CLASSIC ALBUM: MUDDY WATERS Hard Again
by Todd Beebe
The name Muddy Waters immediately bends the ear of anyone with even a casual interest in the Blues. When people list the architects, the legends that make up the true Mount Rushmore of the Blues, Muddy Water’s name is always guaranteed to be on that list. Most of his influential recordings were waxed in the 1950’s and 60’s. These are the classic tunes that define who Muddy Waters really was.
But in 1977, Muddy released an album that grabbed the listener by the collar and stated “HEY! I’m alive and well- and so is the Blues!”
Recorded in October of 1976, Hard Again features some of the most driving, well-played Blues ever recorded. Waters was 62 when he recorded Hard Again, but sounds every bit as lively as he did 20 years prior.
The legendary Johnny Winter had built a huge following playing the Blues and Rock ‘n’ Roll to the young crowds of the late 60’s and early 70’s. He always bragged about various Bluesmen, and which artist recorded what. Johnny loved the Blues and wanted to repay the masters who taught him in any way he could. Muddy had been loyal to Chicago’s Chess label, but as the late 70’s dawned and Chess was sold, he now found himself free to record with whomever he pleased. Winter absolutely worshipped Muddy Waters, and came up with an idea to record the historic Bluesman for the Blue Sky label. Blue Sky was owned by Winter’s manager at the time, Steve Paul.
Johnny Winter had seen Muddy Waters perform in the 70’s. He knew what he and his road band were capable of at their live shows. He just didn’t feel that the energy of those shows was coming through on anything Muddy had recorded in quite some time. Wanting to capture that great, warm sound of the old Blue Label Chess 78’s, Winter set out to make a Muddy Waters record with one goal in mind: Show the World that Muddy was still the man, and had plenty left to offer!
The scene for recording would be The School House in Connecticut. Muddy and Johnny immediately agreed that they would set up and record “Live” for the entire LP. Just like it was done in the old days! The recording would basically capture a live band in the studio with Winter handling production and joining in on playing. If the band was composed of competent musicians, then they could make the Blues come across alive and fresh. And make no mistake; the band backing up Muddy Waters for this recording was far beyond competent. They lived their lives for this man and his music!
Muddy is featured front and center on Vocals, along with this stellar lineup: James Cotton – Harp, Pinetop Perkins – Piano, Bob Margolin – Guitar, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith – Drums, Charles Calmese – Bass. Johnny Winter also played Guitar on the recordings. Cotton played on many of Muddy’s classic recordings from the mid 1950’s to the mid 1960’s. James Cotton was a Harmonica master who had a legendary reputation for his own work as well. Cotton is still going strong today – check him out if you get the chance! Pinetop Perkins plays Piano on Hard Again. Pinetop needs no introduction! Listen to every track for a textbook example of what Blues Piano playing is. He was in Muddy’s band for many years as well. Bob Margolin was a part of Muddy’s touring band at the time of this recording, and he has been a carrier of the Blues Torch for many years now. Charles Calmese brought a young man’s touch to these 1976 sessions, and the great Willie “Big Eyes” Smith is hands down one of the greatest Blues Drummers to have ever lived – a master indeed.
All of the tracks on Hard Again were penned by Muddy, or by Muddy with someone, except for the Willie Dixon track, “I Want To Be Loved.” The LP wastes no time in getting started with the classic “Mannish Boy.” This exact version has been used in so many commercials; it’s almost become a household name! Play “Mannish Boy” for anyone that isn’t even fairly familiar with the Blues, and they’re sure to recognize it. “Bus Driver” and “Jealous Hearted Man” keep the listeners attention, and then ease into Muddy’s classic “I Can’t Be Satisfied.” Blues lovers surely know this one, but for even the casual listener, maybe only familiar with Rock/Pop, this track begs to be turned up! Blues Power all the way! Muddy coined the saying “The Blues Had A Baby, And They Named It Rock And Roll”, so next he rightfully updates it with “The Blues Had A Baby, And They Named It Rock And Roll #2.” The constant cheering, talking and general carrying on give this album such a great feel! The listener feels as though they’re literally sitting right there in the studio, leaning their back against a wall and taking in the whole process! This gives Hard Again that “Live” feel that Muddy and Johnny were going for. “Deep Down In Florida” and “Crosseyed Cat” take us to the finale of Muddy’s own “Little Girl.”
In 2004 an expanded edition was reissued and features another track from the same great sessions: “Walking Through The Park.”
Listening to this album in 2013, the listener still feels the power and punch of Muddy and those great musicians knocking out the Blues. It has a timeless feel, because it IS timeless. Hard Again is classic Blues at it’s finest, played by some of the men who knew it best. This album, due in large part to Johnny Winter, brought Muddy back into the spotlight, where he rightfully belonged. Many new, younger fans of Winter, now sought out more recordings from this man that Johnny called “The Master.”
Muddy recorded two more studio LP’s, and a Live album, all on the Blue Sky label. This took him into the early 1980’s. When he passed away in 1983, his legacy was immediately carried into the decade with the Blues revival of artists like Stevie Ray Vaughan and Robert Cray.
Hard Again is one of the best Blues albums of all time. It stands up, decade after decade as not only something Blues Lovers can surely enjoy, but new, younger artists are still attracted to. Muddy Waters secured his legacy by the time the 1960’s had dawned. But in 1977, he showed the World that he was, indeed, Hard Again.