Song 93: Muddy Waters, “I’ve Got My Mojo Working” (1960)

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Today, April 4, 2013, would have been Muddy Waters’s 100th birthday. (I’m cheating a little bit, because technically the 93rd day of the year is April 3, but I’m a day behind in my posts.) He has the same birthday as my daughter, who is exactly 98 years younger than him. I don’t think much about the cosmic meaning of birthdays or signs, but the older I get, the more I like it when things like that coincide. Lilly and I have danced around to Muddy Waters together, so it’s nice that they share a birthday.

I’m no blues expert, but I know that I love Chicago blues. I always thought I liked it because of its mixture of dirtiness and formality, so I was surprised to read that the Chicago style often incorporates some jazz elements, such as ninths, an interval between notes that makes the music sound a little more ambiguous and abstract. To my ears, there isn’t much ambiguity in the Chicago style, especially in the songs of Muddy Waters. There’s mystery and darkness, especially in the vocals and lyrics, but the music always seems locked down tight, full of tension, as if something’s about to break.

My favorite Muddy Waters song is easily “Got My Mojo Workin'”. The original studio version is much slower than I’m accustomed to from subsequent live versions, so today I’m going with the live version from the Newport Folk Festival. Muddy actually played the song a second time, so the track listing on the Muddy Waters at Newport 1960 album, recorded live at the Newport Jazz Festival, lists the song in two parts. I have no idea why he launched back into it after Part 1, but if he hadn’t, he wouldn’t have done that little foxtrot with his harp player, James Cotton.

Muddy Waters at Newport 1960 was an enormously popular and influential album, so it’s amazing to think that the performance almost didn’t happen. The previous night, a riot broke out after 12,000 drunk teenagers and college students rushed the gates in hopes of getting in without a ticket. The Rhode Island police and the National Guard responded with tear gas. Newport promoter George Wein convinced the Newport City Council to keep the concert going, and Muddy’s band went on the next day.

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