Friday, July 3, 2009
Gettin' Muddy Again
Live At The
Back when I posted my thoughts about the Muddy Waters' Classic Concerts DVD, I wrote in the last paragraph that I had my mind wrestling with whether or not to get Muddy's Fillmore show stuff. Well, you know, I forgot until recently, that I went ahead and jumped on iTunes and did just that a couple of nights later (back in May by the way). Between writing my novel, editing my novel, jotting down blog stuff, and then planning and taking the long road trip--it plum slipped my mind. I hadn't even listened to it until it popped up while barreling through West Texas and shuffling through my tunes.
My hesitance revolved around the fact that I have lots and lots of Muddy--but I always give in and get some more. George 'Harmonica' Smith sucked me into this one and because every time I played a online snippet from the set list of this release, I kept hearing his blues harp up front and prominent--so heck, what else could I do?
These shows come from November 1966 at the Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco and Smith had replaced James Cotton sometime in late spring of that year and wasn't just picked up for the West Coast gig. Matter of fact, he recorded with Muddy's band while backing both John Lee Hooker and Otis Spann on his Bluesway release in New York during the summer, so he was a touring member of the Waters' ensemble and had his stuff down by the time the Fillmore dates rolled around. Strange thing to me is that Otis Spann isn't playing with Muddy at the venue. Maybe he loved New Yorkers so much that he just couldn't leave, because he did record with Muddy this band later in November and back in the Big Apple for Victoria Spivey.
Regardless, this just proves that one can't have too much Muddy Waters. Along with Smith, guitarists Sammy Lawhorn, Luther 'Georgia Boy' Johnson, bassman Mac Arnold, and drummer Francis Clay fill out another one of Muddy's great bands. Spann simply would have put a stellar collection of songs over the top. These fifteen songs represent three consecutive nights that Bill Graham shared the best blues band in the country with the hippies of San Francisco. I'd say that they didn't disappoint anyone with Muddy and the band firing through his best known numbers mainly from the fifties with You Can't Lose What You Never Had and Thirteen Highway being the exceptions. Four numbers do a repeat and sound pretty much the same--doesn't bother me though. The set list offers no surprises. Muddy's bands had been running through these numbers for quite some time, but they do represent some of his greatest hits and I think, maybe other than the Newport Festival recordings, the best live Muddy on the market.
Muddy wails on his slide like a man possessed, especially on a version of his lesser known Thirteen Highway on which the band jams down upon for over eleven minutes. He whips out a twelve bar solo, takes a breath, then lights into another before giving Smith his turn to suck and blow his notes, then Lawhorn, then Georgia Boy. These guys smoked the tune. Seriously.
They all get some kind of fat, nasty guitar tones cranking that I think has something to do with the rock and rollers that preceded their shows and followed their act. When in Rome. Don't get me wrong, they ain't rocking the blues or trying to, they're are just cranking on it. I just think Muddy and Sammy are slinging some tones that I haven't heard before.
I love George 'Harmonica' Smith's blues harp--he just rips through solos with such ease and his fills between vocal lines are always superb and they have recorded his contributions to these nights in high fidelity. For me, his playing is easily recognized. He plays in such a smooth style, but exhibits as much energy as his predecessor, Cotton, on such tunes as Baby Please Don't Go, Trouble No More, and Got My Mojo Working.
All the musicians are well recorded here, which many times failed to happen with live recordings back in 1966. I think that this is the best that Muddy's vocals have been reproduced on a set of live recordings--his dynamics really show through. Francis Clay's drumming has always been impressive, but they've captured his every sharp snap, powerful bass stomp, and quick roll with a clarity I'm not used to hearing. He's driving the devil out of the blues on his kit on these nights and the sound comes through loud and clear.
So, I like this release. Seems that someone has bought into the Wolfgang Vaults of Bill Graham, where this came from, and has been busy putting them out on the market. Kudos to Geffen once again for getting it to us. Solid band, solid sound, solid blues, and solid Muddy Waters. Anyway--