Third Man Records
Muddy Waters had been a recording artist in some fashion since the early 1940s, but by 1968 the market for the blues had waned, and Muddy (and his record company) longed for another smash. So, Chess Records co-founder Marshall Chess decided to put the blues pioneer into the studio with Rotary Connection, a psychedelic band he had signed to Chess. The result is Electric Mud, now billed as “the most controversial blues album ever!”
Electric Mud consists of some of Waters’ biggest songs – “I Just Wanna Make Love to You”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I’m A Man” and more, and for his part, Muddy sounds great, vocally. But musically, well…Rotary Connection, which featured guitarists Phil Upchurch and latter-day Miles Davis guitarist Pete Cosey, goes all Haight-Asbury on the blues, and the 8 tracks here sounds a bit like Muddy singing with a hippy rock band. Waters derided the sound – the guitar sounded like “a cat’s meow” and the drums were “too busy” – both true, but fast forward to 2017, and this record has had a new life. Over the years it’s been praised by acts such as the Gorillaz (who sampled “I’m A Man”) and Cypress Hill, and despite it not being very much of a “blues” album, it pre-dated the “stoner rock” sound. You can’t really imagine acts such as Kyuss or Fu Manchu sounded as they do without the legacy of Electric Mud.
The record did achieve its purpose, selling 150,000 copies within 6 weeks of release, and giving Waters (and Chess Records) a much-needed hit. Marshall Chess tried it again with Howlin’ Wolf (who absolutely hated the result – The Howlin’ Wolf Record), and it wasn’t until the collaborations with Johnny Winter near the end of his career that Muddy ever achieved such sales again, but for hard-core blues fans, Electric Mud is at best a side-note in the career of Muddy Waters. But it has its appeal, and shows just how strong Muddy’s songs and voice were, despite the record sounding a bit like the soundtrack to all those ‘freaked out hippie” movies. Dig it, baby. Dig it.