Sunday, March 4, 2018

Just One Song - Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters
She's Alright
Electric Mud (1968)

There's great irony in the fact that, in 1968, as the fortunes of the Rolling Stones were on a dramatic rise, those of the man from whom they'd borrowed their name were languishing.

By all rights, Muddy Waters' record sales should have benefitted from the surge of interest on the part of British kids and later Americans in music by American blues musicians. But by the mid-sixties, Muddy's record company, Chess Records, had determined that his sales were low enough that drastic steps needed to be taken. The Chess brothers had introduced many great artists and much great music to the world but their solution to Muddy's troubles indicated that they were hardly infallible.

The solution in this case was to try to boost Muddy's hip quotient - as if he needed it - and team him up with a few sidemen and Rotary Connection, a garage rock psychedelic band of the type that seemed to be multiplying like rabbits at the time and whose six album releases in the late Sixties and early Seventies have since lapsed into obscurity (and whose ranks included singer Minnie Riperton, trivia fans). The album was released on a hipper Chess Records spinoff label, and was followed a year later by a similar effort from Howlin' Wolf and many of the same musicians.

The result of all this foolishness was an album called Electric Mud, which tried for a new spin on some old Muddy favorites and tossed in a Rolling Stones cover (Let's Spend the Night Together) and a trippy and rather silly take on current events called Herbert Harper's Free Press News. It sold well but opinions varied as to the results. Blues lovers tended to look down their nose at it and even Muddy apparently was not enamored with it, though he seem to express varying opinions about the record over the years.

I've listened to my fair share of blues over the years but I'm far from being a purist. Like so many white American rock and roll kids who grew up in the Seventies, my intro to the form was via the likes of Cream, Foghat, George Thorogood and other rockers interpreting the works of the old bluesmen. Purist or not, I gave Electric Mud one listen and that was enough. Maybe I should give it a few more spins, just to be fair. But first impressions count for a lot and besides, there's so much music I haven't heard and so much more I want to hear again and no time to waste on clunkers.

But there is one song that stood out from this uninspired pack, a number with the bland and uninspired title, She's Alright. It clocks in at little over two minutes on Muddy's earlier versions, which are quite fine but this version might as well be a different song altogether. Here it's psychedelically stretched out to nearly seven minutes.

But speaking of Cream (and I believe we were), that's probably the closest reference point for this version of the song. Take a simple but effective and almost hypnotic riff that you might describe as Cream Lite. Marry this to a hypnotically funky groove, with drummer Morris Jennings trying to bash the drums into oblivion on the two and four. Mix in some impressive vocals by Muddy, who puts aside whatever feelings he might have had about the project and provides some inspired singing. It all adds up to a song that sounds…well…not much like Muddy - vocals aside - but it'll still kick your ass.

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