I’m trying to finish a mixtape with two songs by the brilliant guitarist Ellen McIlwaine. Looking at an old interview with McIlwaine archived on Ear of Newt I noticed this little vignette about Taj Mahal and the calming power of music.
Another blues artist McIlwaine raves about these days is her longtime friend Taj Mahal, who sang on a couple of Spontaneous Combustion tracks, including a reggae version of the old call-and-response ditty, “Mockingbird”. McIlwaine’s been wanting to record that song with Taj for a long time.
“I saw him do ‘Mockingbird’ with Etta James on TV once,” she says, “and I thought, ‘Goshdarnit, I’m gonna ask him to sing on this.’ ’Cause I used to volunteer at a children’s hospital, and one time there was a child in a lot of distress, and I didn’t know exactly what I was gonna do—I was still new. But I picked him up and started singing ‘Mockingbird’, and he got really quiet. I looked down at him after a couple of lines, and his little head was goin’ back and forth. So I figured it was a cool tune, and I started doin’ it on stage.”
I can’t find her doing Mockingbird, but here is one of my favorite tracks, “Weird of Hermiston:”
And here is McIlwaine live at the Ottowa folk festival.