Electric Mud is the fifth studio album by Muddy Waters, with Rotary Connection serving as his backing band. Released in 1968, it imagines Muddy Waters as a psychedelic musician. Producer Marshall Chess suggested that Muddy Waters record experimental, psychedelic blues tracks with members of Rotary Connection in an attempt to revive the blues singer's career.
The album peaked at #127 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart. It was controversial for its fusion of electric blues with psychedelic elements, but was influential on psychedelic rock bands of the era.
In 1967, Marshall Chess formed Cadet Concept Records as a subsidiary of Chess Records. The label's first release was the self-titled debut album of the psychedelic band Rotary Connection, whose members Chess described as "the hottest, most avant garde rock guys in Chicago". As a result of the album's success, Chess felt that he could revive the career of bluesmen Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf by recording two albums of experimental, psychedelic blues with members of Rotary Connection as the backing band for the singers, producing the albums Electric Mud and The Howlin' Wolf Album. Chess hoped the new albums would sell well among fans of psychedelic rock bands influenced by Muddy Waters and Howlin' Wolf. According to Muddy Waters, "Quite naturally, I like a good-selling record. I was looking at it because I played for so many of these so-called hippies that I thought probably I could reach them."
In place of Muddy Waters' regular musicians were Gene Barge, Pete Cosey, Roland Faulkner, Morris Jennings, Louis Satterfield, Charles Stepney and Phil Upchurch. Cosey, Upchurch and Jennings joked about calling the group "The Electric Niggers". Marshall Chess liked the suggestion, but Leonard Chess refused to allow the name.
The album incorporates use of wah-wah pedal and fuzzbox. Marshall Chess augmented the rhythm of Muddy Waters' live band with the use of electric organ and saxophone. Blues purists criticized the album's psychedelic sound. According to Marshall Chess, "It was never an attempt to make Muddy Waters a psychedelic artist; it was a concept album like David Bowie being Ziggy Stardust." Muddy Waters said of the album's sound, "That guitar sounds just like a cat — meow — and the drums have a loping, busy beat."
"I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" incorporates free jazz influences, with Gene Barge performing a concert harp. Muddy Waters performs the vocals of "Let's Spend the Night Together", a cover of The Rolling Stones' 1967 single, in gospel-soul style with heavy influence from Cream's Sunshine of Your Love.
According to Buddy Guy, "[Muddy Waters couldn't] feel this psychedelic stuff at all...and if the feeling is gone, that's it. You can't get too busy behind a singer. You've got to let him sing it." Muddy Waters' previous albums replicated the sound of his live performances. Working with a studio band rather than his own was problematic for Muddy Waters, who could not perform material from the album live. He stated "What the hell do you have a record for if you can't play the first time it's out? I'm so sick of that...If you've got to have big amplifiers and wah-wahs and equipment to make you guitar say different things, well, hell, you can't play no blues."
The title of the album did not refer to the use of electric guitar, as Muddy Waters had played the instrument since he first signed to Chess Records. The use of the term "electric" is used in a psychedelic context.
The Electric Mud album cover artwork was eclectic and reflected McKinley Morganfield's fashion preferences during 1968. The front cover of the original 33 RPM vinyl commercial release during 1968 in the USA featured two graphic versions; a white background with black text, and a second, less known black background with white text. The back cover and inner gate fold artwork were identical in both versions, as was the small booklet of photos accompanying the release. Viewing of various Electric Mud album cover graphics can be found by searching Google's Images metasearch capabilities.
On November 19, 1996, the album was reissued on compact disc by Chess Records. On November 22, 2011, Electric Mud and After the Rain were combined on a single compact disc by BGO Records.
Electric Mud sold 150,000 copies within the first six weeks of release. Peaking at #127 on the Billboard Pop Albums chart, it was Muddy Waters' first album to hit on the Billboard and Cash Box charts. In a Rolling Stone feature, Pete Welding wrote, "'Electric Mud' does great disservice to one of the blues' most important innovators, and prostitutes the contemporary styles to which his pioneering efforts have led." Although American critics panned the album, it was better received in England. According to Marshall Chess, "It was the biggest Muddy Waters record we ever had at Chess, and it dropped instantly. The English accepted it; they are more eccentric."
Muddy Waters recorded After the Rain the following year, incorporating elements of the sound of Electric Mud. According to Cosey, "I'll never forget, as soon as I walked into the studio for the follow-up and Muddy saw me, he threw his arms around me, said 'Hey, how you doing, boy, play some of that stuff you played on that last album.'" Following strong criticism of the album, Muddy Waters claimed that he disliked the album and its sound, and that he did not consider the album to be blues. He stated, "Every time I go into Chess, [they] put some un-blues players with me [...] If you change my sound, then you gonna change the whole man." In the biography The Mojo Man, Muddy Waters stated "That Electric Mud record was dogshit. But when it came out, it started selling like wild, but then they started sending them back. They said, 'This can't be Muddy Waters with all this shit going on, all this wha-wha and fuzztone.'"
According to Robert Gordon in Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, the valet of Jimi Hendrix later told Pete Cosey that Hendrix would listen to "Herbert Harper's Free Press News" for inspiration before performing. Led Zeppelin bassist John Paul Jones cited Electric Mud as the inspiration for the riff of "Black Dog". Allmusic reviewer Richie Unterberger panned the album as being "crass".
In Lost in the Grooves: Scram's Capricious Guide to the Music You Missed, Gene Sculatti wrote that "The rhythm seems to anticipate hip-hop by three decades." Chuck D stated that he had been introduced to Electric Mud by a member of Public Enemy, which sparked an interest in Muddy Waters' earlier work, and in roots-oriented blues. The documentary series The Blues, produced by Martin Scorsese, depicts the recording band for Electric Mud performing with Chuck D and members of The Roots. Cypress Hill samples "Tom Cat", from this album, on the interlude "Ultraviolet Dreams", from their self-titled debut album, as does Natas on their song "See You In Hell" from the album N of tha World. The rock/funk-oriented arrangement of "Mannish Boy" present on this album is sampled and featured prominently on the Gorillaz B-side "Left Hand Suzuki Method".Muddy Waters – vocal
Gene Barge – tenor saxophone, producer
Phil Upchurch – guitars
Roland Faulkner – guitars
Pete Cosey – guitars
Charles Stepney – organ, arranger, producer
Louis Satterfield – bass
Morris Jennings – drums
Stu Black – engineer
Marshall Chess – producer
Meire Murakami – design
Bill Sharpe – cover design
Abner Spector – mixing
Vartan – art direction