Sunday, July 15, 2012


There are hair brained ideas, and there are really hair brained ideas. Marshall Chess, top dog at Cadet Concept, a subsidiary of Chess Records (owned by his pappy and uncle), had one helluva hair brained idea. Showing dwindling returns on Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf, both on the Chess roster, he had to come up with something. The blues revival of the early sixties was shot. Bands that had leaned on the material of Chess artists, like the Stones and the Yardbirds, were moving on, and they were the ones selling beaucoup records. Without any idea of what future appreciation of the blues might be, he took a gamble.

Chess brought in a backing band to update the sound of the two artists; Pete Cosey, and Phil Upchurch on guitar, Louis Satterfield on bass, and Morris Jennings on drums. (I only mention this because after hearing a few of the cuts below, you may be curious. I was.) To say the sound was a departure for the Waters and Wolf would be an understatement. It would be what's now referred to an "epic fail" (Where do you kids come up with this shit?) In hindsight they might be okay, if you compared them to, say, Cactus, Led Zeppelin or other blues-based rock bands of the era. But Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf should have been above that. It's like trading a '57 Chevy in for a new Honda.

To his credit, Howlin' Wolf knew he was above it, and hated the idea from the git-go. He called the album "dog shit," and, according to guitarist Cosey, said "Why don't you take them wah-wahs and all that other shit and go throw it off in the lake — on your way to the barber shop?" The album cover of his LP, another Marshall Chess brainstorm, just made things worse. In big bold letters it said "This is Howlin' Wolf''s new album. He doesn't like it. He didn't like his electric guitar at first either." Not only did it have a negative effect on record sales, it had a negative effect on Wolf (and you do not want to piss off a 6'2" 300 lb drinking, smoking blues man). He had been playing electric guitar since the early fifties, and actually embraced it.

Muddy Waters, in contrast, seemed to go quietly for Electric Mud. He even allowed himself to be subjected to a make over for the inside album cover, the glorious results of which you can partially see above at the top of this post. What you don't see is that, in the full gatefold image, he's wearing a robe and sandals. So, obviously without resistance, his is not as colorful a story. But Waters and Wolf weren't the only ones caught in this chase for long hair dollars. Bo Diddley, also a Chess artist, had his LP, The Black Gladiator, a funky sample of which is below. Even twist nazi Chubby Checker got into the game with an LP of psychedelic mush, a couple samples of which are below. (Sadly, I couldn't find the complete "Stoned In the Bathroom.")

Muddy Waters - I Just Want To Make Love To You mp3 at Nodo50 (?)
Muddy Waters - Let's Spend the Night Together mp3
at Voiceblog (?)
Howlin' Wolf - Spoonful mp3 at Voiceblog (?)
Howlin' Wolf - Evil
(streaming) at YouTube
Howlin' Wolf - Smokestack Lightning (remix) mp3
at Feems Gads! The remixer of this one ought to be glad that Howlin' Wolf isn't around.
Bo Diddley – Go For Broke mp3
at Funky 16 Corners
Go there, it's a good post.
Chubby Checker - He Died mp3 at Beware of the Blog
Chubby Checker - Stoned In the Bathroom (:43 snippet) mp3
at Bongo Music
Electric Mud
at Wikipedia
The Howlin' Wolf Album
at Wikipedia
Hot Lunch
- Reviews of Electric Mud and This is Howlin' Wolf's New Album. Note: There are download links for both but I've tried neither. Click at your own risk.

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