Hard Again, the
first of four albums Muddy Waters recorded for CBS's Blue Sky
subsidiary, was also the first of four collaborations with guitarist
Johnny Winter. Waters' band at the time (1977) included guitarist Bob
Margolin, drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, and legendary piano man
Pinetop Perkins, and they were all present for the recording. Waters
asked James Cotton to play on the album too, and the harp wizard brought
along his bassist, Charles Calmese.
Though Waters had been
recording pretty regularly for Chess throughout most of the '60s, the
music trends of the day were moving in a different direction. During
most of the ’60s, the label started experimented with his sound with
varying results (Electric Mud, anyone?), and even his more
traditional releases during this time seemed to indicate that his glory
days of the late '40s and early '50s seemed far behind him. With Hard
Again, the passion seemed to resurface and it was like he was 32
again instead of 62.
Waters didn’t play guitar
during these sessions, but it doesn't really matter. The duo of Winter
and Margolin are incredible as they plunge through a set consisting of
Waters standards as well as some compelling new songs, complementing
each other perfectly throughout.
Cotton, too, is
awe-inspiring, sometimes sounding like he's going to blow the back off
his harmonica on "Mannish Boy" and other tracks like “Bus Driver,” and
the rowdy "The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock and Roll (#2)."
The always underrated Smith and Calmese provide a steady bottom to the
proceedings, and Pinetop is Pinetop, enough said. These guys had been
together so long that they had each other’s moves down pat.
The opening cut, "Mannish
Boy," has been heard on movies, TV shows, and commercials almost
non-stop for over 20 years and with good reason. It's an incendiary
track, as fiery as anything Waters ever recorded. Vocally, he's
confident and at the top of his game. Winter backs up Waters’ singing
with assorted whoops and hollers on this and other tracks that further
enhance the live feel of the album, not to mention the bond of
friendship the musicians shared. Various snippets of dialogue and banter
are present on several of the tracks.
The track list includes the
above mentioned songs and other standouts like a redo of “I Can’t Be
Satisfied,” which features some exceptional guitar by Winter, and the
original closer (a remake of “Walking Through The Park” closes the
expanded edition released in 2004), “Little Girl,” a seven-minute blues
opus with some great harp by Cotton.
Hard Again is as
strong a recording as anything Waters did with the Chess label, probably
due to the camaraderie between the performers. Listening to this
recording, you’re absolutely positive that these guys had a ball making
this record, which was Winter’s goal in making these records with
Waters: to make recording as fun for Waters as it was in the early days
of Chess….no bells, no whistles, just the blues.
Muddy Waters and Johnny
Winter teamed up for three more albums for Blue Sky, and while they were
all good, solid recordings, none of them approached the level of Hard
Again, which showed that the old tiger still had plenty left in the
--- Graham Clarke