Electric Mud: Muddy Waters
Produced by Gene Barge & Charles Stepney
Cadet Concept USA LPS 314 1968
Chess UK CRL 4542 1969
US release: 5 October 1968
|side one||side two|
|I Just Want To Make Love To You|
|I’m A Man (Mannish Boy)|
|Hoochie Coochie Man|
|Herbert Harper’s Free Press|
(Sidney Barnes & Robert Lee Thurston)
|Let’s Spend The Night Together|
(Mick Jagger & Keith Richards)
US chart: #127
UK sleeve, Chess 1969 … click to enlarge
Muddy Waters – vocals
Gene Barge – tenor saxophone, producer
Phil Upchurch- guitar
Roland Falkner- guitars
Pete Cosey- guitars
Charles Stepney – organ, arranger, producer
Louis Satterfield- bass guitar
Morris Jennings- drums
The band were drawn largely from Rotary Connection, who also played on The Howlin’ Wolf Album in 1969- following the same idea. Sidney Barnes who co-wrote Herbert Harper’s Free Press was a member of Rotary Connection too.
Check the US original sleeve design. Did they think, ‘The Beatles and The Stones had plain white sleeves. We’ll do the same, then we’ll sell as many.” It may be preferable to the Habitat Psyche of the British one.
What did Muddy say about being dressed up as a choirboy? Or is it a guru?
It is nothing more than a parody of both Waters’ music and contemporary instrumental practices … it does a great disservice to one of the blues’ most important innovators, and prostitutes the contemporary styles to which his pioneering efforts have led.
Pete Welding, Rolling Stone, 9 November 1968
It’s as if Marshall Chess locked Muddy in a studio with a wah-wah pedal and said, ‘Don’t come out until you’ve made a record.’ Muddy grumbled, but went along, willing to compromise for a shot at the big time. In the short run, the record hit. In the long run it was a fiasco, the artefact most mentioned to suggest the demise of a great label, a classic example of the artist twisted to the monetary fancy of the businessman. It’s considered by purists the worst blues record ever made.
Rich Cohen: Machers & Rockers: Chess Records and The Business of Rock ‘n’ Roll. (2004)
The album marks what could probably be considered the nadir of Muddy Waters’ career.
Bruce Eder, All Music Review 1.5 stars
Chess executives … had sent Wolf and Waters into the studio to record what they fondly imagined to be ‘psychedelic versions’ of their greatest hits. Waters’ Electric Mud turned out to be an abomination.
Charles Shaar Murray: Crosstown Traffic: Jimi Hendrix and the post war rock ‘n’ roll revolution. (1991)
The Rolling Stone Album Guide simply skips Muddy Waters.
The New Record Guide (1983) gives it one square … not even one star. Yet the same guide rates Muddy Waters with an electric British band on The London Sessions as 4 stars.
On to the 1992 incarnation, retitled The Rolling Stone Album Guide and it’s missing, but the same one square ire is poured on Muddy Brass & Blues from 1966 which is totally obscure.
Muddy Waters: That Electric Mud record I did, that one was dogshit. But when it first came out, it started selling like wild, and then they started sending them back. They said, “This can’t be Muddy Waters with all this shit going on – all this wow-wow and fuzztone.
quoted in Robert Gordon: Can’t Be Satisfied, The Life & Times of Muddy Waters i(2002)
So here’s the issue. Electric guitar is NOT the issue.
Muddy Waters was a pioneer of electric blues. He bought his first electric guitar in 1944, and met the Chess brothers in 1947.
Muddy Waters became the high priest of electrified blues … Waters popularized the idea of the electric blues band, playing loud and hard with all the energy it was possible to summon up, while sticking as close as possible to the old blues formulas.
Michael Bane: White Boy Singing The Blues, 1982
I saw Muddy Waters live, 30th November 1968. That’s only weeks after the album was released. I was right at the front of the stage standing, about six feet from the man himself. It was expensive for those days … ten shillings (50p). It ranks as one of the most charismatic performances I’ve ever seen, along with Marvin Gaye. He had his usual band … Otis Spann on piano, Luther Georgia Boy Snake Johnson on guitar (great blues name), Paul Oscher on harmonica, Lawrence ‘Little Sonny’ Wimberley on bass, S.P. Leary on drums, James ‘Pee Wee’ Madison on guitar.
