Saturday, October 29, 2011

Electric Mud Was a Blues Dud

Occasionally one sees a write-up on music that strikes one as wrong-headed. In this case, the normally astute Tim Niland, on his blog Music and More, posted on the infamous Electric Mud recording,, and found it a strong album of the Muddy Waters canon. Noting many of us found it abysmal Tim writes “But with fresh ears, it is easy to discover a lot of merit to this album. Muddy Waters plays a setlist of some his best known songs and one pop music cover, and he is singing as well as he ever had, albeit over the loudest group he had ever fronted. The power, braggadocio and sheer vitality of his voice and very presence lends credence to this project.” The problem is that the rejection by the blues enthusiasts of this album was not simply due to it being a ‘sellout,’ (and if it was, it was not Muddy we blamed), but because it was not a very good blues album.

Tim further writes, “Muddy Waters was no stranger to loud guitars and strong drumming, but the wild squalls of guitarist Pete Cosey (soon to become famous in Miles Davis’ electric bands) and the busy arrangements do take some of the subtlety out of the music.” However it this lack of subtlety and the bombast of the backing that eliminated the clarity, focus, and coherence inherent in Muddy’s best recordings. This is why Electric Mud fails as a Muddy Waters album and as a blues album.

Further, Tim’s assertion that “it was a successful experiment and showed that Waters’ music was adaptable to changing times and musical styles,” ignores the fact that this and the follow-up CD After the Rain (which was half psychedelicized funk in the vein of Electric Mud and half straight blues) were blips in Muddy’s career. Nothing Muddy ever did after these albums showed that they were anything more than Marshall Chess’ concept albums. I have no knowledge of Muddy ever recording or performing anything that reflected these commercially oriented experiments, suggesting he quickly put these recordings behind him.

I doubt Electric Mud had the impact on Muddy’s career that Tim suggests in his piece as well. Far more important was the collaboration with the rock star musical legends Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield (and Buddy Miles) for Fathers & Sons, a recording that was more likely to reach the Fillmore and similar audiences because of presence of Bloomfield and Butterfield. Also, it was a very good Muddy Waters album.

This is not to say that with fresh ears, or a fresh perspective, one might appreciate Electric Mud, as an interesting musical experiment like the Chess Cadet recordings of The Rotary Connection and it may have merits on that basis. Just that with respect to the blues, particularly the blues of Muddy Waters, it was not a musically fruitful recording.

1 comment:

Ron W said...

Craig Ruskey has attempted to post a comment here. Here is a quote from a post to The Real Blues Forum on Facebook. "I do recall Marshall Chess saying in a documentary about the label that "Electric Mud" sold in good numbers for a Blues album. If it widened Muddy's exposure even in somewhat small numbers, it probably boosted his career a bit. During that time, he wasn't rocketing up any charts. The comparison you make between "Electric Mud" and the "Fathers & Sons" albums seem to miss the point. I believe both of those projects were marketed to a different demographic. "Electric Mud" was supposed to bring in the hippies, and I think the album cover itself was a dead giveaway with Muddy clothed in a robe. "Fathers & Sons" on the other hand was earmarked for the Caucasian Blues crowd that was starting to get into Blues through artists like Butterfield and Bloomfield. Without knowing the sales numbers of either title, it's hard to say which one did better. Bottom line for me is that "Electric Mud" sure isn't how I prefer Muddy, but if it helped him and the label during the sagging 1960s, it was a success on both fronts."