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October 1997

Masters Of The Blues

This fabulous video offers some rare glimpses of Chicago blues greats in peak form, delivering the real deal with goosebump intensity. Originally aired in 1966 on Canadian television, Masters Of The Blues brings together such greats as Muddy Waters, Sunnyland Slim, James Cotton, Willie Dixon, Otis Spann and Sonny Terry & Brownie McGhee for a dream set of music recorded live in a Toronto studio with no audience, no pretense and no holds barred.

Muddy is seen here in striking black & white footage sporting a vertical hairdo that is, in the parlance of Fred Sanford, “fried, dyed and laid to the side.” Fronting a great band that features drummer S.P. Leary, left-handed rhythm guitarist James Madison, electric bassist Jimmy Lee Morrison, Spann on piano and Cotton blowing up a storm on harmonica, Muddy tackles his classic “Got My Mojo Workin’” with a kind of smoldering intensity. He pulls out the slide and stings with razor sharp licks on the telling slow blues “You Can’t Lose What You Never Had.” Spann, in a somewhat affected state, is featured with bassist Dixon on profoundly deep blue renditions of “Blues Don’t Like Nobody” and “T’aint Nobody’s Business If I Do.” Sonny & Brownie demonstrate their unique harmonies and magical chemistry on the country blues romp “Cornbread and Peas” with Sonny’s falsetto whoops and harmonica fills accenting Brownie’s earthy delivery. Sonny also gets to clown and raise a ruckus on the horny anthem “Hooray, Hooray, These Women Is Killin’ Me.” Sunnyland Slim, a Chicago blues original, delivers a spine-tingling performance of the slow blues “Tin Pan Alley,” his gospel holler vocals etched with pain. And Willie Dixon showcases his incredible slap bass technique on the instrumental duet with Sunnyland Slim, “Bassology.”

Through the technological miracle of digital film editing (a recent gimmick that has brought us commercials of Fred Astaire dancing with vacuum cleaners and Humphrey Bogart drinking Coca Colas at Rick’s Cafe), Canadian blues guitarist Colin James, who serves as the personable host of this repackaged video, gets to “sit in” with Dixon and Slim on “Crazy For My Baby.” Aside from that harmless bit of visual trickery, this presentation is pure and uncut and highly recommended to the most serious of blues connoisseurs.

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