Talk From The Rock Room: The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album - 'The Stone Blues'

Tuesday, January 19, 2021

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album - 'The Stone Blues'

Recorded over two days in February of 1975 and released in April, The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album was the perfect combination. Levon Helm and songwriter Henry Glover had the excellent idea to have the legendary Mississippi Muddy Waters to Helm’s barn studio in Woodstock, NY as their first ‘client’. In what would be Waters last LP for Chess, Helm, in addition to Water’s hot shit touring band collected some of the most amazing and respectful talent he could to back the blues legend. In addition to guitarist Bob Margolin and pianist ‘Pinetop Perkins’ from Water’s road band, Helm included Woodstock talent, Paul Butterfield an honey boy Garth Hudson from Helm’s own group ‘The Band’. Former Hawk guitarist Fred Carter also stopped in along with famed horn player Howard Johnson. Today in the ‘rock room’ we will drop the needle on this Grammy winning record and study its grooves.

The LP opens with the Bobby Charles composition, ‘Why Are People Like That?’ songwriter of ‘See You Later Alligator’ fame. Charles had taken up residence in Woodstock, but his swamp Louisiana sensibilities are tangible on the swampy groove. Opening with an audio verite’ moment of Muddy directing the proceedings which is a theme of the LP, the song stutters along on Helm’s crispy snare hits. Butterfield enters with a billowing harmonica accompaniment and mid song solo. Per usual Mr. Hudson lays a shifty bed in which Muddy makes you contemplate exactly, ‘why are people like that?’ This cut especially illustrates the completely natural meeting of Muddy's deep blues and the rustic back porch arranging of Helm and friends.

The swinging ‘Going Down to Main Street’ is a Waters original that jumps with a shifty twelve bar gate. Garth Hudson lends some hip, yea, hip accordion toots along the way. Both Hudson and Butterfield build a nest with the central bird call melody popping its head above the bundle of twigs. This is a funky juke ass swinger and displays another side of the multiple roots of American music on display. The song concludes with a Waters giggle that just has to make the listener smile.

The first slow blues of the record, a Waters composition ‘Born with Nothing’, also features some razor edged chrome slide riffing by Waters, a definite highlight. Hudson splays a wash of indigo accordion across the cut. A 12 bar wood floor stomp, like previously stated, features a cutting spotlight solo for Muddy.

Closing the first side of the record is 'Caldonia', a jump blues written in 1945 by Louis Jordan. The song would become a favorite of both Helm and Waters. Helm would continue to perform the song both solo and with the ‘Band’ throughout his career. Muddy played it at ‘The Last Waltz’ though it was not featured on the original soundtrack LP. Here it cooks over sterno with a joyous melody line squeezed out by Butterfield and Hudson on harp and accordion respectively. Muddy raps matter of fact fashion, his robust vocals as rich as Southern muck land. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion, this track illustrates what IT is all about. Again, ‘Honeyboy’ Hudson lights it up with a stellar squeezebox solo.

Flipping over the record, Side two begins with ‘Funny Sounds’, a Waters original that raps its knuckles on the back door with the assistance of Helm’s perfection on drums. ‘Pinetop Perkins’, a master on the record, trills the black and white’s with a master’s hand including a subterranean solo spot. Featuring some of Water’s best vocals on the record, the collective surrounds him with some of the purest blues on magnetic tape. Butterfield follows with a horny harp spot that squawks its way right to the bus station where Muddy waits for the final verse. It makes me sweat!

The low end, ‘Love, Deep as the Ocean’, follows with an ‘audio verite’ moment captured with Waters explaining to the band that, ‘I don’t write anything but stone blues’. This is the lead in to Helm’s clip clop groove and the dizzying Perkins/Hudson dual keyboard attack. Water’s professes his love while slicing knife edge slide riffing. Butterfield, Perkins and Hudson all get fingerprints across Waters notes as Muddy brings things to a rolling boil. Big ‘well’s and hearty promises initiate goosebumps and in the end, two of Waters finest blues of the 1970’s open up side two of this stone classic.

‘Let the Good Times Roll’ comes next and swings with a devil may care attitude. The song begins like a huge stage curtain rolling back. The horns get in on the action here with Howard Johnson blowing out some funky smoke. Butterfield toots out the central groove while Waters directs us to just 'get it on', it don't matter who you are, just let the good times roll. Both this and the following 'Kansas City' close the record with unadulterated rock and blues. Each amazing musician getting their own chance to let it roll.

The Leiber/Stoller classic ‘Kansas City’ closes proceedings properly with some high octane rocking and rolling. Helm snaps sticks with some crispy hi hat work, while Hudson puts down the accordion and lends some very 'Band' like Lowrey organ paint strokes. A rare, (for this record) guitar solo follows which to me sounds like the clean tone stylings of Fred Carter. The clandestine star of the show, Paul Butterfield is given another solo spot to which he ignites like flash paper. As the band gains temperature, Waters passes the bottle of cherry wine to Pinetop who takes his own set of verses with Muddy answering in kind. 'Kansas City' sums up the fun collaborative effort and musical spirit in which the record was created.

Personally, for the 'rock room', The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album encapsulates the multiple things that I love about music. The unpretentious attitudes, the musical respect, Woodstock, Levon Helm and arguably the finest blues man to walk the land. While the record differs somewhat from Water's extensive blues catalog as far as musical elements, it also never forgets it's roots. Like Muddy states on the record to his supporting musicians; that they may 'want to change the temperature' while arranging. On The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, the temperature is feverish! Its rare that disparate musical collaborations are a success, but when you have pure musicality and unabashed love for music the results can be nothing short of musical magic.

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album

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