One of the great complaints about Electric Mud is that he couldn’t play it live, and he made no effort to try.
Muddy Waters went on to do excellent and rated electric blues albums with British blues guys (The London Sessions) then Johnny Winter revived his career with Hard Again. Levon Helm produced the Woodstock Album. To repeat, electric guitars are not the issue … it’s what was done with them that caused the upset.
On face value, this album has everything, with knobs on: a fantastic band playing immaculate grooves steeped in blues, funk and soul and not being afraid to go off at a tangent, so hip-as-fuck in the psychedelic era. Some fantastic songs sung by one of the most soulful voices there ever was.
But it is a Muddy Waters album. So no, no, no! Disgusting!
If ever there was an album that would be raved about if it had someone else’s name on the cover – and ‘if ever…’ is daft because there are dozens of suchlike fare – it is Electric Mud. A 1968 release on the Cadet Concept label by (probably) the best loved blues musician to ever grace the earth. What sets this apart from other contenders is that it is not a victim of the higher standards of previous roughly similar releases (The Band’s Cahoots wins that round) but a change of direction.
With the advent of the internet and an era where everybody’s 15 year old nephew is a lighting fast guitar hotshot, you’d have to have all the impediments of Tommy the Pinball Wizard not to know that black R&B music was brought to the American mainstream by a mix of the British Invasion and homegrown hot club talents like Paul Butterfield and Charlie Musselwhite. It is this which led to the (also reasonably well known) practice of promoters such as the late, great Bill Graham starting to put names such as B.B. King up alongside psychedelic heavyweights at his Fillmore venues around 1967/8. B.B. King once said that he wasn’t sure how well his ‘old fashioned’ music would go down with the hip Haight Ashbury love crowd. It did indeed end in tears – so moved was King that his first notable big-crowd standing ovation was provided by a rock audience.
Was it such a lame idea, then, to arrive at the following conclusion: the blues guitar greats appeal to the Hendrix/Clapton/Bloomfield…blah blah….Garcia/Kaukonen…blah…Steve Miller guitar worshipping crowd for the same reasons. Why not see if there’s a contemporary album in one or two of them? After all, Otis Redding was whipping his crowds up a storm singing ‘Satisfaction’ – it doesn’t have to be a one-way street with the white boy bluesers singing Willie Dixon songs, does it?
REVILED … BY WHOM?
On release Electric Mud was Muddy Waters best-selling album to date, shifting 150,000 copies and getting to #127 in the US chart.
Blues purists hated it, but Jimi Hendrix was obsessed with it, listening to Herbert Harper’s Free Press before shows.
It’s a reviled album that has gained cult status. Chuck D of Public Enemy cited it as an influence.
revised views …
Electric Mud is to the blues what Dylan’s electric set at Newport was to folk—a kick in the pants to purists and a wake-up call in one. Which was undoubtedly the last thing Muddy Waters, a purist himself, wanted.
Michael H. Little, Vinyl District, online
A Marmite Blues album from Muddy Waters! Who would have thought it? Or even bought a copy of the ornery bugger when it was first unleashed on an unsuspecting and fractured America in October 1968? Despite “Electric Mud” being a genuine example of a love it or hate it record, many actually bought the plain covered gatefold LP in the autumn of 1968. And almost five decades later – the album is now virtually defied by many in the Hip Hop community – digging its out there nature, fuzzed-up guitars and whack-sample drums.
Mark Barry, via Amazon.co.uk
In 2001, Chess released a 32 bit remastered CD version in the Legendary Masters series, which reflects the cult statusthe album had achieved by then.
It’s currently available on vinyl too, pressed by Jack White’s Third Man Records in Nashville in 2017. They released facsimile 45s of early Muddy Waters around the same time. $25 for the vinyl direct from Third Man.
I’m with the abomination group rather than the misunderstood cult album lobby. I’m deeply suspicious of any purists in folk or blues, and so I really wanted to be in the revisionist camp but I have just re-listened twice through. I don’t get Muddy Waters’ albums to hear guitarists competing for space.
In particular, who thought it cool to bounce Muddy’s voice between speakers on alternate lines on Hoochie Coochie Man? Then there’s either echo on his voice, or more likely he’s trying to crawl out the studio via the bathroom window and escape the noise. They also bounce guitar between speakers. This is not a Ray Conniff stereo sampler. This is misguided mixing and production.
