Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
MUDDY WATERS & THE ROLLING STONES
Checkerboard Lounge—Live Chicago 1981
By Bill Dahl
It’s been circulating in bootleg form for years, but Eagle Vision’s DVD/CD combo release of the Rolling Stones’ November 22, 1981 visit to the Checkerboard Lounge to sit in with Muddy Waters and an assorted cast of Chicago blues luminaries marks its legit debut (it probably took three decades to sort out all the legalities). This was no static film shoot from the back of the intimate club; several video cameras bring the viewer close up to the action, the stereo sound quality is clear as a bell, and the DVD clocks in at more than an hour-and-a-half.
Actually, it’s a bit of misnomer to claim the Stones were uniformly in attendance that historic night; Charlie Watts and Bill Wyman were otherwise indisposed. That left Mick, Keith, Ron Wood, and pianist Ian Stewart to represent the most famous rock band in the world at the jam-packed club (owners Buddy Guy and L.C. Thurman probably weren’t accustomed to having that many glittery groupies on hand; one of the Stones’ gaggle of babes wears a Neo T-shirt).
Prior to the Brits’ fashionably late entrance, pianist Lovie Lee warms up the stand with two numbers, reminding us of how tasty Muddy’s last great band was. Lee was joined there by guitarists John Primer (whose vocal number is relegated to the DVD’s bonus footage) and Rick Kreher, harpist Mojo Buford, bassist Earnest Johnson, and drummer Ray Allison. Buford introduces Muddy, his set opening with a relaxed take of Jimmy Reed’s “You Don’t Have To Go” before he digs into a luxurious “Country Boy” slathered in his slashing slide guitar.
Midway through a romping “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Muddy calls Jagger up, Richards and Wood soon following by tromping right down the middle of the long table in front of the stage (somehow they avoid kicking over anyone’s drink; Richards lugs his own half-full whiskey bottle with him). The father-son warmth between Muddy and Mick is apparent from the get-go, Jagger struts, smiles, and trades lyrics with his hero as though they’d done it forever.
Four guitars is usually a couple too many for any stage to hold (especially one as small as the Checkerboard’s), but everyone manages to pretty much stay out of one another’s way as Muddy and his once-in-a-lifetime expanded band strut through “Hoochie Coochie Man,” an impassioned “Long Distance Call,” and the anthemic “Mannish Boy.” Waters and Jagger step down and leave things in Junior Wells’ capable hands for a rollicking “Got My Mojo Working.” He in turn hands the ball off to Guy for a jumping “Next Time You See Me” full of fleet-fingered guitar histrionics that threaten to careen out of control once or twice.
Rail-thin and impeccably attired, Lefty Dizz, the self-proclaimed “Clown Prince of the Blues,” gets his turn in the spotlight next on a lengthy “One Eyed Woman.” There’s no denying his energy, but he’s seriously out of tune and sloppy as hell on his battered axe, and he insists on singing off mic for a stretch. Richards and Wood must have wondered how they got roped into staying on duty that long; they grab a sip of their respective libations whenever they can.
When Waters makes his way back to the stage, he’s donned a suit and tie for his English visitors, ditching the less formal attire he wore for his first set. He only does two numbers this time, a relaxed “Clouds In My Heart” and a relatively recent addition to his repertoire, the crowd-pleasing “Champagne And Reefer.” Mick’s back up there next to him, obviously enjoying himself, and he clearly approves of Muddy’s recreational drug choices.
Along with Primer’s feature, the DVD contains a bonus 1981 clip of the Stones at full strength rolling through “Black Limousine” at Hampton Coliseum. The accompanying CD drops four songs from the running order, disappointingly excising “Country Boy” (Dizz’s tune would have been a wiser choice).
More than a souvenir of a historic summit meeting, this release stands up musically, proving that three-fifths of the Stones could more than hold their own with the eternal king of Chicago blues on his gritty home turf.