As part of its ongoing “Legacy Edition” reissue series, Sony has rereleased the classic Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live, recorded in the middle of Waters’ sensational comeback period in the late-’70s (with the loving help of Johnny Winter), and augmented that with a second disc of previously unreleased live material from the same grand rocking club shows.
Though Waters became synonymous with Chicago blues, he was born (McKinley Morganfield, 1913) into a family of Mississippi sharecroppers, and learned his craft in the heart of the Delta, emulating blues masters like Son House and Robert Johnson. He earned his nickname from playing near a muddy creek as a child.
The birthplace of the blues, the Mississippi Delta, stretches from Vicksburg, Mississippi in the south, to Memphis, Tennessee in the north,and from central Mississippi in the east, to the Ozark Plateau of Arkansasin the west. Though largely uninhabited until the 1840s, the Delta proved to be fertile ground (due to centuries’ worth of flooding, much like the Nile) and cotton plantations boomed throughout the region.
After the Civil War many former slaves remained tied to the land in the South through the sharecropping farming system, whereby the farmer pledged large shares ofhis future crops to the landowner in exchange for use of land, seed, tools, clothing and the like. This system remained very powerful at least until WW1. Often the farmer was unable to get out from under the crushing debt accumulated through this system and was “free” in name only.
Muddy’s first recordings were made for Alan Lomax and the Library of Congress in the early-’40s on acoustic guitar while he still lived in Mississippi. Waters first went to Chicago in the mid-’40s backing up Sonny Boy Williamson, and he changed to electric guitar in ’44 – one of the most important instrument switches in popular music history.
Beginning in 1947, Waters recorded first for the Aristocrat, then for the Chess label, during which time his music evolved from from a pure Delta style to the rockin’ Chicago band sound with the addition of second guitar, drums, bass, and the great Little Walter on harmonica. Through the ’50s Waters developed his great slashing, shivering slide guitar style and recorded the greatest body of electric blues, making Chicago his own in the process.
By the ’70s Waters was a legend, but the music that inspired an earlier generation of American and British blues-rockers (a band, a Bob Dylan song, and a magazine were named after his song “Rollin’ Stone”) was largely unknown to younger rock ‘n’ rollers. His four-album comeback was triumphantly contemporary and a Grammy-winning hit with blues and rock fans alike.
On these live recordings Waters, though in his 60s, is vibrant, energetic, alive and brimming with charisma. The second disc is particularly appealing and revealing as you hear Waters get deeply into his champagne in essentially real time. Lawdy be!