Muddy Waters’ “Hard Again” is an Album for the Ages
Editor’s Note: With the celebration of what would have been his 103rd birthday, we are re-running this column, originally posted on July 17th, 2014. This is a look at what has come to be known as Muddy Waters’ “comeback” album, Hard Again. With the untimely passing of Johnny Winter yesterday, this seems like an especially appropriate choice. 71714
Looking back, it is hard to believe that Muddy Waters would even need a “comeback” album. In fact, that is exactly what happened with the release of Hard Again in 1977. Waters’ recording career had been waning, and then Chess Records had been sold to All Platinum Records, becoming a reissue label only in August of 1975. It had been a long held dream of Johnny Winter to record an album with Waters, who was his idol, and friend. Waters signed with Winter’s Blue Sky Label in October, 1976, and Hard Again was recorded over a three day period. Oh, to have been a fly on the wall at those sessions!
The backing band here is phenomenal. On guitars we have Waters, Winter, and Bob Margolin. The rhythm section is Charles Calmese on bass, and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on skins. We also have harp master James Cotton, and piano maestro Pinetop Perkins lending their immense talents to the proceedings. As the producer, Winter’s vision was to ensure the finished recording sounded as bare-bones as possible. Helping Winters make his vision a reality were engineer Dave Still, his assistant Andy Manganello, mix engineer Chris Theis, and Joseph M. Palmaccio, who masterfully mixed the album. Their efforts were a resounding success, which is one reason this album is still resonates with people today.
With such a talented group of musicians there are times when this album gets very loose, but even so, the playing is spirited, and brilliant. There are instances when players attempt to begin soloing together, and here and there someone is ahead, or behind a beat. Here, that just adds to the flavor of this blues banquet these gentlemen have served up. Waters is in great spirits, and fine form. His jubilation in the midst of this feast is obvious. Everyone else is overjoyed to be playing along with him, and each player’s enthusiasm eggs the others on. The music is honest, and has a chemistry seldom achieved, reaffirmed by the banter that Winter left in the recordings. The result is an album that sounds like it was recorded in an alley behind the club before the band actually goes inside and blows the crowd away. This is music that is being shared amongst friends, and something they savor.
Just listen to the synchronicity of the players on tracks like “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and “I Want To Be Loved.” Then there’s the weaving in and around each other on “Crosseyed Cat.” On “Bus Driver” Johnny plays beautifully pointed lines, and the band percolates behind him in a slow, thumping simmer that threatens to boil over. “Manish Boy” exudes a power and energy that is palpable, shaking you to your core. On and on it goes. Whether a player, or simply a blues devotee, the level of musicianship will smoke your brain. It is simply jaw-dropping.
This album is a shot of pure blues love that will grab your heart, caress your soul, and warm your spirit to the floorboards. It will love you, shake you, stroke you, and give you your groove back. And then some.