, Geoff and Maria recorded a 45 for Warner Brothers ("Sitting Alone in the Moonlight" b/w "Open Up Your Soul"), with the legendary Jerry Ragovoy producing. The couple then made a good start on a WB album but decided they weren't compatible with Ragovoy, and Mo Ostin (bless him!) let them throw out everything they'd done and start fresh. Pottery Pie was the result. (Incidentally, "pottery" is apparently slang meaning the same thing as "jugs", but Geoff isn't sure what he was thinking of when he came up with that title.)

"I'll Be Your Baby Tonight" was a new version of an obscure WB 45 by the Kweskin Jug Band, with Maria doing the lead vocal on both recordings. I'm not sure, but that single may have been the very first cover version of the Dylan classic.

Geoff sez that Terry Gilliam told him Monty Python used to put the record of "Brazil" on in their office and got down on their knees and prayed to it.

Pottery Pie was followed by a second Geoff and Maria album, Sweet Potatoes, and the couple worked on a pair of LPs by Paul Butterfield's Better Days at around the same time (all of these featuring guitarist Amos Garrett as well). After that they divorced, which is why Geoff and Maria began making solo albums after '72.

Btw, Ron, you may be interested to know that Geoff shares your love of bird watching and Japan (and is a great friend of Harry Hosono).

5:35 PM  

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