A confluence of factors, almost like Delta streams, has me thinking about the Delta Blues and Chicago Blues and the man who did the most to electrify them, Muddy Waters (1913 – 1983).
A new movie due out next week, Cadillac Records, tells the story of a truly revolutionary period in American music. Chess Records was pivotal in bringing great Blues and R&B legends like Etta James, Willie Dixon and Muddy Waters to a larger audience, and is the subject of the film. The brothers Chess — Leonard and Phil — recognized the commercial potential for a wide array of musical genius, and helped set the table for Rock N Roll. The new film stars Beyonce Knowles, Jeffrey Wright and Adrien Brody.
Beyonce Knowles (as Etta James) just rips the heart out of this song and plays it back to us, updated, tremendous:
Retrospectives provoke us. Send us. Bring new rounds of revaluations. They often create new patterns of influence, new hierarchies of debt and payback. Listening to a recent Fresh Air, a repeat interview with Robert Gordon (the author of a bio of Muddy Waters), I heard proof of the changes the man from Mississippi brought to American music. It was more than just another retrospective. It was a chance to be moved, yet again, but some of the rawest and most direct music we have on tape.
The song Mannish Boy was first recorded in 1955, and provided the name for a rather obscure band from England. The video is from 1970:
Words just get in the way sometimes, and then music says it all. And music in the hands of Muddy Waters cuts through layers of sediment, centuries of stultifying civilization and pretense. The power of that music can melt hesitation and anxiety, like snow under a new southern sun. He took Occam’s razor, electrified it, plugged it in and applied it to 20th century America. Sometimes you just have to be a rolling stone.