Muddy Waters 100
Raisin' Music Records
Independent record label
Raisin' Music may have given blues fans
the best gift they'll receive all year with this
tribute to Muddy Waters in the year of what would
have been his 100th birthday. In addition to the 15
well-chosen covers by a large group of solid
musicians, the disc is packaged in a mini-book
containing an introduction from producer Larry
Skoller, extensive biography from noted music
historian Robert Gordon, and a large array of
vintage photographs of Muddy and his various
While this is in essence a "Various
Artists" collection, it's really John Primer's show
from start to finish. The former member of Magic
Slim's Teardrops and long one of the finest Chicago
bluesmen still on the scene today, Primer fronts the
various backing ensembles, and handles (or shares)
vocals and guitar on all 15 cuts.
If you're expecting exact
note-by-note renditions of Muddy's songs, be
prepared for a surprise. What makes this collection
so significant is that Primer and the many other
musicians involved in this project take Muddy's
music in a lot of different and sometimes
eye-opening directions. Considering Muddy himself
was quite the genre-buster in his day, I think he's
looking down and nodding his approval of the
versions of his classics.
First up is a more primal, earthy
version of "Got My Mojo Working," on which Primer
kicks off the vocals before being joined by the
powerful voice of Shemekia Copeland. With swampy
guitar accompaniment from Bob Margolin and Billy
Flynn and rather creative electronic percussion
sounds from Kenny "Beedy Eyes" Smith, this version
of Muddy's oft-covered signature tune will be unlike
any you've heard before.
Derek Trucks joins the band to
contribute eerie slide guitar on the dirge-like
version of "Still A Fool," a song that will leave
you haunted by its earthy yet sometimes psychedelic
Bob Margolin's exquisite slide
guitar playing provides the perfect compliment to
Primer's rough-hewn vocals on one of Muddy's
earliest recordings, "I Be's Troubled." At first
sounding pretty close to Muddy'[s original, Blaise
Barton's drum loop programming provides a unique
beat behind the small ensemble. In case you're
skeptical, yeah, it works.
The next number, "I'm Ready,"
features one of the last recordings made by the late
Johnny Winter, who played slide guitar on this one
just five weeks before he passed away. "I'm Ready"
was always one of my favorite Muddy songs, and
Primer, Winter, Margolin, Smith, Johnny Iguana
(keyboards) and Felton Crews (bass) do it justice,
especially with Winters' superb slide work.
"Mannish Boy" is next, featuring one
of the smaller ensembles on the album, and sounds
pretty much like you'd expect until Barton's drum
loop programming kicks in. At first I wasn't sure if
I liked this addition to a classic song, but the
contemporary rhythm it provides made me appreciate
what the producers and musicians were trying to do
here --- honoring Muddy but also bringing something
new to his music.
Another very early Muddy song,
"Rosalie," brings in guest Steve Gibbons on fiddle,
giving this 1942 number a similar sound to the
original from The Son Sims Four (of which Muddy was
a member). Margolin's acoustic guitar and Flynn's
mandolin picking contribute to the string band sound
of decades past. The Chicago-based Gibbons reminds
us that the fiddle was once an integral part of the
early blues sound.
According to the liner notes, "Why
Don't You Live So God Can Use You" was the only
gospel song ever recorded by Muddy, part of the 1942
Library of Congress field recordings orchestrated by
Alan Lomax. This version features Vincent Bucher on
harmonca and Leanne Faine on vocals, taking the
listener on a stirring and emotional trip down to
the riverside. This just might the most powerful
number on this album. Lord, have mercy!
Going back to more of a straight
Chicago blues, "Good News" welcomes the harmonica
accompaniment of the legendary James Cotton along
with fine guitar playing from Margolin. It's an
upbeat blues shuffle showing that Mr. Cotton still
deserves the title of "Mr. Superharp."
"Trouble No More" is another song
taken into the 21st century with Barton's synth bass
and drum loop programming, plus the rather unique
inclusion of Tim Gant's clavichord. Special guest is
Billy Branch, whose harmonica playing perfectly
accentuates Primer's vocals. It's certainly
A stripped-down quartet of Primer,
Matthew Skoller (harmonica), Flynn and Smith stay
much closer to the original Chess Studio sound on
"She Moves Me," which the liner notes point out that
the original of this song was the first in which
Little Walter plugged his harmonica into an
amplifier. Skoller does a nice job on harp while
Smith lays down a steady, slow beat on drums.
Branch returns on harmonica on the
up-tempo "Can't Get No Grindin'," which is also
highlighted by a torching organ solo from Iguana.
Smith once again puts down a steady beat on drums,
just has his father, Williie "Big Eyes" Smith, did
on the 1972 original of this song.
Primer growls out the first lines of
"Forty Days and Forty Nights," just like Muddy in
1956, giving the number its appropriate earthiness
and almost frightening sound. Gary Clark Jr. joins
the band to provide a snaky slide guitar solo in the
middle of the song.
"Last Time I Fool Around With You"
brings Keb' Mo' onboard to play slide guitar, with
Iguana's piano playing and Barton's accompaniment on
guiro and shekere adding to the effectiveness of
this tune. (I had to look to Wikipedia to find out
about the guiro and shekere --- both are percussion
instruments, the former from Latin America and the
latter from Africa).
Primer does some of his best vocal
work on the blues shuffle "I Feel So Good," a
version that sticks pretty close to the original,
with Cotton playing harmonica just like he did on
Muddy's 1959 recording.
Closing this wonderful collection is
a version of the 1948 classic, "Feel Like Going
Home." We're now stripped down to a trio, just like
Muddy was using in that period. Primer handles
vocals and guitar, with Crews on bass and Smith on
drums. What a great version of one of Muddy's finest
recordings. It's an appropriate ending to this
tribute to arguably the finest bluesman ever.
This is an essential purchase for
any blues fan --- no doubt about it! Don't hesitate.
Buy it the minute it's available.