Reviewed on this page:
Sings Big Bill Broonzy - Folk Singer -
The Super Super Blues Band -
The London Muddy Waters Sessions - Hard Again
For many people, Muddy Waters is the heart and soul of electric blues: the lowdownest, grittiest, roughest, toughest of them all... the least polished and thus the most genuine.
And for that reason, he's been the most influential Chicago blues artist on rock and rollers from Eric Clapton to Jimi Hendrix.
Me, I'd rather listen to B.B. King - I find Waters records so poorly recorded, his band so slipshod, his voice so unmusical, his tempos so slow, I simply can't relate to it as
music. Be that as it may, Waters basically invented Chicago blues in the late 40s when he amplified his Delta blues slide-guitar style - like so many blues legends, Waters was born in Mississippi -
and began playing with a rhythm section. He rose to his commercial and critical peak in the 50s and 60s, lost ground when psychedelic blues caught fire, but kept plugging away until his death in 1983 at the age of 68.
I guess you might as well check out his official site, despite the time-wasting intro.
Down On Stovall's Plantation (rec. 1941-2, rel. 1960)
One of Alan Lomax's famous Library of Congress field recordings; I believe these are the earliest recordings of Waters.
Sings Big Bill Broonzy (1959)
Ten songs from the Mississippi singer's enormous catalog, recorded a year after Broonzy's death. The disc sums up everything I don't like about Waters: the lumbering drums (by Francey Clay), absurdly strident harmonica (by James
Cotton), the guitar (by Pat Hare) going up and down in the mix at random, tuneless vocals ("Tell Me Baby") and no harmonic variety - the album is one forty-minute midtempo 12-bar blues in E. ("Mopper's Blues" is the one exception,
faster, more clearly sung and performed.)
I have nothing bad to say about
Otis Spann on piano or Andrew Stephenson on bass, but there's not much for them to do. Seminal but mostly unlistenable: the blues equivalent of The Velvet Underground And Nico.
In Newport (1960)
Reputedly a classic, with definitive versions of his best known material, including "Baby Please Don't Go," "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Got My Mojo Workin'."
Folk Singer (1964)
Just a few years after practically inventing the blues band format, Waters cast it aside to cut an album of guitar duets with Buddy Guy -
and I'm glad he did. Without the raucous band, he doesn't have to yell to make himself heard, which leaves room for more emotional renderings ("You Gonna Need My Help"),
and his acoustic guitar accompaniment (occasionally on slide) is pleasingly subtle.
Guy is just as restrained - often it sounds like there's only one guitarist playing - and the austerity often suits the downbeat material ("Cold Weather Blues").
Three tracks also feature drums and bass, but they're in the same low-key style, and more entertaining than anything on Big Bill Broonzy ("Good Morning School Girl").
Most of the tunes are by Waters ("My Home Is In The Delta," "Long Distance"), with Willie Dixon contributing "My Captain" and "Big Leg Woman" coming courtesy of John Temple.
Nothing like the Chicago blues that made Waters a legend, and so morose I frankly don't want to hear it that often, but it's a blues master at his purest.
Muddy, Brass And Blues (1966)
Super Blues (Bo Diddley, Muddy Waters, Little Walter: 1967)
The Super Super Blues Band (Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley: 1968)
I'd heard this was a chaotic supersession with Waters, Howlin' Wolf and Bo Diddley, but
everyone forgot to tell me it's a stone classic. Cut in the last days of the Summer of
Love, the album captures the trepidation and uncertainty of a moment when urban black audiences had turned
from Chess's electric blues to Motown and Aretha, while
young whites had abandoned the sock hop rock and roll that Diddley exemplified in favor of a psychedelic take
on... Chess's electric blues. That subtext enlivens every friendly jab between the leaders: There's a lengthy
back and forth concerning who paid for Bo's girlfriend's car - that everpresent rock 'n' roll signifier - and
who's driving it. Encroachments on each artist's repertoire are met with initial defensiveness ("You don't know
nothin' about that spoonful" "I know all about it, but Bo Diddley don't know
about it"), then grudging acceptance ("How was that?" "Pretty good") through resignation ("You done stole my howl
from me" Wolf tells Waters ruefully). Musical styles struggle first for dominance, then coexistence: slide guitar
and Otis Spann's piano represent the old guard; bass, drums and Cookie Vee's backing vocals connote Diddley's
American Bandstand era; wild wah-wah guitar and someone's off-mike screams welcome the hippies and freaks to the
party. Pseudo-intellectual musings aside, the disc is hugely entertaining; because Waters and Diddley had already
offered up their biggest hits on the prior Little Walter date (though "Long Distance Call" is called back), most
of the tunes are Wolf's - nothing wrong with that ("Little Red Rooster") - plus a cover of
"Sweet Little Angel."
Electric Mud (1968)
Chess next plunged all the way into psychedelic blues (Wolf cut This Is Howlin' Wolf's New Album soon after), and it's supposed to be unbearable. Features a cover of "Let's Spend The Night Together," presumably
the only song ever tackled by both Waters and Charo.
Fathers And Sons (1969)
Another supersession, with Mike Bloomfield, Buddy Miles, Duck Dunn
and Paul Butterfield.
Live At Mr. Kelly's (1971)
The London Muddy Waters Sessions (1972)
The lineup's not as impressive as Howlin' Wolf's London disc, but more impressive than Chuck Berry's:
Steve Winwood, Mitch Mitchell, Rich Grech and Georgie Fame. They keep a steady groove, with Mitchell's Elvin
Jones-inspired flash adding interest to overfamiliar tunes like "Key To The Highway."
Irish rocker Rory Gallagher is your basic bad blues guitarist, spinning out the usual licks without any verve or sense of structure (Dixon's "Young Fashioned Ways").
As on his own albums, Waters is frequently drowned out by his band, and since only a few of the tunes are his - the rest are blues standards - it's easy to forget he's supposed to be the leader, except on the terrific
bandless guitar duet with longtime Waters associate Sammy Lawhorn ("Walkin' Blues") - an indication that the album concept was fundamentally flawed.
Can't Get No Grindin' (1973)
Includes many new compositions including "Funky Butt." Also this year Waters appeared on The Blues...
A Real Summit Meeting - I like that performance more than anything I've heard on his own records.
Unk In Funk (1974)
Hard Again (1977)
Produced by Johnny Winter, who also plays guitar; the rest of the players are Pine Top Perkins (piano), Bob Margolin (guitar), Charles Calmese (bass), Willie Smith (drums) and Cotton. They're a professional blues/rock machine,
so they pound out "Mannish Boy" and "Bus Driver" with appropriate heaviness, but by the same token they're a bit lacking in deftness and variety.
On the one hand, Waters is better heard here than on London Sessions, Cotton manages not to overwhelm his features, and Winter plays his usual solid leads ("Jealous Hearted Man").
On the other hand, the material is so familiar - "I Want To Be Loved," "I Can't Be Satisfied," etc. - it's hard to get too enthused.
Take it or leave it.
I'm Ready (1978)
Also produced by Winter. (DBW)
No, Wilson & Alroy can't be satisfied.