Hattiesburg's Blanton scores Grammy nomination

By BETH BUNCH,

The Hub City’s Thomas Blanton can add a new accomplishment to his list of titles - Hattiesburg businessman/oilman, Mississippi Power foe, former Southern District Mississippi Public Commissioner candidate and now executive producer for a Grammy-nominated album.

Blanton was notified about 6:30 a.m. Friday that Maria Muldaur’s album, “Don’t You Feel My Leg, The Naughty Bawdy Blues of Blue Lu Barker,” had received a Grammy nomination in the category of Best Traditional Blues Album. Blanton serves as executive producer for the album, which was produced and released on Sept. 28 of last year, two days prior to the 2018 deadline for Grammy nominations.

This is the second year in a row that Hattiesburg has laid claim to someone connected to a Grammy-nomination. Last year, Vasti Jackson was nominated for his first Grammy for his CD, “The Soul of Jimmie Rodgers.”

Hattiesburg native Craig Wiseman, a songwriter living in Nashville, won a Grammy in 2003 for “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw as Best Country Song.

Muldaur is best known for her 1973 million-seller hit, Midnight at the Oasis. This newest album is her 41st and her first studio album in six years. This album pays tribute to Blue Lu Barker, a popular vocalist and songwriter of the late 30s and early 40s. 

Blanton first became familiar with Muldaur at a coffeehouse in Cambridge, Mass, right around the time her 1973 album had been released.

“I had followed her career, but had not seen her in a long time,” Blanton said. “I really didn’t know her back then, I was just kind of somebody in the audience, but she was a big deal back then.”

Fast forward to 2017 where Muldaur was playing at The Howlin’ Wolf in New Orleans one weekend. Blanton happened to be in town, as did a couple of music friends, who were also friends of Muldaurs.

 The friends, including Blanton and Muldaur, got together for brunch prior to her Sunday night show. 

“I made friends with her, and we started talking, emailing and I was keeping up with what she was doing,” Blanton said. “She mentioned a project she wanted to do but lacked the finances to do it. It was this album, which she’d been thinking about doing for years.”

Blanton told her to come up with a plan, which she did. It was a plan he could live with.

They decided they’d get in and out of the studio as quickly as possible with single takes and not a lot of over dubbing.

Blanton said a team of New Orlean’s players, the best people in town, were hired, and they prepared to head into the studio.

In the meantime, Muldaur, sick at home, had been emailing Bill Wyman of Rolling Stones fame, who had retired and was into Muldaur’s kind of music – roots and blues.

She mentioned heading into the studio in the spring to cut an album, but was looking for someone to distribute it for her in Europe. Wyman sent it to Malcom Mills, whose subsidiary, Proper Music Distribution is the UK’s largest independent music distributor and the third-largest distributor overall, after Universal and Sony.

According to Blanton, Mills and Muldaur had a record contract hammered before she’d even recorded the songs, which began in early June and carried over into July.

“The deal was we were going to finish everything so quickly that we’d have cover art  and liner notes done and all the masters to Mills before July 20, so he could have records out in distribution by Sept. 28, and make the 2018 Grammy deadline, which was Sept 30,” Blanton said.

“We went into overdrive with everybody working like crazy. We hired super-duper photo and makeup people to come into New Orleans and make the 75-year-old Muldaur glamorous.”

Blanton is really not surprised by the nomination.

“She recorded her last album in her living room and she’s just a tremendous performer and has incredible talent,” he said.

Blanton said he kind of had an expectation the album would fit well in the Traditional Blues category and would probably get nominated.

“I’ve been involved in a few of these before and they usually just turn into a money pit,” Blanton said. “But Maria was very frugal about it. And yes, we went over budget because we had to redo a few things – bring in more horns and to fill out the section – but I just felt like this album was done by a person who is one of the great practitioners of singing the blues, and gives killer performances.

“I’m kind of expecting we’re going to win.”

Blanton said while it still feels like a dream, a lightning bolt out of the blue sky, he will be at the Staples Center in Los Angeles on Feb. 10, no matter how hard a ticket it is to come by.