Roadhouse album review: “The Montreux Years” a powerful look back at Muddy Waters live

Most people aren’t lucky enough to be in the audience whenever great artists have memorable shows. That’s partly why there is a recording industry. And that’s exactly why there is a new series of excellent live albums from BMG Records and the Montreux Jazz Festival — titled “The Montreux Years” for four artists so far, and presumably much more to come.

Already released this summer at two splendid sets by Nina Simone and Etta James: “Nina Simone – The Montreux Years” and “Etta James – The Montreux Years.” (If you’re a streamer, these can be found on Spotify.)

Coming up Sept. 17 are “Muddy Waters – The Montreux Years” and “Marianne Faithful – The Montreux Years.” (Both are already streaming on Amazon Prime Music and Spotify.)

I want to talk about Muddy’s session in this review, even though you can’t buy the CD or vinyl yet. I’ll get to the rest later.

These are not typical live albums, where a show is recorded and then replayed pretty much as is was performed. These sets consist of powerful performances from multiple festival appearances, arranged in a way that the producers hope will provide great listening.

And it works — splendidly.

What we get from all this is great blues from one of the greatest bluesmen, still powerful in his early 60s. Muddy’s bands, starting with the smaller ’72 combo, right through the nine-piece ’77 band, are razor-sharp on a group of classic Muddy blues.

The songs “Long Distance Call,” “Rollin’ And Tumblin’,” “Rosalie,” “County Jail” and “Rock Me Baby” are taken from the 1972 concert, his first at Montreux, with his basic band, the raw, stripped-down unit that represented the kind of tough, terse blues that was Muddy Waters. Just Waters and Louis Myers on guitar, David Myers on bass, Lafayette Leake on Piano, and Freddy Below on drum. Just enough to let the music say what you want, without saying too much.

The songs from the other years are no less formidable, but sound just a little different when guitar-slingers like Buddy Guy, Terry Taylor, Bob Margolin and Luther Johnson, plus harpmen Junior Wells and Jerry Portnoy are thrown into the mix.

This is an excellent selection of songs from the festival. You can probably hear most of them in other places, but the crackling Montreux vibe is clearly present, and everything sounds just right.

I’m sure Muddy and his bands gave great performances everywhere they went, but these live cuts have a joy and intensity kindled in this classic festival that’s hard to match. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” was an early Waters recording, and despite that sentiment, you can be with this outstanding recording.

Here’s the tracklist for Muddy’s album, showing the year of the performance:

Nobody Knows Chicago Like I Do (1977), Mannish Boy (1974), Long Distance Call (1972), Rollin’ and Tumblin’ (1972), County Jail (1972), Got My Mojo Working (1977), I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man (1977), I’m Ready (1974), Still a Fool (1977), Trouble No More (1977), Rosalie (1972), Rock Me Baby (1972), Same Thing (1974), Howlin’ Wolf (1977), Can’t Get No Grindin’ (What’s the Matter With the Meal) (1977), Electric Man (1974)

You can check the impressive Montreux festival concerts database for the complete set list from the show, along with the band members. Here’s the lineup for Muddy’s bands:

1972 — Muddy Waters (g, vocal), Freddy Below (dr), David Myers (b), Louis Myers (g), Lafayette Leake (p)
1974 — Buddy Guy (g), Muddy Waters (g, voc), Junior Wells (hca), Terry Taylor (g), Bill Wyman (b), Dallas Taylor (dr), Pinetop Perkins (p)
1977 — Muddy Waters (g, voc), Bill Wyman (b), Dallas Taylor (dr), Pinetop Perkins (p), Luther Johnson (g, voc), Calvin Jones (b, voc), Robert Margolin (g), Jerry Portnoy (hca), Willie Smith (dr)

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