MUDDY WATERS -- Electric Mud (MCA/Chess)

MCA recently reissued the album hailed by some blues purists as the worst blues album ever recorded--Muddy Waters' Electric Mud. Originally released in the spring of 1968, Electric Mud was Waters' first excursion into the world of 'psychedelia.' Since they were marketing Waters (at the time) primarily to the white hippies, it made sense to Marshall Chess (son of Leonard Chess, founder of Chess Records) that Waters should do an album like this. Unfortunately, it presented a problem when Waters tried to play the songs live. He didn't like having to perform in front of a huge stack of amplifiers to achieve the sound of the album.

Is Electric Mud really as bad as they say? It depends on the context in which you listen to it. As a blues/rock album, it's not that bad. As with most albums from the psychedelic era, there's a lot of channel fading (vocals in one channel, music in the other, then vice versa, etc.). However, there are still some great guitar licks being thrown around, especially on "I Just Want to Make Love to You," "She's Alright" (which segues into a "My Girl" jam), and "Mannish Boy." The interesting thing here is that, according to the liner notes, none of the guitar work is by Waters himself.

As a straight blues album, it's a joke. The majority of the players on Electric Mud were actually avant-garde jazz musicians, and most of them were not able to adequately span the two genres. Gene Barge's wailing tenor sax on the album is out of place and annoying. It just doesn't work. The cover of "Let's Spend the Night Together" is probably more noteworthy than any other cut on the album. It's been called 'unintentionally hilarious,' among other less-than-flattering remarks. I'll just call it . . . different. Imagine Waters trying to sing the lyrics to the music of "Get Ready." You get the idea.

So what's the bottom line -- is this CD worth picking up or not? It depends on what type of blues you're into. If you're a purist, you probably already know to skip this one. If blues/rock is more your style, or you're just discovering the master, it's worth a listen, but check out some of Muddy's more traditional work first.

© 1997 Steve Marshall