This is part of a multi-part post: Muddy Waters
Part 4: Hard Again
The good times were about to come to a screeching halt for Muddy. In January of 1969 Billboard announced the immanent sale of Chess Records to General Recorded Tape. The new owners weren't music people like the Chess brother had been. As a company they were far more about the manufacturing and distribution, being primarily a manufacturer of 8-track and reel-to-reel recordings.
Then on October 16, 1969, Leonard Chess suffered a heart attack behind the wheel and was killed in the crash that followed. A chapter of Chicago music history ended that day,
It was around this time that a few more blows came at Muddy Waters. His doctors made him give up hard liquor which he enjoyed for milder champagne to try to keep his blood pressure in check. And after 17 years on the keyboards, Otis Spann left the Muddy Waters Blues Blues Band to be replaced by "Pinetop" Perkins.
More problems came in January 1970, when Muddy Waters was involved in a serious car accident when he was hit head on by an oncoming car, The driver of the other car was killed. Muddy waters broke three ribs, fractured his pelvis, shattered his hip and sprained his back. He would be hospitalized for two months, When he was finally released he was using a cane and had swollen hands that weren't ready to play a guitar.
In April his old band mate Otis Spann died of liver cancer. It must have seemed like his world was dying around him. Perhaps to remove himself from the likely pall that would have been over Chicago, Muddy took his new band to Europe.To add insult to injury, it was reportedly not paid for some performances in England. He did manage to get something out his visit to England with his album The London Muddy Waters Sessions. The album featured a band composed Irish blues ace Rory Gallagher, Stevie Winwood and others. It was sort of a reprise attempt at the success of Fathers and Sons. For some reason the mix wasn't quite right and the album never quite lived up to its potential. Still it is the first Muddy Waters album I bought and it has a special place in my heart.
Album: The London Muddy Waters Sessions Muddy Waters
- Blind Man Blues 3:32
- Key To The Highway 2:27
- Young Fashioned Ways 4:25
- I'm Gonna Move To The Outskirts Of Town 3:57
- Who's Gonna Be Your Sweet Man When I'm Gone 5:04
- Walkin' Blues 3:04
- I'm Ready 4:11
- Sad Sad Day 5:20
- I Don't Know Why 4:00
I also found a few interviews from this time that I thought were interesting and worth sharing here.
Even though Muddy Waters was going through a tragic time personally, professionally he was doing well and had begun to be recognized as the legendary figure that he was. In 1971 Muddy Waters was awarded his first Grammy Award under the category of "Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording" for a re-released compilation of early tracks called They Call Me Muddy Waters. In 1972, he repeated his success in the category, taking the award again for The London Muddy Waters Sessions.
The career success didn't really turn Muddy Waters Luck around yet. On March 15, 1973 Muddy Waters wife, Geneva, passed away from cancer. They had been married since 1940. Muddy would gather their children and leave the South Side of Chicago and move to the more suburban Westmont. But he still kept making his blues.
April of 1973 saw the release of another album, the perhaps ironically titled, Can't Get No Grindin'. Muddy returned to his roots with this one, a good old fashioned blues stomp highlighted by modern production values and a stellar lineup of Pinetop Perkins, James Cotton, Pee Wee Madison, and Sonny Lawhorn. While it was not a huge seller ate the time it is a great set that has gained a following with time.
Album: Can't Get No Grindin' Muddy Waters
- Can't Get No Grindin' 2:53
- Mother's Bad Luck Child 5:02
- Funky Butt 2:59
- Sad Letter 4:21
- Someday I'm Gonna Ketch You 3:18
- Love Weapon 4:10
- Garbage Man 2:45
- After Hours 3:55
- Whiskey No Good 4:41
- Muddy Water's Shuffle 2:19
Muddy had 2 more albums in him with Chess Records. His 1974 release Unk In Funk, reprised some of the hippyish music he made on on Electric Mud and Fathers and Sons. The album featured a new band,Pinetop Perkins, Luther Johnson, Bob Margolin, Calvin 'Fuzz' Jones, and Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith, that would largely stay with him the rest of his career.
In 1975. he took up an invitation from Levon Helm to join The Band for recording sessions in upstate New York at Woodstock. In many ways, it was another hippy record, but it was a good one with one of the ultimate Blues performers joining forces with a group many consider to be the ultimate rock band. The resulting The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album was critically acclaimed, taking 1975's Grammy for "Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording". It would be the last record he would make with Chess. After a 30 year career with the label, the label had decided to shutter its new recording division and concentrate solely on the back catalog.
Leaving Chess may have turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Muddy Waters as things were about to change. We will discuss that in Part 4 of our series, "Route 66: Chicago: Blues: Muddy Waters", in just 3 weeks. Join us then as we return to Muddy Waters story, continuing to explore Route 66 in Chicago. But before then, be here next week when we will be returning to our trip though San Diego, California on the old Highway 101. Two weeks from now finds us back in Florida as we make our way up the Central Coast and Spring Training baseball country off of Interstate 95. I hope you can join us then for some more sports stories. Thanks for reading this and until we meet again, I've just gotta say," I can't get no grindin', Baby, what's the matter with the mill?"
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