The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album – ‘The Stone Blues’

by | Jan 19, 2021 | 0 comments

Recorded over two days in February of 1975 and released in
April of the same year, The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album was
the perfect combination. Levon Helm and songwriter Henry Glover had the
excellent idea to have the legendary Mississippi Muddy Waters up to Helm’s barn
studio in Woodstock, NY as their first client. In what would be Waters last
LP for Chess, Helm, in addition to Water’s hot shit touring band collected some
of the most amazing talent he could to back the blues legend. In
addition to guitarist Bob Margolin and pianist ‘Pinetop Perkins’ from Waters own road band, Helm included Woodstock talent, Paul Butterfield and bandmate Garth
Hudson. Former Hawks guitarist Fred Carter also
stopped in along with famed horn player Howard Johnson. The cover of the record shows the large crew of contributors gathered on a cold gray day in the Catskills. Today in the ‘rock
room’ we will drop the needle on this Grammy winning record and study its soulful grooves.

The LP opens with the Bobby Charles composition, ‘Why Are
People Like That?’ Charles
had taken up residence in Woodstock, and his Louisiana sensibilities are
tangible on the cut’s swampy groove. Opening with audio of Muddy
directing the proceedings, is a theme of the LP, and the song stutters along
on Helm’s crispy snare hits. Butterfield enters with a billowing harmonica
accompaniment and mid song solo. Per his usual practice,  Mr. Hudson lays down a shifty bed in
which Muddy makes you contemplate the title, ‘Why are people like that?’ This song illustrates the completely natural meeting of Muddy’s deep blues and the rustic back porch arranging of Helm and friends.

The swinging ‘Going Down to Main Street’ is a Waters
original that jumps with a shifty twelve bar gate. Garth Hudson lends some hip,
yea, hip accordion toots along the way. Both Hudson and Butterfield build a
nest with the central bird call melody popping its head above the bundle of
twigs. This is a funky juke ass swinger and displays another side of the American music on display. The song concludes with a Waters
giggle that just makes the listener smile.

The first slow burn blues of the record, a Waters composition
‘Born with Nothing’, also features some razor edged chrome slide riffing by
Waters, a definite highlight. Hudson splays a wash of indigo accordion across
the cut. A 12 bar wood floor stomp, features a cutting
spotlight solo for Muddy.

Closing the first side of the record is ‘Caledonia’, a jump
blues written in 1945 by Louis Jordan. The song was also a onstage favorite of both
Helm and Waters. Helm would perform the song both solo and with the
‘Band’ throughout his career. Muddy played it at ‘The Last Waltz’ though it was
not featured on the original soundtrack LP. On the album, it bubbles over sterno with a joyous
melody line squeezed out by Butterfield and Hudson on harp and accordion respectively.
Muddy raps matter of fact fashion, his robust vocals as rich as Southern muck
land. In the ‘rock room’s humble opinion, this track illustrates what IT is all
about. Again, ‘Honeyboy’ Hudson lights it up with a stellar squeezebox solo.

Flipping over the record, Side two begins with ‘Funny Sounds’,
a Waters original that raps its knuckles on the back door with the assistance
of Helm’s perfection on drums. ‘Pinetop Perkins’, a master on the record,
trills the black and white’s with a master’s hand including a subterranean solo
spot. Featuring some of Waters best vocals on the record, the collective surrounds him
with the purest blues committed to magnetic tape. Butterfield follows with a
horny harp spot that squawks its way right to the bus station where Muddy waits
for the final verse. It makes me sweat!

The low end, ‘Love, Deep as the Ocean’, follows with an ‘audio
verite’ moment captured with Waters explaining to the band that, ‘I don’t write
anything but stone blues,’ which acts as the lead in to Helm’s spur clicking groove and
the dizzying Perkins/Hudson dual keyboard attack. Water’s professes his bottomless love all the while slicing thin slabs of knife edge slide riffing. Butterfield, Perkins and Hudson all get
fingerprints across Waters notes as Muddy brings things to a rolling boil. Big substantial ‘well, well’s’ and hearty verbal promises from Muddy initiate goosebumps and in the end, two of Waters finest
blues of the 1970’s open up side two of this stone classic.

‘Let the Good Times Roll’ comes next and swings with a devil may care attitude. The song sways like a huge stage curtain rolling back. The horns get in on the action  with Howard Johnson blowing out some funky smoke. Butterfield toots out the central groove while Waters directs us to just ‘get it on’, it don’t matter who you are, just let the good times roll. Both this and the following ‘Kansas City’ close the record with unadulterated rock and blues. Each amazing musician getting their own chance to let it roll.

The Leiber/Stoller classic ‘Kansas City’ closes proceedings properly with some high octane rocking and rolling. Helm snaps sticks with some crispy hi hat work, while Hudson puts down the accordion and lends some very ‘Band’ like Lowrey organ paint strokes. A rare, (for this record) guitar solo follows which to me sounds like the clean tone stylings of Fred Carter. The clandestine star of the show, Paul Butterfield is given another solo spot to which he ignites like flash paper. As the band gains temperature, Waters passes the bottle of cherry wine to Pinetop who takes his own set of verses with Muddy answering in kind. 

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album encapsulates the multiple things that the rock room loves about music. The unpretentious attitudes, the musical respect, Woodstock, Levon Helm and arguably the finest blues man to walk the land. While the record differs from Waters extensive blues catalog as far as musical elements, it also never forgets it’s roots. Helm’s natural musicality and Waters legendary talent meet perfectly in the middle of the blues. Its rare that disparate musical collaborations are a success, but when you have pure intentions and unabashed love the results can be nothing short of musical magic.

The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album

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