Muddy Waters - guitar, vocals; Otis Spann - piano; James "Pee Wee" Madison - rhythm guitar; James Cotton - harmonica; Jimmy Lee Morris - electric bass; S.P. Leary - drums; Guest: Dizzy Gillespie - trumpet; Guest: James Moody - alto saxophone
After a successful performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival (documented on the Chess Records classic, At Newport), blues icon Muddy Waters returned for a rousing Thursday evening set on July 1st at the 1965 edition of George Wein's annual bash in Rhode Island. With his working band of Otis Spann on piano, James Cotton on harmonica, Jimmy Lee Morris on electric bass and S.P. Leary on drums (along with two surprise guests who sat in on a couple of tunes), Muddy excited the Newport crowd with something old, something new, something borrowed, and everything decidedly blue.
Following a mini-set of lively jump blues numbers and spirited Chicago shuffles by the band, showcasing Cotton's exuberant blues harp work (including a soulful rendition of Jimmy Smith's 1960 hit "Back at the Chicken Shack"), Muddy makes his stage entrance to the mournful strains of Eddie Floyd's "Five Long Years," a tune that he frequently played on the American Folk Blues Festival tours of the U.K. during the early '60s. Spann testifies in the low register of his piano on this deep blue anthem. Waters next renders the Willie Dixon tune "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," a tune he had played at his 1960 Newport appearance, with a sense of menace and bluesy authority. For "Country Boy," an autobiographical number that first appeared on his brilliant 1963 "unplugged" Chess album, Folk Singer, Muddy turns in an electrifying performance with some piercing slide guitar work that cuts like a knife behind his brawny vocals.
On a rousing rendition of the up-tempo house-rocker "Got My Mojo Workin," another tune he premiered at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, Muddy is joined by special guests James Moody on tenor sax and Dizzy Gillespie. With drummer Leary kicking things along franticly, Spann providing some super-charged two-fisted piano work, and Cotton wailing on his blues harp, Moody and Dizzy unleash on their respective instruments with boppish bravado and abandon, elevating the proceedings a notch or two. They all join together to close out the set in raucous fashion with Muddy's classic Chicago blues shuffle number, "Blow Wind Blow," another tune he premiered on the American Folk Blues Festival tours of the UK. Once again, Moody and Dizzy blow in unrestrained fashion, layering their bebop licks on top of the bluesy foundation, expertly demonstrating how closely aligned blues and jazz truly are.
A kingpin of Chicago's post-war blues scene, Muddy combined the sound of the Mississippi Delta with a sting of urban, electrified blues throughout his fabled career. Born McKinley Morganfield on April 4, 1915, he grew up in nearby Clarksdale on Stovall's Plantation and soon came under the influence of Son House, the powerful Delta slide guitarist and singer whose raw, intense style had a huge impact on the young Morganfield.
In August of 1941, musicologist Alan Lomax traveled to Stovall's Plantation to conduct field recordings for the Library of Congress. After discovering Muddy, he set up his portable recorder and documented his bottleneck stylings and rough-hewn vocals. By 1943, Waters traveled to Chicago and soon began playing with pianist Sunnyland Slim while holding down a day job delivering Venetian blinds. After recording as a sideman on several Sunnyland sessions for the Aristocrat, Waters cut his own first session for the label in 1948 ("I Feel Like Going Home" b/w "I Can't Be Satisfied"). But it was with Chess Records that Waters would eventually hit big. His first recordings for the label, "Louisiana Blues," "Long Distance Call," "Honey Bee," and "Still a Fool," all climbed the R&B charts in 1951. He had a smash hit with 1952's "She Moves Me" and scored big once again in 1954 with a string of Willie Dixon tunes --"I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," "Just Make Love to Me" and "I'm Ready," all seminal performances by Waters. His profile continued to rise through the '50s (greatly enhanced abroad by a 1958 tour of the UK with his electrified band featuring pianist Otis Spann and the exciting blues harp master James Cotton, who had replaced Little Walter in Muddy's band).
Waters continued to record for Chess through the '60s, reverting to acoustic blues on his classic 1964 outing, Folk Singer, then making an ill-advised nod to the burgeoning hippie market with 1968's psychedelic Electric Mud (which included a laughable version of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together"). He continued to tour through the '70s after his career was resuscitated by blues-rock star and Muddy disciple Johnny Winter, who produced a string of superb recordings for Blue Sky, a Columbia Records subsidiary - 1977's Hard Again, 1978's I'm Ready, and 1980's King Bee.
Waters toured through the early '80s backed by pianist Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, bassist Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, guitarists Bob Margolin and Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, and Cotton on harp. By the time of his death on April 30, 1983, he was universally acknowledged as a regal figure in the annals of the blues.