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Muddy Waters / Johnny Winter / James Cotton: Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down

Doug Collette By

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The partnership of guitarists/vocalists Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters in the late-seventies was a collaboration in the truest sense of the word. The success and recognition that arose from their teamwork— Hard Again (Blue Sky, 1977) and I'm Ready (Blue Sky, 1978), which both won Grammys— inspired them to take to the road. Winter and Waters invited the redoubtable James Cotton, blues harpist extraordinaire, to join them, and a recently exhumed recording of a live performance fronted by this illustrious trio is a worthwhile addition to this modern-day chapter of the blues.

Although it doesn't carry the abiding sense of rediscovery of their initial studio work, Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down is, nevertheless, a worthy successor to the previously released double-CD Deluxe Edition of Muddy "Mississippi Waters Live (Legacy, 2003). A composite of three concerts performed in March, 1977 (the month after the release of the first Winter/Waters studio album), the hour-long CD presents the band slipping easily into the shuffle of "Black Cat Bone and "Dust My Broom. The couplet immediately sends the message this is no facile exercise in technique or academia, but the joyous sound of musicians eminently confident that their music is not mere craft. The camaraderie between the band members mirrors their bond with the audience.

Waters, Winter and Cotton share the music as well as the stage—a crucial distinction in the dynamics that radiate from "How Long Can A Fool Go Wrong. There is familiar material here, including "Can't Be Satisfied —Waters' signature tune and first "hit —"Trouble No More," and the rousing (albeit somewhat predictable) encore, "Got My Mojo Workin'. There's a palpable sense that these songs are not only finding a new audience, but being rediscovered by the musicians, hence the reciprocal excitement builds through the sequencing of tracks.

It's not all raucous electricity though. In contrast to the over-the-top approach that dominated his rock years, Winter's guitar playing is remarkably relaxed on "Dealin' with the Devil, especially as he interacts with Cotton. Meanwhile, none of the principals hog the spotlight. Pianist Pinetop Perkins—like bassist Charles Calmese and drummer Willie "Big Eyes' Smith from Muddy's own band—takes a solo that is the highlight of "Caledonia. Guitarist Bob Margolis brings the rock element into the mix, while his liner notes lend valuable insider perspective on the project.

The tapes from which this disc was derived barely escaped destruction in the turnover of record labels over the years. Yet the end result of this fortuitous retrieval is a valuable homage to the music and the men who made it. If it's not exactly an essential entry into blues lore, it serves well as a starting point for further exploration of the work of these men and of the genre in general.

Visit Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters and James Cotton on the web.


Track Listing: Black Cat Bone/Dust My Broom; Can't Be Satisfied; Caledonia; Dealin' with the Devil; Rocket 88; I Done Got Over It; How Long Can a Fool Go Wrong; Mama Talk to Your Daughter; Love Her with a Feeling; Trouble No More.

Personnel: Muddy Waters: vocals and guitar; Johnny Winter; vocals and guitar; James Cotton: vocals and harp; Bob Margolin: vocals and guitar; Pinetop Perkins: vocals and piano; Willie

Title: Breakin' It Up, Breakin' It Down | Year Released: 2007 | Record Label: Legacy Recordings

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