For this month’s Deep Dive, we’re highlighting the work of two longtime members of the extended Arhoolie family, Ry Cooder and Taj Mahal, in anticipation of their forthcoming album Get On Board: The Songs of Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee.

We salute Ry and Taj for helping to keep roots music alive and vital through the years, and we look forward to hearing their new album! Coming this week will be a 1981 interview with Ry, archival footage of Taj, and a photo gallery of Sonny & Brownie.

Ry Cooder heard his first Arhoolie record in 1960 with Big Joe WIlliam’s album “Tough Times”.  He accompanied Chris Strachwitz and Les Blank on their tour of the border to film Chulas Fronteras, where he connected with Flaco Jimenez. In this 1981 interview with Chris, Ry talks about the dynamics of creating a band with elements of rock, norteno and rhythm and blues to play his songs. These two long time friends cover a lot of ground including Ry’s take on all-digital recording. Listen to the whole interview on our website and feel like you are sitting at the table with them.

By the early 1960s, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee were familiar faces in the Bay Area’s folk and blues scene. They frequently set up shop at the Berkeley home of Phil and Midge Huffman, a gathering place for musicians and friends passing through the Bay Area. Midge Huffman recounted those visits in an interview for Hear Me Howling, published by Arhoolie Records in 2010:

“Sonny and Brownie would stay two or three weeks at a time, and there would be a party every night. Brownie would stay up all night. Sonny would go to bed early. About four in the afternoon they would drift together and start to play. They’d play a very deep, soft blues. Then around seven or eight, people would arrive, and it would become a blues party. Every night we’d have ten to one hundred people.”

Taj Mahal Take This Hammer
Recorded February 6, 2011, Freight & Salvage, Berkeley, CA
Filmed by Maureen Gosling & Chris Simon © Arhoolie Foundation

Taj Mahal has been a longtime friend and fan of Arhoolie Records. He first met Chris Strachwitz at shows at the Ash Grove in Los Angeles in the 1960ss. Taj was a headliner at the 50th anniversary shows at the Freight & Salvage in Berkeley in 2011, where his solo set included songs at the piano, banjo, and guitar. Here he does “Take This Hammer,” an unreleased song from these concerts, which was originally recorded by Leadbelly in 1943 and included on the Sonny Terry & Brownie “Shouts and Blues” record in 1962.

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Statement on the passing of Chris Strachwitz

Arhoolie Records Founder
July 1, 1931 – May 5, 2023

We celebrate the life of our founder, friend, and great record man Chris Strachwitz. He died peacefully at home in Marin County, CA, surrounded in his last days by dear friends and family. Over his 91 years, Chris captured the music that represents the best “down home music” the world has to offer.

He was at the forefront of nearly all the roots revivals over the last 60 years including blues, zydeco, Cajun, Norteño and Tejano music. His drive to document traditional music helped introduce the nation to our diverse musical heritage. He had the foresight to save music that might have otherwise been lost to obscurity and played a role in strengthening cultural traditions through his records, films, and most recently the Arhoolie Foundation. He cared for those around him, fought for royalties and recognition for Arhoolie artists, and provided counsel to countless musicians, writers, film makers, and academics.

Plans for a public celebration of his life will be announced in the coming weeks. Today we’re thinking of all that Chris brought to our lives and the lives of the musicians and fans with whom he shared his passion.