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 Blue 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 Blue 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 Blue Lu Barker, resulting in a friendship that lasted for many years. “Because of my friendship with Blue 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 Blue 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 smolder with innuendo all the more. These were songs by hipsters, for hipsters,” says Muldaur.
Muldaur’s performance in tribute to Blue 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 fulfill. 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.” Don’t You Feel My Leg: The Naughty Bawdy Blues Of Blue Lu Barker
is due out September 28th.