Rock Moment: Psychedelic Blues, 1968


Forty years ago, Elvis Presley staged a dramatic comeback with a TV special and new recordings that attracted new fans and excited old fans who were alienated by nine years of awful movies.   This set the template for important artists who wanted to rekindle their careers and music.

One person watching Elvis’ comeback was Marshall Chess, son of the president of the Chicago-based record label Chess.  His biggest blues artist, Muddy Waters, needed a shot in the arm so Chess had the idea to recast some of Muddy’s greatest songs and a few new originals in a psychedelic haze.  After all, some of the greatest bands of the era – the Rolling Stones, the Yardbirds, the Animals, Jimi Hendrix Experience and many others – were heavily influenced by the music of Muddy Waters and other Chess artists.

Howlin' Wolf

So Chess assembled some hot musicians and produced the album Electric Mud.  After it was unleashed in 1968, it was a success and managed to rejuvenate Muddy Waters’ career.  But it also inflamed the wrath of blues purists, who accused Muddy Waters of “selling out.”  Undeterred, Chess also convinced classic blues artist Howlin’ Wolf to also record a psychedelic album.  The result, This Is Howlin’ Wolf’s New Album (And He Doesn’t Like It), from 1969, was also a moderate hit.  And the title was pretty accurate: Howlin’ Wolf pretty much hated the result.

Nonetheless, many people today fondly recall Electric Mud as a classic, influential album.  Hendrix, for one, is on record as saying he loved it.  In 2003, one segment of Martin Scorsese’s great PBS series “The Blues” focused on the work of Marshall Chess and the evolution of Electric Mud.  The “Godfathers And Sons” episode featured Public Enemy rapper Chuck D taking a historic blues tour of Chess artists and reassembling the Electric Mud musicians (Muddy died in 1983) to perform at the 20th anniversary Chicago Blues Festival.  So today, 40 years out – we celebrate the Chess psychedelic era.

MP3: “I Just Want To Make Love To You,” by Muddy Waters

MP3: “Let’s Spend The Night Together” by Muddy Waters

MP3: “Herbert Harper’s Free Press News” by Muddy Waters

MP3: “Tail Dragger” by Howlin’ Wolf

MP3: “Evil” by Howlin’ Wolf

MP3: “Back Door Man” by Howlin’ Wolf (Note: the abrupt ending is intentional)

Martin Scorsese’s “The Blues” TV series official website (PBS)

2 Responses to “Rock Moment: Psychedelic Blues, 1968”

  1. what is wrong w/ people who just assume because marshall chess was born into the “chess family” that automatically makes him a music naturalist? aside from what HE may convey(in his delusional mind) all of you who write of what a music mogul he is, what an accomplished producer he is! you’re all nuts—obviously none of you writers know a thing about music yourselves.–you see he did spend time @ the company, yes that he did,so he can fool those of you to believe he “FEELS” music. believe me–marshall chess has no feel for music at all none!! he hadn’t a clue in the 60’s that rock and roll was rooted on chess–not a clue! i’m actually laughing it was so absurd—-but so true. the one who really knew what a looser he was was his FATHER–i never saw a parent w/ more disgust for a son than Leonard Chess had for Marshall–and as expected, marshall hadn’t a clue not one clue that his father never spoke to him except to call him names and laugh—-particularilly when i (the 1st wife was present)

  2. YAA Adding this to my bookmarks. Thank You

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