Monday, March 26, 2018


It occurs to me that there is probably a whole generation of music fans that only know Muddy Waters from his appearance in the The Last Waltz movie. Not that it wasn't good, it's just that he was near the end of his life at that point, and comes across more as the genial, revered grandfather figure, rather than the dangerous performer and massive innovator that he truly was. This set would be a fine place for anyone to go to pick up on that.

First off, they'd need to know these weren't cliches when Muddy sang them, he was putting them down for the first time. They were either new then, or gathered from old acoustic blues numbers, and being assembled for these new versions, you know, the blues tradition, either his own tracks or the ones he popularized by Willie Dixon. And when they hear Muddy do You Need Love, they'll recognize where Led Zeppelin got their songs. The sexy stuff, not the lyrics about hobbits and shit.

You can't go too wrong with a Muddy Waters collection, and this two-disc set does it just about perfectly. Unveiled chronologically, it traces Waters from acoustic to fully electric, and marks the explosion of Chess blues that he led in the '50's. While there aren't any of his sides previous to Chess, the initial cuts here, such as I Can't Be Satisfied, show him still in the acoustic field with just slide and bass, in the Delta blues style of mentors such as Son House. But soon he teamed up with the other greats of Chess, and exploded that particularly threatening, big city blues at which he was the master, more sophisticated than Howlin' Wolf, his great rival.

The second disc here follows Waters through the second half of his career, as his fame grew thanks to all those white boys from England bowing at his feet. Although it's usually the earlier material that draws the most praise, there were plenty of albums and tracks from the mid-'60's to the mid-'70's worthy of repeating play. Plus, there's the still-divisive Electric Mud album to discuss, Chess's attempt to modernize the master after the success of the Stones, Cream, etc. It keeps getting better with age, separated from the controversy over the premise at the time. Quite simply though, here's two hours of the real thing, and a kind of wish I was young again just so I could hear it all over for the first time.

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