Eyeballin': Muddy Waters Live at ChicagoFest

Pressed to name a classic bluesman, most people will mention B.B. King. The No. 2 slot would probably belong to the man born McKinley Morganfield (1915-1983). Through his incredible work for Chess Records in the '50s and '60s, he helped create the blueprint for electric blues before settling into elder statesmanship with the white rock icons of the day at his feet in the '70s. This DVD presents Muddy Waters and band at a 1981 Chicago blues festival.

After a rousing opener in "Mannish Boy" - where Waters growls, struts and prowls the stage like a man on fire - he then heads for a stool, delivering low-energy, rote recitations of numbers like "Baby Please Don't Go," "I'm a King Bee" and "Trouble No More" (probably familiar to many in the crowd via the Allman Brothers Band).

Harp man Mojo Burford - with his Mexican bullet-belt of harmonicas strapped across his chest - is animated. But the rest of the group plays competent, if unfiery music. When Waters sings "You know I can make honey/ The world ain't never seen" it's more like a memorized line from a play than a boast of sexual prowess. (Houston note of interest: There's a shot of a busty blonde in the crowd wearing a Gilley's T-shirt.)

Things pick up immensely when Waters introduces the scarily skeletal Johnny Winter as a guest - the Texas guitar whiz produced several of Waters' well-received last records - during "Walking Through the Park." Winter takes lead vocals for "Going Down Slow," and a reinvigorated Waters returns with "She's Nineteen Years Old." But when two guest vocalists Mighty Joe Young and Big Twist appear, Muddy becomes an sideman (albeit a revered one) at his own gig.

So while Live at ChicagoFest is an invaluable document of Waters toward the end of his life and career, it's just not a good representation of Muddy in performance or at full power. For completists only.

Shout! Factory, 56 min., $14.95.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero