The Anthology 1947-1972
Fathers And Sons
To not know Muddy Waters is to not know American music. His songs — such as “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” and “Mannish Boy” — are standards, and his versions of blues classics such as “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” and “Got My Mojo Working” are definitive. Born in Mississippi in 1915, he absorbed the sounds around him — namely Son House, whose bottleneck style of guitar playing echoed in Muddy’s work for years, and Charley Patton, a seminal force on the Delta blues scene. Waters took these influences with him to Chicago, and there, on the Chess label (along with other luminaries such as Willie Dixon and Howlin’ Wolf), created a new language of blues. Raw, driving, and technically stellar, the work of Muddy Waters that found release on Chess is his most compelling and vital. The Anthology 1947-1972 gathers together 50 examples of his genius, from the 1947 rave-up “Gypsy Woman” to “Can’t Get No Grindin'” from 1972. In between are the classics that showcase Waters’ knifing slide guitar and growling, compelling vocals. As an introduction to his work, this set works fine.
To call Waters influential is to damn him with faint praise. He was more than that, he is required learning in Blues 101. In 1969, Muddy held a refresher course with some of his more gifted students, Michael Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. Backed by longtime Waters band mate Otis Spann on piano, bassist Donald “Duck” Dunn (from Booker T. and the MG’s) and blues timekeeper par excellence Sam Lay on drums, the group recorded a number of Waters classics such as “I’m Ready,” “Country Boy,” and “Walking Thru the Park,” among others, and released it as Fathers And Sons. Aptly titled, the record has long been regarded as a classic, and this reissue adds four cuts left off the original. Butterfield, perhaps the best white harmonica player ever, adds a fire to the songs that seems to propel Waters along. Michael Bloomfield shines as well, but in a more supportive fashion — don’t think he really wanted to go head to head with Muddy, guitar-wise, and who would blame him? The six live cuts that close out the record are enjoyable in spite of the doctored crowd noise that permeates the cuts, and feature Buddy Miles on a frantic “Mojo.”
Both sets are worth picking up, particularly Fathers And Sons. If these releases start your journey into the magic of Muddy, then make sure to check out the work he did with Johnny Winter near the end of his life. Even then, performing sitting on a stool, Muddy Waters could melt your ears off, snarling and barking all the while. It is almost impossible to overrate his contribution to American music and popular culture. He is to the blues what Louis Armstrong was to jazz, or Jimi Hendrix to rock. Never has feeling bad sounded so good.