John Primer is recognized as one of today’s most crucial keepers of the Chicago blues flame. He broke through playing with the great Willie Dixon, spent more than a decade alongside Magic Slim, and has released 15 albums of his own. In between Willie Dixon and Magic Slim, though, was the event that changed his life. Muddy Waters asked John to join his band, a gig which John faithfully remained with until Muddy’s death in 1983. For Muddy Waters 100, John gives a deeply personal tribute to the man he knew so very well. Born in Camden, Mississippi, John had spent his childhood listening to Muddy’s records. He has stated that “When I was fourteen years old, I had a dream that I was playing onstage with the Muddy Waters band! I did. He was my idol.” John used his cherished time with Muddy well, becoming a featured guitarist and vocalist in his band, and during that time learning everything he could from the master by absorbing Muddy’s vocal and instrumental faculties. Muddy not only further instilled in John a passion, knowledge and respect for the music, he also became a father figure to John, who didn’t have a father growing up, and they shared a powerful bond. John has since then felt a genuine responsibility to carry on Muddy’s legacy—Muddy’s sound, his songs and his spirit—a responsibility that John takes very seriously. With Muddy Waters 100, John’s dream has come true, and in more ways than one.
We are honored to have other distinguished Muddy Waters alumni on this project, all of whom played significant roles in Muddy’s long career. It is a blessing to have harmonica titan and legend James Cotton on this album. Like Little Walter, Cotton was a genre-defining addition to Muddy’s sound. An important bandleader and innovator in his own right, Cotton would go on to lead some of the greatest modern blues bands of all time. The reach of his influence on harmonica players everywhere is perhaps only surpassed by his longevity that allows him to grace us with his presence on this recording. To hear six decades later Cotton blow such beautiful harp on tracks he originally played on with Muddy is a precious gift. We are eternally grateful to have had the late, great blues legend Johnny Winter join us to record for Muddy Waters 100, only a few weeks before he passed away in July, 2014. Poignantly, and fittingly, he played on “I’m Ready” for this album, the title track from Muddy’s Grammy-winning album I’m Ready originally released in 1978. That album was one of two that Johnny produced for Muddy Waters in the late 1970s, helping to re-energize Muddy’s career at the end of that decade. We are also fortunate to have had Bob Margolin (who also played on the I’m Ready album, along with James Cotton and Johnny Winter) join us on this album. Bob spent seven years playing with Muddy and was very close to the man and his music. Bob’s admiration, great respect and dedication to Muddy’s musical genius are profound, and his graciousness in imparting his talent, knowledge and experience on this project has proven to be invaluable.
Along with the Muddy alumni, this gathering of the most preeminent blues and roots artists of our time makes this tribute truly a landmark celebration. Billy Branch, Gary Clark Jr., Shemekia Copeland, Keb’ Mo’ and Derek Trucks embody the spirit of this project: that for a tradition to survive, it must be passed on through generations and remain in a constant state of evolution by redefining itself in a contemporary context. By pushing the boundaries of this music, as Muddy did in his time, and with their own original voices and stories, these artists are helping to give the blues its future.
Muddy Waters 100 Artists
Excerpt from the introduction of the album Muddy Waters 100 written by producer Larry Skoller