The music world gathered at The Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C. in October 1997 for a tribute to Muddy Waters. The result of that three-hour concert was this CD and a 75-minute video. While the recorded legacy of that show cannot begin to capture the magic of the evening for those lucky enough to be there, the rest of us can at least try to imagine what it was like through the CD and video.
The backing band for the tribute consisted of former "Saturday Night Live" musical director G.E. Smith and his band, and also included former Muddy guitarist Bob Margolin, harmonica legend Charlie Musselwhite, and ex-Chuck Berry pianist Johnnie Johnson. In watching the video, you'll be amazed at the consistently wonderful piano work of Johnson; the man is incredible. Muddy's longtime keyboardist Pinetop Perkins was supposed to be part of the show, but missed his flight to D.C. While it would have been nice to have had Pinetop be part of the tribute, Johnson's presence just added so much to the evening.
The CD opens with Muddy's 1955 Chess recording of "Trouble No More," followed by snippets of spoken tributes from the various stars on the show.
One of the best moments on the CD comes from the least-known of the special guests, Mem Shannon. The New Orleans native does a very nice version of "Gypsy Woman." I never before realized how much he resembles Muddy vocally. Other highlights include Koko Taylor's "Long Distance Call" and Robert Junior Lockwood's stark "Mean Red Spider." This concert also served the purpose of introducing Muddy's son, Big Bill Morganfield, to the blues world, and he turns in a very nice version of "Hoochie Coochie Man."
Other guests on the CD and video are Keb' Mo', Buddy Guy, John Hiatt, Peter Wolf, Phoebe Snow and Nick Gravenites.
The evening ended with all participants on stage for a rousing version of, what else, "Got My Mojo Workin'," with the younger Morganfield taking the vocal lead.
The video is worth its price just for the short documentary on Muddy's life, including some rare video footage and still photos.
--- Bill Mitchell
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