Maria Muldaur’s “Midnight at the Oasis” was a top selling single in 1974. Forty years later, she still performs the song — even while taking some liberties.
“I’ve done an album a year since ‘Midnight at the Oasis,’ and am most excited about the new music,” Muldaur tells us during a stop this week at Port Townsend, Washington’s Acoustic Blues Festival, “but when I play that song, you can see the reaction on people’s faces. It raises all kinds of very happy and, dare I say it, X-rated memories that flicker across peoples’ minds. It sparked people’s imagination. It’s a very romantic, sexy and happy song.”
Muldaur said she plays “Midnight at the Oasis” at every performance because it’s what people want to hear, but it is never exactly the same way twice. “The song is very jazzy,” she says. “I can spontaneously riff on it like a jazz tune and, if it even comes close to the original my, fans are happy. They don’t need to hear it the same way as the record. There is another bit of luck, that my big hit wasn’t ‘Wild Thing’ or some dumb three-chord song. It would have gotten really tedious by now.”
Muldaur, 70, was just 30 years old when her marriage to musical partner Geoff Muldaur dissolved. She expected to spend the winter supporting herself and her seven-year-old daughter Jenni (now a singer in her own right) as a waitress in Woodstock, N.Y., cafe.
On her way upstate, she visited Brooks Brothers in New York City to buy her soon-to-be-ex a fancy shirt as a going away present when she ran into the president of Warner Bros. Records. Mo Austin asked whether she had ever considered recording a solo album. Months later, she found herself in a recording studio with Clarence White, Ry Cooder, Dr. John and David Lindley, among others, recording a debut that would include her signature song.
“We needed another song for the album, something mid-tempo, so we came up with this one,” she said. “The drummer, Jim Gordon, made up the percolating groove that made the song work and we took it from there. Recently, another drummer friend of mine said that it was the first hip-hop song. I said there was no way, but he played me some hip hop beats and the drum track — and they were exactly the same.”
While recording the album, Muldaur had no desire for pop stardom or a Rolling Stone cover “but it just happened to me,” she tells us. “I just collected a bunch of songs that I knew and liked. I was just following my bliss. Pop stardom and fame never really interested me, but this success was a blessing. It has allowed me to support myself and continue my 50-year-plus odyssey through various parts of American roots music.”