In October, 1976, the then-32-year-old Texas Blues-Rocker Johnny Winter had a dream come true: he recorded and produced an album with his hero, the legendary Chicago Blues singer/guitarist Muddy Waters. The album – Muddy’s 12th studio album – was called Hard Again. It was released on Blue Sky Records on January 10, 1977.
In an article that appeared in the March 1994 issue of Guitar Player magazine, author Jas Obrecht quotes Johnny Winter explaining his approach to the creation of Hard Again: “My whole thing was to make the record that Muddy wanted to make with the musicians he wanted to work with. He was the boss.”
The musicians that Winter and Waters gathered for the recording sessions, most of whom had worked with Muddy many times before, were: James Cotton, harmonica; “Pine Top” Perkins, piano; Bob Margolin, guitar; Charles Calmese, bass guitar; and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, drums. Muddy Waters sang and played guitar while Johnny Winter added his guitar and “miscellaneous screaming.”
In an interview that appeared in the August 1983 issue of Guitar Player, Muddy Waters described the way the sessions worked this way: “We didn’t practice. We just got in there, and we’d run over a song and put it down. We caught it. The whole album took two days. We would’ve been done before, but Johnny would get tired and say, ‘Well, let’s come back tomorrow.'”
Johnny explained: “I couldn’t believe how he was running me ragged. The studio was downstairs and the control room was upstairs, and I was running back and forth saying to myself, ‘God damn, Muddy, you’re gonna kill me.’ I figured we’d play about four hours, take a break, and work some more. But Muddy said, ‘No, I don’t want to take no break, man!’ It was one song after another, and they kept getting better and better.”
The first track on Hard Again was “Mannish Boy.”
Written by Muddy Waters, Mel London and Bo Diddley, “Mannish Boy” had been a hit for Muddy in 1955 on Chess Records. The song is built on a short, five note, stop-time figure or riff played over and over by the whole band. Muddy sings, moans, shouts and exclaims during, around and in response to this riff.
The 1955 recording clocks in at two minutes and fifty-five seconds. The version on Hard Again lasts for five minutes and twenty-three seconds and that riff is repeated eighty-five times. (Yes, I counted.)
You absolutely have to hear this recording. I promise you won’t be disappointed.
Sit back, take a deep breath and check it out.
The other eight tracks on Hard Again are just as passionate and joyous and hard-driving as that one. Highly recommended.
Muddy Waters was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi on this day, April 4, in 1915. His birth name was McKinley Morganfield. He was the second son of sharecropper Ollie Morganfield and Bertha Jones. Muddy passed away peacefully in his sleep on April 30, 1983.
“Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah…
Everything, everything, everything’s gonna be alright this morning!