We continue to be blessed with product from the old Chess vaults and this is a prime example showing some of what the label offered; a man who, almost single-handedly, changed the course of blues. Born and bred in the Mississippi Delta, McKinley Morganfield was nicknamed Muddy Waters as a child, and carried that name and upbringing to Chicago, where he settled and resided for the rest of his long life. After landing at Aristocrat, where his friend, Sunnyland Slim, was recording, Waters began cutting records for the label in the late 1940's. It was 1950 when the imprint was renamed Chess, after Leonard and Phil, and by then, Muddy had already turned the music world on its collective ear by infusing his Delta-influenced blues with distorted amplification and an edge that had only been hinted at prior to his arrival.
This compilation is a straight reissue of two individual LP's originally issued in the 1960's, when the Chess label was attempting to cash in on the interest in folk music, thanks in part to the rediscovery of men like Skip James, Sleepy John Estes, Bukka White, and others who had recorded decades earlier. These Chess albums sold in fair quantities but may have done better had the label been more honest in marketing their contents. While issuing long-playing records with the words, "Real Folk Blues" as part of the title, what these recordings actually boasted was loud and raucous Chicago Blues recorded mostly in the 1950's and early 60's. With that in mind, a look at this 70-minute, 24 track CD offers countless gems, including booming band workouts and pensive, reflective tracks where Muddy is in his element playing the searing bottleneck style he was known for.
Leading off with "Mannish Boy," backed by a 'canned' group of females shouting approval at Muddy's accomplishments as a real man, the grinding guitar work shines, as does Muddy's slide playing on "Screaming And Crying," while heavily amplified harp adds to the proceedings in "Just To Be With You." The short but smoldering guitar break in "Walking Through The Park" comes from Pat Hare, and Muddy is joined only by longtime partner and acoustic bass player, Ernest "Big" Crawford, for "Walking Blues" and "Canary Bird." It was the insistence of Leonard Chess that kept Muddy, for a number of years, from releasing what later became the blueprint for ensemble-styled Chicago Blues. Waters hit the big time with "I Can't Be Satisfied," an Aristocrat 78 with wildly distorted slide guitar, where the only help was from Crawford's percussive upright bass, and Leonard Chess seemed determined to score with another hit, although nothing else reached this level of commercial acceptance until Muddy was allowed to bring in his other assistants. By 1950, Waters was using a core of musicians that became stars when they struck out on their own, and shined just as brightly when backing their bandleader; Little Walter Jacobs, Jimmy Rogers, Otis Spann, James Cotton, and many others found the spotlight in later years after working an apprenticeship in Waters' bands.
The jazz leanings show in "The Same Thing," where Spann is remarkable, and it was this man who was closer to Muddy than any other; they were often called half-brothers because of their longstanding respect and admiration for each other. Holding the piano chair from 1953 until his departure in 1969, Spann was only then replaced by Pinetop Perkins, while many others came and went. Sunnyland Slim is aboard for the Aristocrat side, "Gypsy Woman," and "Rollin' And Tumblin' " features Waters' heavy slide that called back the spirit of Hambone Willie Newbern, who wrote the Delta classic years before. "Sad Letter" and "Gonna Need My Help" find Muddy in the company of Crawford's slapping bass and Little Walter's distinct, unamplified harp while "Down South Blues" recalls the roll-and-tumble feel, and "Kind-Hearted Woman," taken from Robert Johnson, serves up more of the talents of Waters and Crawford, playing like they were joined at the hip. The rocking Chicago bandmates return for "She's All Right," and Walter's harp sparkles, and the disc closes out with "Honey Bee," a Windy City gem that has been covered numerous times by others deeply indebted to Muddy Waters. The disc also includes "Appealing Blues," "Too Young To Know," "My Life Is Ruined," and many more, while packaging is top-shelf with interesting liner notes and session information.
There's plenty of vintage Chicago Blues available today, thanks to a growing interest from fans and labels alike, but there simply isn't much better than what's here. Muddy Waters consistently put together excellence in the studios in his earlier days, and went on to superstar status later in life, thanks to his influence, which hit varied targets from Eric Clapton to the Yardbirds, gave the Rolling Stones their name, and even went on to help name a music newspaper. This is a stellar collection of 1940's Aristocrat favorites and nuggets from the Chess label in the 1950's and 60's. Grabbing two discs for the price of one is always an exercise in smart buying, and thanks to MCA/Chess, it's become even easier with their recent reissue series of "The Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues." Also readily available are discs by Sonny Boy Williamson, John Lee Hooker, and Howlin' Wolf. For more information, www.universalchronicles.com is a good place to start, or search internet retailers and neighborhood record stores with solid blues stock.
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