These recently discovered performances showcase a true blues legend at the height of his powers. The songs are culled from two live appearances in 1971 by Muddy with a heavyweight ensemble of back up musicians.
"Even though his legendary Chess records of the '50s revolutionized Chicago blues and to this day represent its artistic zenith, the '60s saw Muddy Waters in a period of decline that wasn't exactly of his own devising. Chess had less directional sense than a beheaded bird in those days, and put out LP after LP by Muddy that misrepresented his sound. It's not fanciful to imagine that one day he decided to screw the bogus sessions with their rock stars and fuzztones and tacked-on chick singers. If fans who wanted the real Muddy Waters couldn't find him on wax - they'd find him on the road.
In 1969 Waters had been banged up in a car wreck and his long time pianist, Otis Spann, died in 1970. After healing from the wreck and in Spann's stead hiring Pinetop Perkins, Muddy Waters commenced a series of tours that provided fans with some of the truest blues of that decade. This was before Muddy started hiring acolytes. His bands comprised full-fledged Windy City blues dudes so storied and talented, they arguably equaled Muddy's groundbreaking units in the glory years of the '50s.
Though Muddy Waters in concert in those days was better than Waters on record, not many of his shows seem to have been taped and that only boldfaces the value of this previously unreleased set of live recordings from 1971. Muddy's band hooked up with a tour managed by the late Link Wyler, who was managing Big Mama Thornton. The tour included Thornton, Muddy Waters, Big Joe Turner, Bee Houston, J.B. Hutto, and George "Harmonica" Smith.
Born in Cairo, Illinois in 1924, Smith was in Chicago by 1949 and worked as a janitor in the 20th Century Theatre before entering music full-time as Muddy's harmonica man. He once recorded (for Lapel) as Little Walter Jr. and Walter is the musician he's most readily compared to. But he was stylistically his own man and is heard to good advantage on this set that was culled from shows at the Universities of Washington and Oregon. No less a light was Pinetop Perkins, one of the most respected pianists in blues and the only one, really, who could've replaced the virtuoso Spann. Perkins could play low and slow, like his comtemporaries Sunnyland Slim and Jimmy Walker, but when Muddy decided to rock it up like on this set's lively "Walking Thru The Park", Perkins provided plenty of propulsion. He worked hand in glove with the band's perennial drum/bass team of Calvin "Fuzz" Jones and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.
Guitarists on this set are Sammy Lawhorn and Pee Wee Madison. Born in Arkansas in 1935, Lawhorn was a wounded-in-action Korean war vet who played with the band off and on for about 10 years. He was a generous man who was always ready to share his knowledge with up-and-coming guitarists. He virtually raised John Primer. Lawhorn died in 1990. The second guitar man is another Muddy Waters Blues Band mainstay, Pee Wee Madison, known for his trademark, upside-down Fender Mustang. Pee Wee still plays occasionally in southside neighborhood Chicago bars. He reputedly spurns offers to record, which makes his presence on the album all the more welcome and unique.
So here again, the mighty Muddy Waters comes to the fore with his deep, he-man voice, heady with braggodocio on "Hoochie Coochie Man" and a snake-hipped "Mannish Boy". Muddy's trademark guitar was a battered red Telecaster and he bonds with it on "Honey Bee" and "Long Distance Call" slicing off slide solos that sound like uncoiling razor-wire. If you're of the sort that says they don't make 'em like Muddy anymore I'll raise my glass to you because you've spoken truly, and I'll raise it again because proof of this truth can be heard on this album."
- Tim Schuller, author
Reviews...[Waters'] charisma and onstage magnetism actually grew in direct proportion to his increasing age, experience and legendary status....there's no denying the power of these live recordings....this archival release is an unimaginably vital document. - CMJ (7/19/99, p.27)