Picks and Pans Review: Muddy Waters: the Chess Box

updated 03/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

originally published 03/19/1990 AT 01:00 AM EST

Muddy Waters

When bluesman Waters performed in England in 1958, Mick Jagger and Keith Richards were so impressed they named their fledgling rock band after one of Waters's signature tunes, "Rolling Stone." Much to Waters's amusement, the young upstarts paid him the further compliment of imitating the style of electric blues he pioneered. "The blues had a baby," he later joked, "and they called it rock and roll."

Six years after Waters's death from a heart attack at age 68, the spirit of the self-proclaimed Hoochie Coochie Man lives on in this six-album collection of 72 of his classic blues tunes. The ecstatic rasps on Waters's guitar create an aura of aching sensuality few of his imitators have ever been able to duplicate.

He was one of the first bluesmen to take the gritty sound of the Mississippi Delta and transplant it to the South Side of Chicago, where he recorded one R&B jukebox hit after another between 1947 and 1972 for a small label owned by the Russian immigrant brothers Phil and Leonard Chess. Included here is "I Can't Be Satisfied," the song that launched Waters's career, as well as such early classics as "Long Distance Call," "I Feel Like Going Home" and "Rollin' and Tumblin'." Produced with sparse instrumentation, these tunes feature Waters's fluid slide guitar and vocals that run from soft trembling moans to a ferocious animal roar.

Through the '50s and '60s, Waters fronted an electric blues band that served as a proving ground for such ambitious players as Little Walter Jacobs, Otis Span, Junior Wells, James Cotton, Carey Bell, Buddy Guy and Pinetop Perkins. His greatest hits from the period—notably "Got My Mojo Working," "Trouble No More," "Mannish Boy" and "Baby Please Don't Go"—still sound remarkably fresh. And hard-core Waters fans will be delighted to discover many rare cuts in this collection, including a 1964 rendition of the rollicking "Short Dress Woman," previously unreleased on a U.S. album.

Waters's music is raw and uncompromising. His voice has the commanding authority and mesmerizing lilt of an evangelical preacher, even as he celebrates the pleasures of the flesh and ponders the mysteries of voodoo.

This is the real blues—deep blues. The baby it sired, even at its best, is only rock and roll. (MCA Records)

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