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With his loud amplified guitar and thunderous beat, Muddy Waters reigned over the Chicago blues scene during the 1950s. Waters' sound was steeped in Delta country blues and his use of microtones, in both his vocals and slide guitar playing, was utterly distinctive. His influence over a variety of musical genres, including blues, R & B, rock 'n' roll, folk, jazz, and country cannot be overestimated. Waters became the most popular bluesman in the world and led the most outstanding band, fueled in large part by Willie Dixon, one of the most prolific and successful blues songwriters of that era. After two decades of great popularity, Waters' career was clearly in decline as the 1970s began. Although he continued recording, most notably in London, with many of the greatest rock musicians Britain had to offer, the results were less satisfying than his groundbreaking work of the 1950s.
Enter Johnny Winter, who after playing high-energy rock 'n' roll for several years, returned to his musical roots in 1977 and refocused on playing authentic blues. That same year Winter convinced his label to sign Waters, which was the beginning of a most fruitful partnership. Recorded in just two days with Winter in the producer's chair and former Waters' sideman, James Cotton, blowing harp, Waters' comeback album, Hard Again was a return to his original Chicago sound. Its raw feel harkened back to Waters' Chess Records days, and the outstanding musicianship and intimate, good time vibe led to the album exceeding all expectations, earning Waters a Grammy in the process.
Bathing in the glow of such success, Waters, Winter, and Cotton assembled a crack touring outfit that included musicians from the Hard Again sessions and for an all-too-brief time, hit the road together. The group included the renowned guitarist Bob Margolin, pianist Pinetop Perkins, and drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith. Cotton brought in his bassist Charles Calmese as well. With old comrade James Cotton blowing harp and Johnny Winter as his co-stars, Waters was provoked to the heights he regularly reached decades earlier. They were only together for a brief time, but this band was arguably the most impressive assemblage of blues talent ever. Everything they touched had extraordinary intensity. Selected live performances from this tour would be utilized to produce the follow-up albums, Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down and Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live with enough great material left over for Legacy to later release an expanded edition of the latter with a second disc of un-issued recordings.
One of the most memorable nights of the tour occurred on March 4th, when New York City's Palladium presented this assemblage as "An Evening Of The Blues." The performance was divided into two sets with an intermission between. Johnny Winter and James Cotton, backed by this terrific band, fronted the first set. Following the break, all the musicians would return to the stage with Muddy Waters joining them and they would perform selections from Hard Again as well as choice classics from Waters vast repertoire.
The first set kicks off with Johnny Winter leading the group through a hot rendition of "Hideaway" to warm things up. James Cotton then ups the ante with the harmonica blowout, "Juke," which receives a roar of approval from the New York audience. Winter again takes lead vocals for the slow burner, "Love Her With A Feeling," and the up-tempo shuffle, "Mama Talk To Your Daughter." Winter and guitarist Bob Margolin both tear into these numbers with ferocity, but with plenty of attention to each other so that their playing is always complimentary. Like Winter, Cotton then takes the vocals for the next two, first ripping into Jackie Brenston's 1951 R & B hit, "Rocket 88," often credited as the world's first rock 'n' roll song. Cotton also delivers a driving, energetic performance of his own "How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong." These two performances may be familiar to some as alternate mixes were later issued on the Waters, Winter, and Cotton album, Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down
The unidentified instrumental may be the highlight of this first set. Winter and Margolin provide phenomenal intertwining leads with Cotton blowing furiously throughout. Both guitarists Cotton, and pianist Pinetop Perkins all take impressive solos. Clocking in at nearly 12 minutes, this is joyful blues improvisation at its finest and the joyful feeling is palpable on the recording. Perhaps as a preview of things to come, Johnny Winter next leads the band through a thoroughly engaging romp through "Walking By Myself." They conclude the first set with another extended slow blues jam, this time with Pinetop Perkins taking lead vocal for "Anna Lee." This eventually transforms into a catchy vamp in which all the band members are introduced and they announce that they will be back after the break. A remarkable first set, but they were just setting the stage. The best was still yet to come.
The second set kicks off with a loose vamp to introduce Muddy Waters to the already enthralled audience, eager for more blues. Continuing, they begin a nice relaxed groove on the walking blues, "Kansas City." Muddy takes his first vocal of the evening with outstanding support from Margolin, Cotton, and Perkins, with Winter just enjoying the ride and laying low. "Caldonia" begins in swinging style, propelled by Pinetop Perkins energetic piano playing and an undeniably captivating walking bass line from Charles Calmese. "Hoochie Coochie Man" lets them get down and dirty, with both Waters and Winter playing slide guitar. What it lacks in length is compensated for by its raw power. Waters next pays tribute to his friend and chief competition during the 1950s with "Howlin' Wolf," before launching into his own vintage single, "Walking Through The Park." A rousing take on "The Blues Had A Baby," featuring outstanding piano work from Perkins follows. A raw pulsating version of "Mannish Boy" is another fine example of this tight muscular band, before they bring it to a close with a roaring take on the obligatory "Got My Mojo Workin'."
The audience refuses to let them go and eventually they all return to the stage. The two-song encore begins with Johnny Winter fronting the group on the slide guitar shredfest of "Black Cat Bone" into "Dust My Broom." Few musicians have ever applied such ferocity to the Elmore James classic and the sparks are flying. This remarkable performance closes with the smoldering slow blues of "Dealing With The Devil." Cotton leads the way, but everyone gets one last chance to wail, including Winter's brother Edgar, who joins in on piano and adding his trademark vocal exclamations throughout. It's a fitting and powerful closer to one of the greatest evenings of the blues New York City has ever seen.
Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter, and James Cotton March 4, 1977
The Palladium, New York City, New York
★ Muddy Waters - Guitar, Vocals
★ Johnny Winter - Guitar, Vocals
★ James Cotton - Harmonica, Vocals
★ Bob Margolin - Guitar
★ Pinetop Perkins - Piano
★ Charles Calmese - Bass
★ Willie Smith - Drums
Set One, Johnny Winter and James Cotton with The Muddy Waters Blues Band
01. I'm Ready 03.36
02. Love With A Feeling 08.22
03. Mama Talk To Your Daughter 04.58
04. Rocket 88 02.14
05. How Long Blues 09.15
06. Blues In My Sleep 11.32
07. Walking By Myself 04.47
08. Anna Lee 08.52
09. Hold It -> Band Introductions 04.21
Set Two, with Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter and James Cotton
01. After Hours -> Muddy Waters Intro 03.41
02. Kansas City 09.20
03. Caldonia 06.34
04. Hoochie Coochie Man 03.11
05. Howlin' Wolf 07.27
06. Walking Through The Park 04.43
07. The Blues Had A Baby And They Named It Rock 'N Roll 05.23
08. Mannish Boy 08.52
09. Got My Mojo Workin' 03.35
10. -crowd & tuning- 02.16
11. Black Cat Bone -> Dust My Broom 05.00
12. -crowd & tuning- 01.22
13. Dealin' With The Devil 08.04