In 1977, a young albino white man from Texas was among the most popular blues-rock guys around.
One of Johnny Winter’s greatest accomplishments that year was helping make an old black man, Muddy Waters, popular again. Together, they made the album Hard Again and toured nationally with James Cotton to promote it and their high-energy, electric version of the blues. Breakin’ It Up, Breakin’ It Down was recorded live during the tour and is being released for the first time. It’s obvious from the 11 songs here that they had a good time in front of enthusiastic audiences, often sharing vocals, playing together, and playing off one another: the classy Waters, the raspy Winter, and the sometimes theatrically shrill Cotton.
The songs mix old and at-the-time new, dating as far back as Robert Johnson’s “Dust My Broom” and Fleecy Moore’s “Caledonia” and as “recent” as “Black Cat Bone,” “Rocket 88,” and “Love Her With a Feeling.” Electric guitar, harmonica, and piano dominate. The tour, called “An Evening of Blues with Johnny Winter, Muddy Waters, and James Cotton,” also featured Pinetop Perkins (piano), Bob Margolin (guitar), Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (drums), and Charles Calmese (bass). Recorded when the blues was in resurgence and was, at least for a while, both black and white, a collaboration of this magnitude likely hasn’t been heard since.-Tom Geddie