John’s Blues Picks July 2015 – “Muddy Waters 100”
Various Artists “Muddy Waters 100″ (Raisin’ Music)
John Primer was in Muddy Waters’ last band. He was already then and is to this day the foremost practitioner of Muddy’s style of Chicago Blues. He brings to this role a unique ability to keep the music sounding fresh. It is fitting then that this tribute to Muddy on his Centenary is built around him. He gets an enormous amount of help from a Who’s Who in blues today. The rhythm section is the same as on Raisin’ Music’s Chicago History discs: Billy Flynn on guitar, Felton Crews on bass, Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith on drums and Johnny Iguana on keys. They can play anything and the new settings of Muddy’s most famous songs get most impressive performances here.
“Mojo” leads off with Shemekia Copeland joining Primer in a version that will make you forget how often you’ve heard it. “Still A Fool” has Derek Trucks playing slide. “I’s Be Troubled” has long time Muddy band member Bob Margolin on slide. The song cleverly begins and ends sounding like the 78rpm disc on which it was first heard.
“I’m Ready” has one of the last recorded performances of Johnny Winter. This track just smokes. There are no guests on “Mannish Boy” but there is a prominent percussion part that seems quite at odds with the band performance plus some effects on Primer’s vocal. Perhaps this is a comment on Electric Mud. “Rosalie” goes back to Muddy’s Lomax recordings at Stovall’s Plantation. This acoustic performance features a superb violinist, Steve Gibons, taking on the role of Son Sims on the original along with Billy Flynn on mandolin.
The later Muddy single, “Good News”, is done in a more traditional style with James Cotton supplying his usual wonderful harmonica, after all he played on the original in 1957. “Trouble No More” gets a more contemporary treatment with a heavily distorted keyboard and Billy Branch on harp. “She Moves Me” has Mathew Skoller on harp in a version that reverts to the original. “Can’t Get No Grindin’”, has Branch on harp and group harmony vocals. Iguana solos on organ.
Gary Clark Jr. has no trouble moving from traditional to contemporary styles and that’s what he does on this version of “Forty Days”. The clippity-clop percussion track is back here, slightly less prominently. It’s also present on the rarely performed “Last Time I Fool Around With You” which has Keb’ Mo’ as the slide guitarist. “I Feel So Good” is much more traditional and a fine performance that Cotton solos on to great effect.
The program concludes with “Feel Like Going Home”, again in a most traditional form. The slide part here is perfect, Primer this time. Primer has done a marvelous job for his mentor and producer Larry Skoller has assembled a fitting tribute that combines traditional and contemporary in a most listenable way. The originals are imprinted in our subconscious and I think you’ll agree he’s overcome that.
The disc comes with a 48-page book full of rare photos and a new essay by Muddy biographer, Robert Gordon.