Saturday, August 23, 2008

The wah-wah psychedelic blues of Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf



Two of the most revered but hardest to find blues albums of all-time are a pair of discs released at the tail-end of the 1960s – Howlin’ Wolf’s “This is Howlin' Wolf's New Album” and Muddy Water’s “Electric Mud”. They are perhaps the best (and the only survivors) of the Psychedelic Blues era when bluesmen reluctantly embraced what the kids were getting high to and played a hybrid blues that would scare anyone. As a child, these were two curious beasts at the back of my dad’s record collection, and they equally terrified and enthralled me. Sadly, they were part of a mass clear-out in the 1980s of which I’ll go into again at some stage so when I got to read about them as a teenager, and their importance, they had disappeared. However, on a trawl through another website where I was, er, getting the lend of a couple of Isaac Hayes albums and James Brown’s long-lost “Hell” album, I found them. But the links were dead. So I asked the webmaster if he wouldn’t mind uploading them again and he did, just for me. I owe him lunch, which I’ll buy him when I’m in America next month. Anyway, it was like meeting two childhood friends, and, for a couple of weeks, here they are for you dear readers (Hi Johnny, Simon and Ken!)

The albums were released by Cadet Concept, a short-lived but influential record label founded by Marshall Chess, the son of Leonard Chess of Chess Records.

Somehow, Chess convinced both bluesmen to deviate from their pure blues roots and embrace the then hip sounds of psychedelic electric guitar rock.

"Electric Mud" is one of most original blues albums there is. When this album was recorded in 68, Waters' career was in a slump and noting how the likes of Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones were making a mint out of “re-interpreting” old blues classics including some of his. Marshall Chess thought it best to seek out a new audience for Muddy and Howlin’ (and probably a few others too) if the kids were getting down to their stuff, albeit reimagined and ripped off. Both men were elder statesman who couldn't even sell to their own community but were still well known so over a hot lunch he convinced them to embrace a new sound.

“Electric Mud” is a wah-wah pedal and fuzz box friendly feast for the ears. The basic instrumentation on it includes a heavily distorted guitar (often with the wah-wah up to eleven), fuzz-tone electric bass, saxophone, synthesizer, and drums. This is quite a stretch from the trademark Muddy Waters sound! Five of the eight songs on 'Electric Mud' were Muddy Waters back catalogue staples, songs he had sung thousands, of times. A little hesitantly, he sang them as he always had. His accompaniment, however, was very much of the moment, and dopers of the world could united with new renditions of songs like "I Just Want To Make Love To You," "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," and "Mannish Boy," in a hard, psychedelic rock style. It's a career-best recording of "Mannish Boy", and may be familiar to some as it appeared on an Uncut CD a while back. He even tries a Rolling Stones cover - “Let's Spend The Night Together." The vocals are one of the strong selling points of this album, and Muddy Waters is in great voice and some of his writing on it gets an A+ from me.

The record was a big hit, popular with both, er, communities and with all types of music lovers, including my dad.

"Electric Mud" was followed up with an attempt at relaunching the career of Howlin’ Wolf.

Wolf's opinion of the resulting record was emblazoned on the cover in bold letters- “This Is Howlin Wolf's New Album. He Doesn't Like It. He Didn't Like His Electric Guitar At First Either.”
In fact, he fucking hated it but it’s a class album and well worth downloading or buying if you ever see it in a shop. It’s worth ten fortunes though so the possibilities of that are impossible.

For the album, Marshall Chess brought in the same band that was used in the “Electric Mud” sessions: Pete Cosey and Phil Upchurch- guitars, Louis Satterfield on bass and Morris Jennings on drums to create the psychedelic blues-funk- rock-n-roll fusion that was becoming popular at the time.The album is funky with a tight rhythm section making Wolf's loose bluesy vocals pierce through even more. On Smokestack Lightning, a song he had probably performed a million times in its original raw form, a flute crops up to add some jazz fusion touches before the song trips off into a wah-wah wonderland. The rest of the album is just as funky and gritty.

If you don’t like big stoned wah-wah guitars and widdly-widdly-wee solos and funky drumming (as well as the odd glass-breaking howl) avoid both, but if you like a new twist on the blues, get these impossible to find (both albums have long since disappeared) albums while you can, particularly "Electric Mud".

_______________
For your aural pleasure:



MUDDY WATERS _ ELECTRIC MUD

01. I Just Want To Make Love To You 02. I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man 03. Let's Spend The Night Together 04. She's Alright 05. Mannish Boy 06. Herbert Harper's Free Press News 07. Tom Cat 08. The Same Thin

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HOWLIN’ WOLF – THIS IS....

01. Spoonful 3:48 02. Tail Dragger 4:20 03. Smokestack Lightning 5:48 04. Moanin' at Midnight 3:13 05. Built for Comfort 5:17 06. The Red Rooster 3:48 07. Evil 4:06 08. Down in the Bottom 2:43 09. Three Hundred Pounds of Joy 2:34 10. Back Door Man 6:17

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Thanks to The Roadhouse.

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