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Music / Electric Mud

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A 60s Concept Album by Muddy Waters, controversial for the fact that, despite marketing, Waters did not play guitar on the album at all (despite being credited as such), and, even more controversial, it strayed from traditional Blues to a Psychedelic and Blues Rock sound with prominent jazz influences; the songs themselves were a mix of new psychedelic arrangements of Muddy's standards, plus some new songs written for the album and a cover of a song by The Rolling Stones. The title, despite what you might think, does not mean that it's the first Muddy Waters album with electric guitars. He had actually been playing electric guitar for a huge portion of his career, and all of his previous albums, with the exception of the acoustic Folk Singer, featured him playing electric guitar. The use of the word "electric" here is antiquated slang for psychedelia. The album was recorded with the same intentions Miles Davis had when he recorded Bitches Brew, and the two approaches to amalgamation of the artists' respective genres are similar, except Miles actually was more actively involved in the arrangements and playing on his Psychedelic album, whereas Muddy Waters only sang the vocals, and all the guitar playing was done by session players Phil Upchurch,Roland Faulkner and Pete Cosey.

The highly divisive album was part of Chess Records' short-lived Cadet Concept series of avant-garde albums intended to tap into the late 1960s youth market and introduce the Blues to fans of blues-influenced rock artists like The Yardbirds, The Rolling Stones, Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin who quoted and referenced blues originators in their recordings. Electric Mud is the most well known of the two psychedelic-tinged blues albums recorded by major blues icons (the other was The Howlin' Wolf Album, recorded with the same backing musicians). After the negative response to his album from blues purists, Muddy Waters allegedly later called Electric Mud "dog shit" (although this may be misattributed, as Howlin' Wolf was also quoted as saying the same thing about his album).

The push to record psychedelic blues-rock with a blues icon was instigated by Marshall Chess, who intended these albums to be concept albums in which the bluesmen were rock stars. Muddy Waters was the more overtly enthusiastic in his performance, playing the part of a rock singer more prominently, while the Howlin' Wolf Album featured a more understated performance probably owing to Howlin' Wolf hating the Psychedelic Rock sound.

On the two albums, the bluesmen are backed by session musicians, the psychedelic/soul/pop group the Rotary Connection, whose album was also part of the Cadet Concept series. Chess assembled the group out of prominent avant-garde jazz-rock musicians, to give the albums Cadet Concept recorded a more experimental sound, with prominent wah-wah pedals and fuzzbox. The group, consisting of young black men, at one point suggested naming themselves The Electric N-words, but this did not go over well with the label.

In addition to the Free Jazz influences on the music, Electric Mud featured prominent electric organ and saxophone. The band Cream was a heavy influence on the arrangements for both albums.

Despite Marshall Chess' best intentions, the fact that his ideas were the main driving force behind the two psychedelic blues albums, rather than the singers' ideas, probably shaped the backlash against them. Electric Mud actually sold well, but many of the people who bought it returned the album, and it was shortly massively recalled, marking a huge financial failure for Chess.

However, in spite of the failure of Electric Mud, its cult following would develop over time. Numerous psychedelic musicians, particularly Jimi Hendrix, were huge fans of Electric Mud, but the biggest impact the album had was on Sampling, as Hip-Hop D.J.s would sample breakbeats, horns and guitar parts from several of the album's tracks to produce a lot of hip-hop songs, and it was hugely popular among rappers and D.J.s.

Electric Mud was also the namesake for a rock band formed in 2008, not to be confused with "the Electric Mud band", which was the unofficial name for the session musicians for Electric Mud, The Howlin' Wolf Album and the Rotary Connection, and would reunite for a sequence in Martin Scorsese's The Blues documentary, backing rapper Chuck D, performing under the name "The Elektrik Mud Cats".

Your mileage may vary, depending on your stance towards blues purism. This album is either a misguided mistake spurred by record label greed, or a misunderstood masterpiece, but its influence is undeniable.

Track listing

1. "I Just Want to Make Love to You" Willie Dixon 4:24

2. "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" Dixon 4:41

3. "Let's Spend the Night Together" Mick Jagger, Keith Richards 3:07

4. "She's All Right" Muddy Waters 6:44

5. "I'm a Man (Mannish Boy)" Muddy Waters 3:21

6. "Herbert Harper's Free Press News" Sidney Barnes, Robert Thurston 4:32

7. "Tom Cat" Charles Williams 3:37

8. "Same Thing" Dixon 5:37

Electric Mud provides examples of the following tropes:

  • Rule of Seven: "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man".
    On the seventh hour
    On the seventh day
    On the seventh month
    The seven doctors say
    He was born for good luck
    And that you'll see
    I got 700 dollars
    Don't you mess with me
  • Sampling: Electric Mud provided the basis for numerous prominent samples. A few examples are:
    • "Mannish Boy" was sampled in Left Hand Suzuki Method by Gorillaz.
    • "Tom Cat" was heavily sampled on Cypress Hill's "Ultraviolet Dreams" and NATAS' "See You In Hell".
    • "She's Alright" was sampled in "She's Long Gone" by The Black Keys.