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Breakin It Up by Muddy Waters Johnny Winter James Cotton

For fans of the late great Muddy Waters and other blues luminaries like Johnny Winter and James Cotton, there’s a new treat in store. Live recordings of the 1977 tour featuring these true blue gentlemen of the blues have been recently found. These recordings were stored for decades in a trunk by their late manager and hadn’t been heard since they were first recorded three decades earlier.

Along with Waters, Winter and Cotton, there’s Willie ‘Big Eyes’ Smith on drums, with Pinetop Perkins on keyboards and Bob Margolin on 2nd lead and rhythm guitar, with Charles Calmese on electric bass. It’s obvious that a bluesy mixture of the who’s who in blues can’t go wrong and it doesn’t!

From the outset with an enthusiastic intro by the MC, the true atmosphere of a world-class blues extravaganza begins with the iconic blues rapture "Black Cat Bone" combined in a long jam with Elmore James’ "Dust My Broom." Cotton’s vocals are incredible as are Muddy’s and Winter’s on this true blues winner. They’re all the best there is on this ballistically energetic live intro. Winter’s fast ‘n furious lead guitar finish is echoed with feeling by Calmese’s lead bass lines. This blues medley is just the right choice to capture the listener’s attention at the beginning of an awesome hour-long concert of blues by true innovators of this genre.

"Can’t Be Satisfied" follows with "Rollin’ ‘n’ Tumblin’" expertise laid down just right! A jazzy blues version of "Caledonia" also holds up real well, with Muddy’s vocals added to by Cotton’s y’all drawl. There’s a tinge in Cotton’s vocals at times, reminiscent of the late Hock Walsh (co-founder of the Downchild Blues Band) in its inflexion. Or could it be that Walsh was influenced by Cotton’s vocals back in the days when they jammed together at Toronto’s Grossman’s Tavern, a venerable and atmospheric blues institution which still rocks with live blues seven nights a week!

"Dealin’ With the Devil" testifies in a bluesy soulful way as only the masters of the genre can cut it and put it across. Muddy, Johnny and James all sing out their bluesy lament on this one. "Rocket 88" speeds things up considerably as it rolls on down the musical highway, with Cotton’s harp blowin’ it all out with wild abandon along with his outstanding vocals to beat. Willie’s drumming is superb and things begin really kickin’ with Calmese’s bass lines rebbin’ up the engine real well!

Winter mellows it out down easy, singing lead vocals on a sweet version of "I Done Got Over It", backed by Cotton’s admirable blues harp playing. The rest of the rhythm section grooves ‘n moves it all down the line, with some very fine bluesy guitar leads by Winter and Waters and Margolin’s scorching rhythm. This collaboration is a musical chemistry that adds to the blues like it’s no tomorrow in this admirable live night back in 1977, when it sounded so right! Pinetop’s boogie-woogie piano playing lays it down in the blues alley, with groovin’ guitar licks leading the path into righteous blues jammin’. Willie ‘Big Eyes’ hard drivin’ drumming helps things gel together tight as a rusted bolt on a junkyard car.

"How Long Can a Fool Go Wrong" begins with Cotton’s awesome vocals and searing harp soloing that’s really incomparable, heavenly bluesy jammin’ licks that must have really ‘set the house on fire’ those many decades ago when this recording was performed live and furious. Winter’s blues leads don’t go wrong and sound like a type of musical ‘morse code,’ tellin’ the story that the blues is alright and it surely is right here! "Mama Talk to Your Daughter" continues this feverish pace with Winter’s vocals singing out the theme, while the whole rhythm section cooks it up with Calmese’s throbbing bass, Pinetop’s ringing piano soloing and ‘Big Eyes’ ‘skinnin’ the cat’ on the skins.

Winter continues singin’ out his bluesy soul, declaring the audience to "Love Her With a Feeling." Cotton’s harp greatness testifies back to Johnny, as does Margolin’s lead guitar licks that Johnny says: "Sounds real nice man!" followed by "Do it again, do it again!", so Margolin does just that with ‘Big Eyes’ respectful bluesy drumming accompanying the feeling just right! Pinetop lays down some piano rhythms that complement quite well as do Muddy’s and Johnny’s own superb lead guitar creations. Muddy sings out his ‘blues muse’ with "Trouble No More." Cotton also sings out his bluesy two cents worth, which adds some very nice and welcome vocal variety to the proceedings. Cotton’s harp playing seems to confirm Muddy’s bluesy feelings to a ‘T’. Willie’s drumming makes this a complete blues concoction that ends with some blurry blues licks by Winter as only Johnny can play ‘em! After this, Muddy introduces his great band, followed by Johnny screamin’ out "Muddy Waters .... Alright!" -- which the fans roar back in affirmation.

The whole band joins in on "Got My Mojo Workin’". Winter begins this bluesy preachin’ on lead vocals, followed by the ‘Godfather of Mojo’ Mississippi Muddy Waters telling it like it is, singin’ out "Got My Mojo Workin’" with Johnny adding "But it just don’t work on you!" Cotton’s energetic harp playing on this fitting closing blues number seems like old times with these two blues cats. Muddy and Cotton first came to national prominence playing this Muddy signature tune outdoors at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival, a bootleg concert version this writer has seen and been transfixed by many times over the years.

This absolutely fine and furious and super rare recording (until recently being discovered) also contains the same good feelings of playing and enjoying the blues ‘live’ like Newport 1960 does, with an audience of like-minded individuals. The fans’ inspired adulation with their sincere applause at the end of this very special concert recording can bring a tear to the eye and a twinge in the best part of one’s soul.

Additional Info

  • Artist / Group Name: Muddy Waters Johnny Winter James Cotton
  • CD Title: Breakin It Up
  • Genre: Blues
  • Year Released: 2007
  • Record Label: Sony BMG, Legacy Recordings
  • Rating: Five Stars
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