Weeks ago, I ordered The Best of Muddy Waters LP reissue from Speakers Corner on Amazon. I had been listening to my 1987 copy and heard a newly made scratch that cut through the music. So I went searching. Lo and behold I find that Speakers Corner (responsible for many high quality vinyl reissues over the past years) reissued this lightning of a record. The LP was backordered and I was surprised when it showed up at my door this week. I opened the box and held early Muddy Waters in my hands. But there was something else in the box. It was a refill pack for a Diaper Genie. Either Amazon thought this record was so good that I was going to shit my pants upon first listen, or, maybe they just made a packing mistake (why a Muddy Waters LP and a diaper genie would be located near each other is beside me). I would rather believe the former, because it’s true.
I’m into early Muddy Waters. The recordings just have more danger and more spirit than his later stuff. This collection was originally released in 1958 by Chess Records and was one of the first steps into the LP (33 1/3) format for Chess (up until then it was 78’s and 45’s). The recordings within are made up of singles spanning the years from 1947 to 1954. This is the early, acoustic-based Muddy Waters and it doesn’t get any better.
You get this LP for the music. The sound varies per track and the fidelity is low at times. But it all works cause the music is so damn hot. This is by far the best collection of early Muddy Waters songs compiled on one disc. This ain’t castrated music. Muddy’s got his balls on the table. The performances are as natural and gritty as the blues get. The supporting musicians all play the part. There ain’t one misstep on these recordings, not a single bad note. Each and every song is killer. “I Just Want To Make Love To You” is sweaty and naughty. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” is a haunting masterpiece of self-awareness, complete with lamenting slide guitar riffs. “Rolling Stone”, Muddy’s first recording for Chess (until then his music was released on Aristocrat), finds him strutting all by himself, and with masterful command.
It is important to note that many of these early sides were cut from recordings originally mastered direct-to-disc onto a 78 and others were wire recordings. This explains the hiss and the surface noise inherent in the sound. There are clicks, pops, and distortion buried within. Yet, some tracks sound much better, like the later ones recorded by the legendary Bill Putnam and others. Regardless of the original fidelity, the Speakers Corner reissue provides the finest realization of these early hits. I have the 1987 reissue (that I bought real cheap) and it sounds fine, but that pressing can’t even come close to the sonic merits of the SC. The SC lets you melt into this music. The textures are natural (as natural as the ancient recordings allow) and Muddy’s voice is as captivating as ever.
This is not the kind of record you buy and compare to your goddamn Holly Cole or Nora Jones recordings. This is a record you buy to listen to repeatedly over the course of your life and constantly learn the secrets and mysteries within. There is, of course, the audiophile favorite “Folksinger”, but the performances captured here smoke that classic (not the sound, but if it is the music you are after…). This is dirty, sexy, down-home stomping music. If you need to get introduced, or re-introduced to Muddy Waters, get this LP and yer turntable and yer soul will be rewarded.