(“Tom Cat” by Muddy Waters)
The late sixties in Chicago was a wild time. The Democratic National Convention and the Riots in 1968 labeled us as unruly, Serial Killer Richard Speck in 1966 labeled us as unsafe, and Martin Luther King, Jr., (marching in North Lawndale for equal housing in 1966), labeled us as a place that “The people of Mississippi ought to come to….to learn how to hate”. And yet we created such sweet music…
Roaring blues, sophisticated jazz, gritty garage rock, smoothed out vocal pop, and shimmering soul (among other genres) all “jus grew” here. Chess Records (based near 22nd and Michigan) was, in fact, the epicenter of the Electrified Delta Blues that changed the sound of popular American music FOREVER. That was the music that served as rock-and-roll’s bassinet. So it was no surprise that Chess Records, nearing the end of the 1960s and reinvigorated with fresh young talent (producer/arranger Charles Stepney, drummer Morris Jennings, and guitarist Phil Upchurch among them), decided to have their living legend artists (i.e. Muddy Waters and Howling Wolf) re-record their groundbreaking 1950s work in an updated funky psychedelic blues style.
White psychedelic rock artists had been ripping off their artists’ work for years. Now they were, in effect, reworking their own art. Muddy and Wolf weren’t feeling it. Critics of the day panned the works. Yet, today, the albums born out of this time (including “Electric Mud”) have an almost cultish following. Produced by Marshall Chess and the legendary Gene Barge, this body of work is just another example of good old Chicago invention….. For a sample of Howlin Wolf’s psychedelic blues tryst, click here.
Drummer Morris Jennings discusses Muddy Waters’ album “Electric Mud” with Ethnologist Jeff Thomas.
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