It is rare that musical performers release a superlative live recording, one that meets or exceeds the original studio versions of their songs. Oh sure, record labels will spew out live albums with the regularity of an army camp with dysentery, but these recordings merely act as filler — a chance to gouge fans – in lieu of actual studio product. Think of these attempts as greatest hits compilations repackaged with crowd noise.
And if it is exceedingly uncommon for a performer to release a single, splendid live recording, then just imagine the rarified air, that intoxicating celestial ether, breathed by those few exemplary musicians or singers who actually managed more than one great live album: Johnny Cash, Miles Davis, Elvis Presley, Jimi Hendrix, and Louis Armstrong. Not the Beatles, Clapton, Pink Floyd, The Who, or Led Zeppelin can lay claim to more than one great live album (if any at all). But there is one other performer who should be accorded among the highest rank of live players, an orphan raised by his grandmother on a Mississippi plantation by the name of McKinley Morganfield, otherwise known to posterity as Muddy Waters.
When one speaks with audiophiles in regards to Muddy Waters’ live recordings, the landmark release At Newport 1960 is usually the first topic of conversation, and with good reason – it is a truly an important, historic recording; however, the dialogue eventually wends its way to Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live (1979), a live session recorded during his late 70s “comeback.
You see, the early 1970s were not a good time for Muddy. In October 1969, he was involved in a severe car accident that left three others dead, and he was hospitalized for months. It took several more months to get the feeling back in his hands, forcing him into a period of semi-retirement that stretched over the next two years. But disaster struck again in 1973 when Water’s longtime wife Geneva died of cancer. To be frank, Muddy was never what one would call a monogamous man, having children from several different “outside” relationships, but he had remained remarkably faithful to Geneva, and her death was a devastating blow to the recovering Waters. His only notable appearance in the mid-70s was in 1976, when he performed alongside The Band in their farewell concert film The Last Waltz. But in 1977, Muddy Waters started a stellar relationship with Johnny Winter that would produce several award-winning albums and bring Waters back to musical prominence.