Few pieces of art have been as influential as Muddy Waters’ seminal debut album The Best of Muddy Waters, a humble piece of vinyl released by an upstart label in 1958 that served as The Big Bang for rock ‘n’ roll and the ensuing half century of modern popular culture. On November 10, Geffen/UMe will celebrate the forthcoming 60th anniversary of Waters’ first album by reissuing The Best of Muddy Waters on vinyl in original mono for the first time in 30 years while also making it available for download and streaming for the first time ever, giving new and familiar listeners a reminder of the bluesman’s truly incandescent music.
Born McKinley Morganfield in Mississippi in 1915, Waters was initially a sharecropper playing his acoustic guitar for change and tips at rural plantation parties. He migrated to Chicago in 1943 where he brought together a pipeline of the city’s top musicians to create, refine and define the modern blues. While he was undergoing this transformation, millions of rural Southern blacks were making the same journey, and their stories and music were working into the popular consciousness – and capturing the imagination of a restless teenage suburbia increasingly open to new things in the rebellious 1960s.
An assemblage of Waters 78 RPM recording made between 1948 and 1954 for Chess Records, The Best of Muddy Waters captured Waters’ growth from acoustic artist to archetypical electrified band leader and charted the exciting evolution of blues. Rolling Stone awarded the timeless greatest hits collection a rare five-star review, hailing the 12 songs as “one masterpiece after another,” and exclaiming, “Throughout, Waters embodies a persona that simmers with lust, loss and menace. His voice intimates threat, never more so than when he unleashes his gripping repertoire of moans, howls, hollers, hums, groans and growls.” Continuing, “The tension-wire whine of his slide guitar and the hypnotic drone of Little Walter’s harmonica often mimic the cadences of Waters’ voice, creating the claustrophobic impression that the singer’s pain, desperation and explosive urges are the only emotions that exist. Charms, spells and erotic magic suffuse these songs.”
Between the thematically fitting bookends of opener “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and unforgettable closer “I Can’t Be Satisfied” – rock ‘n’ roll’s mission statement if ever there was one, the album laid the blueprint for modern blues, rock and even country music, with monumental recordings like “Rollin’ Stone,” “Honey Bee” and “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man.”
It was weathered, scratched, well-traveled copies of The Best of Muddy Waters – often passed hand to hand – that launched a revolution due to its influence on future British and American rock ‘n’ roll stars. Waters’ deeply emotional, often foreboding and always mysterious music helped inspire the imagination of acts such as the Rolling Stones – who take their name directly from Waters’ music – Eric Clapton, John Mayall, Led Zeppelin, The Band and so many others. These artists in turn took their love and appreciation of Waters to millions of listeners and aspiring musicians, creating a timeless feedback loop that continues with each generation. Waters’ music arrived at important crossroads moments in both the bluesman’s personal life and that of the nation.
The re-release The Best of Muddy Waters gives fans a chance to examine this masterpiece again, a classic work of art that both inspires creative genius and entertains casual fans in ways that changed popular culture.
The Best of Muddy Waters track listing:
1. I Just Want To Make Love To You
2. Long Distance Call
3. Louisiana Blues
4. Honey Bee
5. Rollin’ Stone
6. I’m Ready
1. Hoochie Coochie
2. She Moves Me
3. I Want You To Love Me
4. Standing Around Crying
5. Still A Fool
6. I Can’t Be Satisfied