It's impossible to listen Muddy Waters' first recordings without an awareness of everything that came after; and in many ways, it's distortive to try, for it was these sessions that aroused thoughts of professionalism and commercial recording in the young Waters.Nevertheless, it's important to realise that what Alan Lomax heard in 1941-1942 was not yet the embryonic sound of Chicago blues, but rather the latest developments in the guitar blues of Coahoma County, Mississippi. Jake Gittes
One of the best recordings in Chess Records' 50th Anniverary series is the first of two bookend Muddy Waters collections, His Best 1947-55. Documenting Waters's most creatively and commercially successful years at Aristocrat/Chess, this collection begins with his formative years and ends with Waters at his peak. So you're in for a lot of terrific bottleneck slide guitar work as well as electric Chicago blues; what's to criticize? Superb remasterings of "I Can't Be Satisfied", "Rollin' and Tumblin'," "I'm Ready", and "Mannish Boy" are simply beyond reproach. With simple bass accompaniment from Ernest "Big" Crawford, Waters's bottleneck tracks are spare, haunting and, quite frankly, perfect country blues. And listening to Waters, Little Walter, Willie Dixon, and Jimmy Rogers piece together (and perfect very quickly) the classic Chicago sound is pure blues epiphany. At the very least, this collection shows you why Waters's rollicking stop-time classics like "Mannish Boy" and "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" have sparked endless imitations over the years–and why nobody has played them better since.
Starkly printed in black and white with washed-out, grainy photographs, this is one heavy slab of blues by a player who is not as well-known as he should be. Guitarist Jimmy Rogers was usually overshadowed by the leaders he worked for, Muddy Waters particularly. He was also sometimes confused with the hillbilly singer Jimmie Rodgers, and although they might have sounded good together, they don't have anything in common. This reissue collection grabs 14 tracks done at various times in the mostly early '50s which involve practically a who's who of performers associated with the most intense and driving Chicago blues. This includes the aforementioned Waters, leaving behind his role as leader for a few numbers to add some stinging guitar parts. There is also a pair of harmonica players, each of whom could melt vinyl siding with their playing. These are the Walters, big and little, as in Big Walter Horton and Little Walter. Pianist Otis Spann, bassist Willie Dixon, and drummer Fred Belew are also on hand, meaning the rhythm section action is first class.
At Newport 1960 is a live album by Muddy Waters performed at Newport Jazz Festival in Newport, Rhode Island, with his backing band, consisting of Otis Spann (piano, vocals), Pat Hare (guitar), James Cotton (harmonica), Andrew Stevens (bass) and Francis Clay (drums), on July 3. Waters's performances across Europe in the 1950s and at Newport helped popularize blues to a broader audience, especially to whites. The album is said to be one of the first live blues albums.
Of all the post-Fathers & Sons attempts at updating Muddy's sound in collaboration with younger white musicians, this album worked best because they let Muddy be himself, producing music that compared favorably to his concerts of the period, which were wonderful. His final album for Chess (recorded at Levon Helm's Woodstock studio, not in Chicago), with Helm and fellow Band-member Garth Hudson teaming up with Muddy's touring band, it was a rocking (in the bluesy sense) soulful swansong to the label where he got his start. Muddy covers some songs he knew back when (including Louis Jordan's "Caldonia" and "Let The Good Times Roll"), plays some slide, and generally has a great time on this Grammy-winning album. This record got lost in the shuffle between the collapse of Chess Records and the revival of Muddy's career under the auspices of Johnny Winter, and was forgotten until 1995. The CD contains one previously unreleased number, "Fox Squirrel".
After the Rain dates from the most controversial period in Muddy Waters' history – along with its predecessors, Electric Mud (probably the most critically despised album in Muddy's catalog) and Brass and the Blues (an effort to turn him into B.B. King), it came out of an era in which Chess Records was desperately thrashing around trying any musical gambit to boost the sales of its top blues stars. But unlike Electric Mud, in which the repertoire selected by producer Marshall Chess was mostly unsuited, and the musical settings provided by Phil Upchurch, Pete Cosey et al. were too loud and too frenetic for Muddy's style of singing, After the Rain simply let him be Muddy Waters.
Muddy Waters was the single most important artist to emerge in post-war American blues. A peerless singer, a gifted songwriter, an able guitarist, and leader of one of the strongest bands in the genre (which became a proving ground for a number of musicians who would become legends in their own right), Waters absorbed the influences of rural blues from the Deep South and moved them uptown, injecting his music with a fierce, electric energy and helping pioneer the Chicago Blues style that would come to dominate the music through the 1950s, ‘60s, and '70s. The depth of Waters' influence on rock as well as blues is almost incalculable, and remarkably, he made some of his strongest and most vital recordings in the last five years of his life.