Judge Gordon Sullivan skips rolling stones across muddy waters.
I got my mojo workin'!
No matter how far they may stray with flirtations towards disco, reggae, or trip-hop, The Rolling Stones will always be a blues band at heart. Unlike contemporaries such as the Beatles, the Stones realized early on that they could harness the unbridled sexuality of the blues to win fans, and that sexuality was the perfect complement to the bad-boy swagger everyone in the band embodied. Though they were at heart a blues band (and still are, despite being a stadium-sized touring group) as the Seventies wore on the band members grew into different interests, different drugs, and ultimately different music. By the end of the 1970s, though, the band was in a weird place, growing into middle age as punk demonstrated to them just how old they'd gotten. It's not surprising, then, that they'd try to return to their roots. On an American tour not much different from the many others they'd launched throughout their existence, the band stopped into Buddy Guy's The Checkerboard Lounge to see blues legend Muddy Waters play with his band. It wasn't long before The Rolling Stones (minus Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman) took the stage. The document that emerged will be a treat for fans of both groups.
Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge 1981 starts out like any other Muddy Waters show as his band warms up, he emerges, and they run through some classic blues numbers. Eventually, Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, Ron Wood, and Ian Stewart join the fray, as do other blues notables (including Buddy Guy). In various combinations, the group of blues artists runs through a classic lineup of standards including "Baby Please Don't Go," "Mannish Boy," and "Got My Mojo Workin'."
Let it be said immediately: If all you care about concerning The Rolling Stones is the hits, this is not the DVD for you. I love Hot Licks and Get Yer Ya-Ya's Out as much as the next person, but this is a blues record at its core. There are no Rolling Stones songs on the track listing, and though they are honored guests, it's really the blues that is the showcase here.
This is also not really a vocalist's record, either. Yes, Mick Jagger spends much of the time on the stage, either dancing or giving help on a chorus or an "Amen!," even singing some verses. Really, this is a guitar performance almost from the word go. Even without the Stones presence, you've got Muddy Waters, Buddy Guy, and Junior Wells on the same stage. This is Chicago-blues guitar heaven. Throw in Keith Richards in fine form and Ron Wood rocking quite a bit of slide guitar, and you've got a performance that could launch a thousand guitar players.
For fans in that target demographic, this is a stunning document. The Stones are in fine form, Muddy Waters and his band are rocking, and you couldn't really ask for a better set list. That this exists at all, a strange documentary of the meeting of blues and rock 'n' roll, is remarkable. That it is so good is almost miraculous. Like similar documents (the "Million Dollar Quartet" recordings of the Sun Records stable come to mind), Checkerboard Lounge is a magical document that deserves a place on any blues fan's shelf.
It certainly doesn't hurt that the DVD looks and sounds as good as it does. Shot on video with limited choices for angles (the club itself isn't huge), the standard definition 1.33:1 full frame presentation isn't staggering. Colors are only okay, detail is middling, and the whole presentation looks its age. That doesn't really matter because the audio has been cleaned up significantly by Bob Clearmountain. The Dolby 5.1 mix is stunning, with good clarity and separation between the instruments and plenty of low end. I don't get the sense that there was a lot of time to prep for this recording, so the fact that they achieved such clear sound is a testament to audio ingenuity.
Bonus features include some extra footage, and a CD that condenses the night down to 11 tracks from the 16 that the band performed. Though obviously the full show is the best option, this CD does a fine job getting the "hits" down for easy listening where DVD playing isn't an option.
Muddy Waters and The Rolling Stones: Live at the Checkerboard Lounge 1981 is perfect for fans of Muddy Waters and anyone who appreciates the bluesier aspects of The Rolling Stones' history. As a meeting between Chicago blues and the rock to which it gave birth, this document should be treasured as a genuine piece of American history.
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