Muddy Waters / The Rolling Stones – Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago 1981

Title: Checkerboard Lounge: Live Chicago 1981

Artist: Muddy Waters/The Rolling Stones

Label: Eagle Vision

Format: DVD

Release date: July 10, 2012



Throughout their career, the Rolling Stones have been upstaged again and again, and usually to comic effect. Keith Richards describes following James Brown for the live tapping of the TAMI show in 1964 as the band’s worst career mistake. The band refused to release footage from their televised 1968 concert The Rolling Stones Circus, feeling themselves outshone by The Who. Keith Richards and Chuck Berry famously butted heads on stage at the taping of the 1986 Hail! Hail! Rock’n’Roll concert. And had they not been so drunk, their 1981 improvised performance with Muddy Waters at Chicago’s legendary Checkerboard Lounge, would have given the Rolling Stones pause to reflect on their ability to share the spotlight with Mr. Mighty Mississippi. But the performance was not a total train wreck. The Rolling Stones (playing the part of the Rolling Stones) simply strut on, almost obliviously, through their defeat.

In Eagle Vision’s new release of the concert footage, the Rolling Stones, who named themselves after Muddy Water’s 1950 classic “Rollin’ Stone,” prove themselves ever the prodigal son to the father of Chicago blues, and if one has their eye steadily trained on Muddy Waters, the Rolling Stones, in all their coked-out glitz, offer a good foil to Muddy, tempered, tasteful, and expertly commanding. The epitome of blues machismo.

After Muddy Waters takes the stage—*It’s start time!*—he greets the crowd but has a momentarily lapse of memory and keens the floor to remind himself what city he’s in, evidence of a demanding touring schedule and the dizziness of life on the road. But when the words South Side Chicago finally catch up to him, a look of relief passes over his face. If only in memory, this place is home.

He breaks into “You Don’t Have to Go,” and immediately establishes his credentials, treating the loose sinews of a mid-tempo blues shuffle with the sturdiness of his voice and lynchpin guitar licks. “Country Boy,” in which Muddy showcases his electric-slide fingering, alone is worth the price of admission. Like bacon fat sizzling on a skillet, clanging machinery, a wailing baby, an enamored woman, Muddy’s electric guitar rings the blood out of every note, and stands in huge contrast to the dry guitar pyrotechnics of his backing band’s lead guitarist. Muddy’s wild facial ticks and expressions during his guitar solos add to the sense that Muddy is performing an act of sorcery over his stringed plank of wood.

In “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Muddy shows beyond a shadow of a doubt where rock’n’roll came from, and like a historical re-enactment of the British Invasion, the Rolling Stones’ entourage bust in on the scene in full party mode, model girlfriends in tow. Muddy invites them to the stage but tells them, with only the most congenial hint of irony, not to rush their drinking rituals.

As the Rolling Stones become Muddy’s stage band, Richards and Wood fall right into Muddy’s languorous groove. But Jagger, obviously not used to sharing the limelight, looks like a ventriloquist dummy next to Waters, smiling too much and too often and trying too hard and at the same time not enough to impress. On the foot heels of The Blues Brothers feature film, Mick Jagger, dressed in a polyester soccer jersey, reminds us what happened to the blues in the ’80s: gross parody.

But the Stones also muddy the waters in a good way. Richards’ licks on “Mannish Boy” reveal him to be a true acolyte of Muddy’s electric church, and the Rolling Stones certainly add presence to “Champagne and Reefer,” a slow-cooked jam on the pleasures of excess, featuring a hilarious freestyle from Jagger and powerhouse vocals from Muddy that prove that he is for all time the man, spelled M-A-N.

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Reviewed by Betsy Shepherd