At Newport 1960

Muddy Waters

Chess Records, 1960

REVIEW BY: Duke Egbert


Would you believe that there’s not a single Muddy Waters review on the DV? Let’s fix that, shall we?

It’s my philosophy that if you’re going to review music – or any other art form – you need to pay attention to its historical context. In 1960, the Newport Jazz Festival was only seven years old; it already had a reputation as a major center for traditional jazz. (Interestingly enough, there was a counter-festival held in protest the same year, hosted and organized by jazz great Charles Mingus. Mingus felt the NJF was too staid and traditional).my_heart_sings_the_harmony_web_ad_alt_250

Also in 1960, there was violence for the first time. Friday and Saturday saw pitched battles between the police and those who couldn’t get into the festival, and over 200 people were arrested. Langston Hughes wrote a poem on Sunday called “Goodbye Newport Blues,” and it was assumed the festival was done for. While the world was still a few years from the major social upheaval of the late 1960s, something was brewing.

In the midst of this bubbling crucible of unrest, Muddy Waters headlined the Sunday blues stage, and his set was recorded for later release on Chess Records. Many call it the first live blues recording. Some call it groundbreaking. Whatever it is, Waters – who was fresh off an eleven-year string as a commercial success and a mentor for dozens of blues greats – broke out his electric slide guitar and made history.

He kicks things off with Willie Dixon’s “I Got My Brand On You,” and from the first twisted whine of the slide guitar he owns the stage. While this may not be Waters’ greatest backing band, it does include Chicago blues piano legend Otis Spann and guitarist Pat Hare, whose distorted blues sound was a large influence on early heavy metal. Needless to say, the set has bite; it stays tight and clean. Classics like “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and the rollicking “I’ve Got My Mojo Workin’” make this a blues classic not to be missed.

On the cover of the album, Waters is pictured with an acoustic guitar; when they took the photo, his Fender electric guitar wasn’t available so he borrowed a guitar from John Lee Hooker. But don’t be fooled by the cover; this is all about the interplay between Waters’ voice and his wailing, crying electric slide, and it’s a treat.

Rating: A-

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