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A Historic Blues Concert, Newly Released

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Unidentified Man #1: I'd like to welcome you to an evening of blues with James Cotton, Johnny Winter and Muddy Waters.

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DAVID WAS: Thirty years ago this spring, a long-haired albino guitar hero named Johnny Winter sat down with a pair of blues legends.


It's David Was, DAY TO DAY's resident musician.

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Mr. MUDDY WATERS (Musician): One, two, three, four.

WAS: The Beaumont, Texas guitarist had long admired singer Muddy Waters and harmonica virtuoso James Cotton. The two blues men used to work together in the funky clubs of Chicago's Southside. But in the late '70s, they were being introduced to a generation of young white suburbanites suffused with existential angst.

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Mr. WATERS: (Singing) Leave my baby (unintelligible)

WAS: A new concert recording of this classic salt and pepper ensemble has just been released. It's called "Breakin It Up, Breakin' It Down." And it captures not only their easy rapport and respect these guys had, but the palpable excitement of their fledgling blues rock audience.

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WAS: That year, 1977, Johnny Winter had produced Muddy Waters' album "Hard Again," and this was the tour that supported that release.

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WAS: Until then, blues and jazz were only appreciated by a small but loyal cadre of aficionados. But that would change with the rise of the rock and roll blues man: Winter, Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. Their devotion to the Chess Records catalog of the late '40s and '50s fueled the commercial resurgence of these venerable artists and others.

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Mr. WATERS: Thank you, ladies and gentlemen, thank you very much.

WAS: Here's the irony: white kids from New York and Detroit and Pennsylvania, where these concerts were recorded, were embracing a music that it had been shunned in the very community where it was born.

To many blacks, blues music was a retrograde, rural genre that reminded folks of the hardship and suffering they were leaving behind. Of course that was exactly the reason it was embraced by white kids in search of authenticity and emotion after all those thin gruel years of Pat Boone and Herb Alpert records.

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WAS: You might argue that the emergence of the Beastie Boys in the mid-'80s was a parallel invitation to the joys of hip-hop, another in-your-face genre that would win the affections of not only white kids but rappers and B-boys from Paris to Tokyo.

For my money, Muddy Waters was the first gangster rapper, albeit with a G-rated vocabulary and a dignified presence that made him beloved by hippies in search of the lost chord.

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WAS: Check out this collection and then go buy some Chess Records discs if you want to smoke the unfiltered brand.

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CHADWICK: Breaking it up, breaking it down, music from Muddy Waters, Johnny Winter and James Cotton. Our reviewer, DAY TO DAY blues brother David Was.

(Soundbite of recording) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

David Was