NEW YORK: CD Review for Muddy Waters' Authorized Bootleg - by J. Blake

Posted on 9/01/2009 by J. Blake

When one thinks of “the great bluesmen” many names come to mind, but certainly one of the leaders at that top echelon of legendary blues musicians would be Mr. McKinley Morganfield (a.k.a. Muddy Waters). In late March of this year, blues fans were treated to an all but forgotten live recording of Waters at the now legendary Fillmore Auditorium in San Francisco, California.

Unfortunately it was not standard practice for Chess Records to record their artists live and even when they did, it was more often than not, very late in the artists’ careers. Little Walter and Sonny Boy Williamson II were never captured live by Chess and the great Howlin’ Wolf’s one officially released live LP was recorded so late in his career (and life) that he was merely a shell of his former “blues giant” self. Though over the years many poor quality live recordings of Chess’ all-stars have surfaced (distributed by much smaller and less reliable record labels), there are exceptions to Chess’ misguided rule. The cream of their live catalogue/crop are 1963’s BO DIDDLEY’S BEACH PARTY and Muddy Waters’ AT NEW PORT (1960), FATHERS AND SONS (1969) (which was only partially live) and 1971’s MUDDY WATER’S LIVE (AT MR. KELLY’S).

In the case of Muddy Waters, whose career began in the 1940s, by 1960 the 45 year-old bluesman was not exactly still in his “prime”, but luckily for fans he was still in great form and certainly much closer to his “prime” then the bulk of his officially distributed live recordings, which were captured during the late-1970s. This new Geffen Records release, the AUTHORIZED BOOTLEG, finds Muddy live at the Fillmore West in November of 1966 and consists of selections recorded over three consecutive nights, the 4th-6th. His voice is strong and commanding here and his slide-guitar work is aggressive and on point. The band is equally as aggressive and plays with an energy that is comparable to the live tracks found on FATHERS AND SONS and (dare I say) surpasses that of the Newport recording. George “Harmonica” Smith, who plays with a meaty and powerful tone here, deserves specific recognition for brilliantly managing to straddle the line between forcefulness and sheer taste.

Probably the most interesting feature of these recordings is the lack of piano. Muddy, who is known for having played with the greatest pianists the blues had to offer (most notably Otis Spann and Pinetop Perkins), is captured here in 1966, sans the tinkling ivories. Though most blues aficionados may be skeptical of such a recording, I assure you that the band carries on nicely without it and seeing how almost all of Muddy’s other live recordings feature a piano, its absence here actually adds an interesting and almost refreshing dynamic to the “oh-so” familiar song list.

Though AT NEWPORT is considered by most blues fans to be the definitive live Muddy recording, I have to admit that I personally like this new Fillmore recording better. As mentioned above, the band plays with a great energy on this recent release and I also happen to feel that they are tighter and bring out a certain power in Muddy’s performance that many of the live recordings I’ve heard seem to lack.

These live recordings come from Wolfgang’s Vault (a.k.a. Fillmore owner Bill Graham’s personal archive). Graham fortunately had the foresight to record many of the concerts performed at his venues and though you can hear most of them at, I’ve read that the individual who purchased Graham’s amazing collection is set to release just about everything on CD at some point. Unfortunately that rumor also claims that he his doing so without properly distributing royalties. I don’t know if it is true (please note that right now it is all just hearsay), but it may be a circumstance where the fans get to benefit much more from these amazing live recordings then the artists do.

None the less, blues fans are treated to something special here with Muddy Waters’ AUTHORIZED BOOTLEG: LIVE AT THE FILLMORE AUDITORIUM – SAN FRANCISCO NOV. 04-06 1966. Muddy and his band are in fine form over approximately 74 minutes of Waters classics and the sound quality of the recording itself, is very good. The one flaw I find with the CD is that 4 songs (Forty Days & Forty Nights, Rock Me, Baby Please Don’t Go and Hoochie Coochie Man) are repeated; therefore taking up 8 of the album’s 15 tracks. Granted, each of the performances are wonderful, but it would’ve been nice to include other songs from those shows, instead of just doubling up on Muddy’s greatest hits.

That minor flaw aside, this is a wonderful collection of vintage live Muddy Waters and though he hits it out of the park on every track here, She Moves Me, Got My Mojo Working, You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had and Long Distance Call definitely standout as exceptional performances from a blues legend.

01. Forty Days And Forty Nights
02. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man
03. Rock Me
04. Baby, Please Don't Go
05. She Moves Me
06. Got My Mojo Working
07. You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had
08. Forty Days And Forty Nights
09. Baby, Please Don't Go
10. Thirteen Highway
11. Rock Me
12. Honey Bee (A.k.a Sail On)
13. Trouble No More
14. (I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man
15. Long Distance Call

Copyright © 2009 - J. Blake. All Rights Reserved.

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