Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters
Breakin' It Up,Breakin' It Down

Legacy Recordings

By Art Tipaldi
June 2007

Listening to Muddy Waters, James Cotton, and Johnny Winter on tour in 1977 - just after Winter produced Muddy’ Grammy winning Hard Again comeback album - is like watching Big Papi, Manny, and Varitek mash a baseball around Fenway.

Though well into his 60’s, Waters sounds as fresh and vibrant as he did on all those classic Chess recordings from the 1950s. Because the band assembled includes James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Winter, Brookline’s Bob Margolin, and Charles Calmese on bass, the Chicago blues groove sounds as solid as a slab of granite. The weave of piano, harmonica, and slide guitar supported by Waters’ trademark heavy emphasis on the backbeat makes this a timeless recording. Then add Texas slide blazer, Johnny Winter, and this is an hour of blues heaven.

According to Sony, this concert of previously unreleased material was part of a 1999 storage bin discovery of recording tapes from the 1970s and 80s. The cuts here come from three shows in March 1977.

For anyone who thought that by 1977 Muddy was just a shell of his former Chess self, listen to this 65-year-old street corner rappin’ on “Caledonia.” Louis Jordan couldn’t do it any better.

The night begins with the band in top form on the medley, “Black Cat Bone/Dust My Broom.” Winter blasts his 1959 Firebird into the slide-o-sphere on the opening “Black Cat Bone.” The call –and-response between he and Cotton keeps the song in orbit until Muddy hijacks it into “Dust My Broom.”

Muddy then strips the band “down to nothing” to play “Can’t Be Satisfied,” the song that skyrocketed Muddy and Chess Records onto the scene. Waters first recorded it on Stovall’s Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi for Alan Lomax in 1941 and later, in 1948, it caught the ear of Leonard Chess. Muddy’s singing down home - back porch style - while Winter is pickin’ and slidin’ on the National. Follow that with the aforementioned “Caledonia” and it’s Chicago blues heaven.

From there, the musical triumvirate equally shares the blue spotlight. For slow blues fans, Cotton and Winter duet on “Dealin’ With The Devil,” before Cotton himself cruises on “Rocket 88” Winter then delivers three blues classics, Guitar Slim’s “Done Got Over It,” Lowell Fulson’s “Love Her With A Feeling,” and J.B. Lenoir’s “Mama, Talk To Your Daughter.”

The disc ends with Muddy returning to command “Trouble No More” and the ubiquitous “Got My Mojo Working,” both culled from the March 6, 1977 show at the Tower Theater in Upper Darby, PA. The crowd apparently knows that no Muddy show was ever complete without “Mojo,” and its traditional sing-a-long. From the applause, I’m guessing he was also up and dancin’ with Cotton, a la Newport 1960.

Every song on Breakin ’ItUp,Breakin’ It Down is a precious piece of the spirit of Muddy Waters. Recorded with his all star, 1970s band - ignited throughout the hour by Johnny Winter’s incendiary slide guitar - and accompanied by two pages of guitarist Bob Margolin’s pinpoint liner notes, this is an essential record for every blues fan.

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