Muddy Waters – “Tom Cat”

It confounds me that folks hated Muddy WatersElectric Mud, cuz this jam is something else, man.

(In before an even bigger music nerd than me takes me to task with paragraphs about how this album was a major departure from Waters’ classic blues cannon and a creatively bankrupt take on ’60s psychedelia or whatever.)

Muddy Waters is a pillar of American musical history. A talented guitar and harmonica player raised in the Mississippi Delta, Waters brought the blues to the north, Chicago, helping to grow and transform blues music. With his raw and soulful sound and powerful voice, Waters became one of the most talented and revered musicians of the post-war period.

Now I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not the preeminent expert when it comes to the blues legend. Most of my exposure to the man has been through hip-hop, with a generation of rappers directly and indirectly drawing inspiration from the songsmith (Of course, Redman is a huge example).

In the ’40s and ’50s Waters and his legendary band dominated in the blues and scored several radio hits. In the ’60s, Waters started branching out, and in 1968, capitalizing on the emerging electric rock craze, Waters and the psychedelic band Rotary Connection put out Electric Mud.

Despite Electric Mud‘s decent sales, critics and blues purists of the era tore into the album, decrying the fusion of blues and rock, and declaring that Waters pandered too much to pop music fans. The album was quickly forgotten after release, only being reassessed more recently by listeners. But of course, while blues fans wrote it off, hip-hop heads mined it extensively for samples.

But anyway, I’ve been enjoying it this week. Muddy’s singing is sly, confident, and full of body, and the band has fun going all the way out with their trippy takes on his classics like “Mannish Boy” and “Hoochie Coochie Man.”

“Tom Cat” in particular has a HOLD on me. Of course it’s familiar territory: Muddy singing to his woman, but gawwwdamn the energy that Rotary Connection brings to it! This one is so heavy and bottomless, gelling well with Muddy’s incredible voice, with the wry guitars, the wah wah petal, the tough-ass bassline, and plenty of mushrooms!

One Comment

  1. emilio
    November 20, 2021

    i always dug this album as an exchange between two genres. “Tom Cat” is a good example of the space that blues brought to psych rock, and the fluidness of psych into blues. it’s like a grittier, spacier East-West from The Paul Butterfield Blues Band.

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