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Music DVD/CD Review: Muddy Waters & The Rolling Stones – Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981

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Although both audio and video versions of this legendary, previously unreleased 1981 jam at Buddy Guy’s Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago have circulated on bootlegs for years, never before has it been seen and heard quite like this.

Thanks to a fine digital video restoration from Eagle Rock and a pristine new audio mix from Bob Clearmountain, this historic meeting between the Rolling Stones and Muddy Waters can now finally be experienced the way it was meant to be.

As part of Eagle Rock’s ongoing project of restoring vintage archival Stones concert footage, Live At The Checkerboard Lounge, Chicago 1981 still differs significantly from its two more recent predecessors — Ladies And Gentlemen, The Rolling Stones (from 1972), and Some Girls Live In Texas 1978.

For one thing, this is really not a Rolling Stones concert at all — drummer Charlie Watts in particular is noticeably M.I.A.

Rather, it is more of a supposedly impromptu and informal Chicago summit meeting between blues master Muddy Waters and his more famous British rock students from across the pond.

As the most commonly heard version of events is told, the Stones had a night off during a tour stop in Chicago, and decided to check out Muddy Waters at Buddy Guy’s tiny blues joint (although some versions of this story suggest a more carefully orchestrated event). Either way, things ended up in a wild jam session before about 100 people that — fortunately for us — was all captured for posterity on film. Now, some three decades after the fact, it has finally been given the proper release it deserves.

The resulting musical fireworks, as captured on this excellent DVD/CD collection, veer wildly from the explosive to the embarrassingly sloppy — sometimes within a single song.

The most obvious case in point here would be “Next Time You See Me,” which features a brief, but electrifying guitar shoot-out between Keith Richards and Buddy Guy. However, this is later followed by a similar exchange between Ron Wood and an obviously drunk Lefty Dizz that doesn’t go nearly as well (Dizz is barely able to keep his guitar strapped on). By the time Muddy Waters makes it back to the stage for “Clouds In My Heart,” he has to gently shove the drunken, showboating Dizz out of the way to make way for another Richards solo.

Earlier on, following a three song warmup by Muddy Waters and his own great band, the Stones make their grand rock star entrance into the cramped quarters of the Checkerboard Lounge.

Tables are cleared, drinks are poured, and eventually Muddy calls his students to the stage, beginning with Mick Jagger. Jagger’s vocal turn on “Baby, Please Don’t Go” begins a little tentatively, but he eventually loosens up and is strutting more like the preening rock and roll peacock we have all come to know and love.

On both this song, and later on “Mannish Boy,” the unlikely chemistry between the foppish Jagger and the more overtly masculine Muddy Waters is both engaging and infectious. There is a strange, but obvious affection between these two men, and it really shows here in the vocal exchanges between them.

By the time, Keith Richards scales the top of his table to make his own way to the stage — stopping to embrace a cocktail server with curls in her hair along the way — things are getting mighty crowded onstage at Buddy Guy’s tiny little Chicago Juke Joint. When they are eventually joined by Ron Wood, Ian Stewart, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and the rather tipsy Dizz, the night morphs from a simple jam session into the stuff of both legend and musical bedlam.

But in the case of this excellent CD/DVD combo, it is a very good kind of bedlam — thanks in particular to Bob Clearmountain’s ridiculously clear sounding 2012 mix. The most notable extra here is a clip of the Stones doing “Black Limousine” at one of their 1981 stadium shows (presumably Chicago), that also marks the lone contribution of Charlie Watts on this collection.

Too bad Watts missed the fireworks at the Checkerboard Lounge.

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About Glen Boyd

Glen Boyd is the author of Neil Young FAQ, released in May 2012 by Backbeat Books/Hal Leonard Publishing. He is a former BC Music Editor and current contributor, whose work has also appeared in SPIN, The Rocket, The Source and other publications. You can read more of Glen's work at The Rockologist, and at the official Neil Young FAQ site. Follow Glen on Twitter and on Facebook.