The Collection: Hard Again/I'm Ready/King Bee

by: Muddy Waters

In the latter period of Muddy Waters' long tenure with Chess Records, perhaps the single most important postwar blues artist in the world found himself the subject of a number of experiments in how to sell his work to the larger rock audience, ranging from the dignified (Fathers and Sons) to the absurd (Electric Mud), and few of which presented Muddy at his best. In 1977, Muddy was regarded by many as a spent force when, after the final collapse of Chess left him without a record label, the legendary bluesman was signed to the Blue Sky label (which, thanks to the imprint's CBS distribution, marked Muddy's first deal with a major label). Blue Sky had the good sense to hire Johnny Winter to produce Muddy's first album for the label (of all the major blues-rock acts to emerge in the 1960s and '70s, Winter had the greatest affinity for the music at its most raw and immediate), and rather than hooking Muddy up with a slick studio crew or a team of well-known but overly flashy sycophants, Winter backed him with members of his road band (including Bob Margolin and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith) and a few veteran Waters sidemen (most notably James Cotton and Pinetop Perkins). Winter encouraged Muddy and his band to get loose and loud, and recorded the sessions live, with minimal overdubs and a big, roomy sound; the result, Hard Again, was a late career triumph for Muddy, in which the sixty-year-old singer roared like a man half his age, and the musicians wailed with potent force behind him. The album was titled Hard Again after Muddy joked to Winter that the music felt so good it gave him an erection, and listening to the songs, you might think he wasn't exaggerating -- combining the musical maturity that came after more than thirty years in the business with the passion that came from playing the music fast and loose, Hard Again left no one doubting that Muddy Waters was still a mighty powerhouse of the blues. Winter teamed up with Muddy for two more albums in the same manner as Hard Again, and if 1979's I'm Ready and 1981's King Bee don't pack quite the same amount of firepower, they both feature the star in great form, and confirm that his mojo continued to work overtime. All three of the Winter-produced Muddy Waters albums are featured in Collection: Hard Again/I'm Ready/King Bee, which simply packages the remastered CD versions of these albums (each with bonus tracks) in a special long box, with the jewel-box booklets for all three titles thrown in but no additional material added for this set. All three albums are available separately, and Hard Again is obviously the one to get if you're only getting one. But if you're a Muddy Waters fan interested in upgrading your aging vinyl copies of these three great albums, this is a fine way to go, and it's great listening for anyone with even a passing interest in the blues. ~ Mark Deming

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