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East Side SlimBy East Side Slim

Muddy Waters – King BeeMuddy Waters – King Bee

{EPIC/Legacy/Sony, 1981/2004}

(From the cd notes) – King Bee was Waters’ last studio recording, comprised of sessions conducted in May 1980, augmented with out-takes from the sessions for 1977’s Hard Again release. This expanded reissue edition of King Bee has been remastered and features two additional bonus tracks, both out-takes from 1977’s Hard Again sessions that were not included on the original 1981 album release.

In the late 1970s Johnny Winter produced four albums of new recordings by Muddy Waters – Hard Again, I’m Ready, Muddy “Mississippi Waters-Live and King Bee. There were some new songs written for the sessions, some new covers were recorded and some of Muddy’s older songs were revisited with updated arrangements & renewed vigor. This time period marked an upsurge in Muddy’s career in general, but also effectively closed out his recording career with the King Bee release.

King Bee was made at a time when Muddy’s long-time 1970s era band was breaking apart, mostly due to financial/managerial pressures. It was the last album he made with Luther Johnson, Bob Margolin, Pinetop Perkins, Jerry Portnoy, Calvin Jones and Willie Smith, who would leave Waters shortly after finishing the album to form The Legendary Blues Band (minus Pinetop Perkins.)

In general, the songs on King Bee are deeper, more mournful sounding, than on the previous Johnny Winter-produced albums. Where the other albums were bathed in a positive “let’s party” vibe, King Bee was recorded during a period of band-management turmoil and the declining health of Muddy. Don’t take that to mean that the songs on King Bee are bad; they are most certainly not. They just have a more melancholy feel to them – deeper blues, if you will.

The Songs - (written by McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield unless otherwise specified):

1) I’m A King Bee - (James “Slim Harpo” Moore)
Very powerful; it’s obvious that blues MEN are performing here. It’s about as far from Slim Harpo’s version as you will get & still have a recognizable cover. Then again, it’s really done in Waters’ rugged style so it’s barely a cover tune anyway.

2) Too Young To Know
Mid-tempo hard, deep ensemble blues. The remastering on this album allows the listener to hear every musician – very nice.

3) Mean Old Frisco Blues – (Arthur Cruddup)
I normally enjoy “Mean Old Frisco” a lot, but Muddy’s version here just seems to be lacking something. His vocal delivery seems to be lacking a certain enthusiasm. Johnny Winter does play a very nice solo break in the middle of the song, though.

4) Forever Lonely
A slow blues. Knowing what was going on in Muddy’s life at the time, it’s easy to imagine that turmoil influencing his vocals on this track. Muddy sings this with passion and Johnny Winter plays some great guitar solos. The band nailed this one!

5) I Feel Like Going Home
An acoustic slow blues track that was actually an unused out-take from the Hard Again sessions. Muddy is on vocals, with J. Winter & Bob Margolin on acoustic guitars, Willie Smith on very spare percussion. It’s a nice side of Muddy’s repertoire that he didn’t show much after the early 1950s. The deep acoustic blues is really Muddy’s roots – check out his Library of Congress-Lomax recordings for proof.

6) Champagne & Reefer
This is a slow shuffle that is an ode to two of Muddy’s favorite “mood enhancers”. One story goes that after Waters’ doctor told him he had to quit drinking whiskey, he (Waters) decided champagne would be OK as a substitute. And when he wanted to get really mellow, well… (East Side Slim & Stlblues.net in no way endorse the use of either champagne OR reefer – indulge at your own peril.)

7) Sad Sad Day
This is another slow blues – Muddy loved ‘em. Waters’ baby picked up and went away...and it made him so so sad. There is some stinging slide work on this one; it makes you feel Muddy’s pain.

8) (My Eyes) Keep Me In Trouble – (Happy Walker)
This song moves along at a faster tempo than the last few songs. There is a squalling harp heard throughout, strong guitar attack and a slightly disjointed feel to the whole thing. That disjointed feel makes me like it even more (I’m not sure what that says about me?!) This song has a good country juke-joint feel.

9) Deep Down In Florida – (St. Louis Jimmy Oden)
We’re slowing down again; put on your waders, as there’s deep blues ahead. This has some of that disjointed, juke vibe – so you know I like this song. Again, the remastering has done wonders for this album. Just to let all of you know, even if I say the vibe is disjointed, the playing is not. True ensemble blues – does it get any better than that?

10) No Escape From The Blues – (M. Morganfield, C.E. Williams)
This song was the set closer on the original 1981 album release of King Bee. It’s a mid-tempo shuffle, Chicago-style.

11) I Won’t Go On (bonus track) – (St. Louis Jimmy Oden)
This fun, spirited track is an out-take from the Hard Again sessions, which featured James Cotton on harmonica. I’m not sure if he or Jerry Portnoy actually played here, but it sounds like Cotton.

12) Clouds In My Heart (bonus track)
This is the other bonus out-take included on King Bee deriving from the Hard Again sessions. A great deep slow blues to close out the album. Muddy worked the vocal hard on this one. Very nice guitar solos…a great track!

The Verdict:
While not the 1st place to start when getting into the music of Muddy Waters, King Bee is definitely worthwhile and is a solid album. If you enjoy deep blues, tough ensemble playing and passionate singing then you will certainly enjoy this cd. Make sure to pick up the 2004 remastered edition of King Bee, as the sound is much improved over the original, and two bonus tracks are included (one of which, Clouds In My Heart, may be the best song on the cd.) In addition, Bob Margolin’s informative liner notes are almost worth the price of the cd on their own. I’m going to give King Bee a rating of 4.0 on the Blues-O-Meter, as there is at least one track here that is pushing “filler” territory.

Lee 'East Side Slim' Howland
The STLBluesometer

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