Let’s Spend The Night Together is truly abysmal … Otis Redding did The Rolling Stones so much better, but then he had a sympathetic backing band. This is just a guitarist’s masturbation fantasy. I really wanted to shoot the guitar players. On every track. They are totally oblivious to the fact that Muddy is trying to get words and a melody across. They swamp him. The vocal veers into send-up at times as a result. I know Pete Cosey later worked with Miles Davis, but Miles was not trying to deliver a lyric. I really, really loathe his guitar playing. To put it in perspective, I walked out of a Steve Vai and Joe Satriani concert before the end. So judge me on that. Morris Jennings drummed on my treasured Superfly album too.
She’s Alright is overkill guitar over a borrowed Cream riff. It’s often compared to Cream, but Eric Clapton would never have been that disrespectful to Muddy Waters.
Way too much cymbals too. Then you get the bass part from My Girl, though not played as well and the guitar distorting the My Girl melody.
If you want to hear I’m A Man with an outside band, go to the Last Waltz. If you’re after The Same Thing then try the reunited 90s Band.
For me? Justly reviled.
I think Peter’s comment about Electric Mud not having the ingredients he buys a Muddy Waters album for is the whole problem with it in a nutshell – but I also think his Last Waltz comment misses the point, and would say if you want to hear I’m A Man played almost exactly like, or in the intended spirit of, the original would be a closer observation.
Personally, I am with Chuck D and Hendrix on this, but there: like them, I am a musician, always looking for grooves and licks I’ve never heard before. I don’t much care whose name is on the sleeve; I can find enough about Electric Mud to like on its own merits. Rotary Connection aside, it cannot be ignored that the names Phil Upchurch and Louis Satterfield are among the credits. Upchurch is the guitarists’ guitarist bar almost nobody (I think Jesse Ed Davis will always be on the tallest podium there) from his 60s instrumentals like Can’t Sit Down, through his work on THAT Donny Hathaway live album and then to his own albums in the 70s. A cursory listen to a few bars of Little Milton’s Grits Ain’t Groceries should be enough to give you a flavour of the brilliance of Louis Satterfield.
That Muddy himself wasn’t into it didn’t help and if there is one area that detractors’ outrage can be supported is that there does seem aural evidence in them thar grooves that (beyond his sheer dislike/comfort zone) he was being put into a musical situation that his talents and abilities weren’t cut out for. To an extent, the Chess family should have had more respect for Muddy than that. Let’s Spend The Night Together set to a Motown type beat should have been so much better than it was, and Muddy’s vocal wasn’t phrased for the feel of the track. For this reason, I would raise an eyebrow at Chuck D’s Dylan comparisons – Dylan was into it. Dylan did what he could to make his change of direction work, and then some. What we have here is a confusion between a soulful singer and a soul singer; there’s more to that than just the tone of the singing voice.
When the answer may not be Electric Mud, there is the possibility that the question was misleading. Is Electric Mud a good album? To an extent, yes; it’s certainly interesting.
Is Electric Mud a good Muddy Waters album?
Fuck no. But it is better than After The Rain which followed, and kept the rocky guitar sounds but applied them over a more regular bluesy set of songs. After The Rain was neither a good Muddy Waters album nor interesting enough in its own right.
If you like the psych-meets-roots qualities of albums like Isaac Hayes Hot Buttered Soul and Dr John Gris Gris then by all means give Electric Mud a whirl.
If you want a Muddy Waters album, get At Newport 1960.
The UK album on Chess (Chess CRL 4542) rates at £40 mint in Rare Record Price Guide 2022.
The US album on Cadet-Concept rates at £30 median for Discogs, and £63 highest. Fair enough, it has a gatefold sleeve and looks better than the British one, especially the cobra sleeve reverse. There are four copies for sale at the highest end on Discogs (as I write) which range from £110 to £250 (Near Mint and Very Good Plus). There are a number on sale at between £50 and £75.
The Chess UK single (CRS 8083) Let’s Spend The Night Together / I’m A Man is listed at £25 mint in Rare Record Price Guide. That reflects the interest in Chess 45s in the Northern Soul scene. Five copies on sale at Discogs from £19.50 to £54. Only one has a Chess sleeve in good nick. The most expensive one has been Jukeboxed (centre removed). I’d go for a French copy with a picture sleeve.