Rock Moment: Muddy Waters at Juneteenth, 1977


In Texas, we’ve always celebrated Juneteenth.  It’s a day for picnics, food and music in the park.  Juneteenth commemorates the day back in 1865 when slaves in Texas first learned they had been emancipated by President Abraham Lincoln two years earlier.  Nowadays mostly African Americans celebrate Juneteenth and everyone else pretty much just goes about their business as usual.  But back in the 1970s, Juneteenth in Houston was a big party.  And everyone was invited.

Starting in 1977, the city put on a big outdoor blues festival in Hermann Park.  Everywhere you turned you could hear fine blues music and get a whiff of barbecue smoke (and another kind of smoke, if you catch my drift).  We had some great times at those first few Juneteenth blues festivals – Stevie Ray Vaughan played with Lou Ann Barton and Double Trouble, and there were appearances by Lightnin’ Hopkins, Gatemouth Brown, Eddie “Cleanhead” Vinson, Lowell Fulsom, Freddie King, John Lee Hooker, Professor Longhair, Big Mama Thornton, Clifton Chenier … the list just goes on forever.

But the all-time greatest act ever to play at Juneteenth was the very first headliner in 1977: Muddy Waters.  The King of Chicago Blues had just put out his excellent album Hard Again, produced by Johnny Winter, and he showed up in Houston with his roaring Chicago band that included James Cotton on harmonica.

He played ’em all: “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and of course, “Mannish Boy.”  His crack band included the great Bob Margolin on guitar and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums.  It was a masterful performance by one of American music’s true masters.

In addition to Muddy, my two favorite memories from that first Juneteenth blues festival was the appearance by the Fabulous Thunderbirds, the first white boys to play the festival (Stevie Ray played in 1979, two years later).  Festival-goers didn’t quite know what to make of them; by set’s end, people were dancing on the grassy hill everywhere you looked. 

And my other fond memory was of this wasted guy who wore a cheap 3-dollar department store white T-shirt, and on the shirt he scrawled in Magic Marker: “I Like The Blues.”  It looked like he might have had a few when he wrote it, but the message was clear.  He proudly wore this shirt and while Muddy Waters played, he walked down to the stage and turned to face the audience so the world could read his statement.  And everyone, black and white, joined together to give this guy applause and encourage him and celebrate the blues.  Wherever you are, drunk guy, thanks!  What a great time in Houston.

MP3: “Mannish Boy” (live) by Muddy Waters

MP3: “Baby Please Don’t Go” (live) by Muddy Waters

MP3: “Nine Below Zero” (live) by Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters official website

3 Responses to “Rock Moment: Muddy Waters at Juneteenth, 1977”

  1. Vann Schaffner Says:

    I was there.

  2. 30daysout Says:

    Me too! What do you remember?

  3. Tom Walko Says:

    It was my senior year of high school and I was a long haired rock and roll guy that had been just recently introduced to the blues. I had heard the blues all my life (all 18 years) but never really “felt” the blues until the 1975-1977 time frame. Texas local Johnny Winter was one of the first live performances where I felt the blues, then there was the 1977 Juneteenth festival…. From there the blues have been at the core of my soul and as each day goes by I feel more and more the pain, suffering, and the joy expressed in each and every rooted blues song I experience.

    Thank you Muddy, Big Mamma, Buddy Guy, Big Joe Turner, Sonny Terry, James Cotton, STEVIE RAY, Johnny Winter, Koko Taylor, and …….. for make the blues part of my life. I enjoy my own expression through guitrar, harmonica and trumpet performing…..

    God Bless and long live the blues!


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