Muddy Waters and Various Artists
Steppin’ Stone (Proper Records, 2009)
Omitting Muddy Waters from any discussion of the blues is a little like making lemonade without the sugar. Born in Issaquena County, Mississippi as McKinley Morganfield in 1913, Muddy Waters was steeped heart of the Mississippi Delta blues, picking up his nickname as a result of a childhood penchant for ‘playing in the muddy waters.’ Starting out on the harmonica at nine, but later switching over to the guitar, the teenaged, tractor driver Muddy Waters spends his off hours soaking up the music scene of Clarksdale, Mississippi; there finds and feeds off two of Mississippi’s iconic bluesmen Son House and Robert Johnson.
Sharpening his chops down in the Delta, Muddy soon joins up with Silas Green and his traveling show, before plying his licks in St. Louis and finally returning home. It’s back in Mississippi that Muddy crosses paths with John and Alan Lomax, where he lays down tracks for the pair and their folk recordings for the Library of Congress recordings. Muddy makes a pair of extraordinary decisions at this point; he joins many making the great migration north to Chicago in search for factory work and he plugs in – literally. Muddy plugs his guitar into an amplifier to be heard over the clattering masses of the Chicago club scene and it’s that sound that changes blues music forever. Electrified blues soon leaks out onto the streets of Chicago and Muddy finds club work and starts recording for labels of Columbia and Aristocrat (later to become Chess Records).
Proper Records has rolled out the 3-CD and DVD box set Muddy Waters Steppin’ Stone featuring Muddy Waters and blues greats like Little Walter, James Cotton and Junior Wells that will knock your socks off. There’s enough gritty, lowdown, spine-sizzling, fanny-shaking music in this box set to get any sober listener intoxicated. Proper Records also includes a DVD with some rather delicious storytelling by musician Charlie Musselwhite, writer Charles Shaar Murray and record producer Lawrence Cohn. The enclosed booklet includes some stunning photographs and biographical information on Muddy Waters, Son House, Big Bill Broonzy and Lizzie ‘Memphis Minnie’ Douglas.
Disc one cleverly pairs tracks like a version “Walkin’ Blues” by Son House followed up by Muddy Waters’s version. “Got My Mojo Working” is covered by Muddy and by Ann Cole. Listeners get an earful of Lil Son Jackson’s “Rockin’ & Rollin’” against Muddy’s “Rock Me.”
Disc two of Muddy Waters Steppin’ Stone is all Muddy and it’s got some beauties like “Gypsy Woman,” “Close to You” and a fiery version of “Canary Bird.” Tracks like “She Moves Me,” “Evil” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” have got enough sass to light up the night sky.
Disc three is full of the best of the Chicago blues scene with the likes of James Cotton, Little Walter and Buddy Guy. Little Walter kicks off disc three with “Juke,” “Mean Old World” and “My Babe.” Buddy Guy tears in with “Sit & Cry” and “Try to Quit You Baby,” while versions of “Cotton Crop Blues and “Hold Me in Your Arms” by James Cotton sizzle against Junior Wells and his versions of “Hoodoo Man” and “Bout the Break of Day.” There are also tracks by Walter Horton, Robert Lockwood and Jimmy Rogers to ply even the most reluctant listener to the dance floor.
Muddy Waters Steppin’ Stone is yet another precious addition to the Proper Records box set collection. Expertly documented and compiled, marvelously gritty and funky, blues fans of every stripe will relish the journey on Muddy Waters Steppin’ Stone.
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