Muddy Waters,
Library of Congress Recordings (1941-1942),
Early Commercial Recordings (1946-1950)

(Document, 2001)

If there was any single bluesman who could be called the father of Chicago blues, it would probably be Muddy Waters. Born McKinley Morganfield, Waters spent his youth on the Stovall Plantation, where Alan Lomax first recorded him in 1941-42 field recordings for the Library of Congress. Those recordings, as well as the earliest commercial recordings Waters made, make up the 24 tracks of this monumental CD, and show the progression that Waters made from delta blues to that of the Chicago variety.

The first recordings that Waters made solo are little different from other delta blues singers of the time, though a step above the others in terms of passion and feeling. There follows several tracks with Waters as part of the Son Simms Four, a period string band, and they're great fun, with Muddy and the others tearing it up on such songs as "Ramblin' Kid Blues," "Rosalie," which has a hot fiddle-mandolin duet, and "Joe Turner Blues," which romps and stomps even without Waters on board.

The focus goes back to Waters from then on, with "Take a Walk With Me" and "Burr Clover Blues," a tribute to Mr. Stovall and his farm, showing the young performer's developing vocal skills. These and the other 1942 solo tracks contain some of the finest raw country blues ever recorded.

After the last of these, there's a break of four years, and we find Waters' first commercial recording, "Mean Red Spider," and hear the structure of the delta behind the veneer of Chicago. The future's all too clear. This is followed by a few tracks in which Waters played backup guitar, but finally he comes into his own with three unissued tracks, "Jitterbug Blues," "Hard Day Blues" and "Buryin' Ground Blues," in which the Chicago bluesman known as Muddy Waters really starts to make his appearance. The CD fittingly ends with the 1950 two-part "Rollin' and Tumblin'," which Waters recorded for Parkway rather than Chess, with whom he was then contracted, and he is unmistakably there. The blues would never be the same again.

The sound is great, the recordings truly historical, Jake Gittes' liner notes well thought out. A gem of the blues. If you don't already have this material, here's an ideal way to get it.

[ by Chet Williamson ]
Rambles: 11 October 2002