Muddy Waters, Commodore Ballroom, Vancouver

Posted on February 17, 2010

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In the early ’80s, Muddy Waters used to come to Vancouver twice a year to play at the Commodore Ballroom.  Once I became aware of these visits, I never missed a performance.

I remember the first time I saw him, his piano player was Pinetop Perkins.  Muddy could always get the best players in his band, especially during the height of his fame in the late ’40s through the ’50s.  But in the ’80s also, because of the active support of Johnny Winter who produced and participated in some of Muddy’s best selling albums at that time.

I recall another night when Robert Cray was opening for Muddy.  Cray was relatively unknown then, but I remember being impressed by the originality of his performance.  Someone to carry on the blues, and keep it new.  (Okay, maybe not so new anymore, but I’m talking about then.)

Muddy always was special.  The Chicago band who backed him inevitably sounded tighter and more professional than any band that opened for them, even before Muddy walked on.  But when Muddy did walk on, the band kicked it up another notch again, like even they needed Muddy on the stage to know how to do it right.  Willie Dixon and Clifton Chenier–also giants–were the only other musicians I can recall who had this effect on their bands.

The above picture was taken by Jo Cain, to whom I was then married.  It was her birthday, April 4th, which was particularly memorable because it was Muddy’s birthday as well.  I’m not sure what year it was, probably 1981.

I remember it was the end of a set.  Muddy was leaving the stage, had walked ten or fifteen feet from the microphone, and then he turned.  He saw Jo aiming her camera right from the lip of the stage,  crouched, pointed at her, and her camera flashed.

Half a dozen people came up to Jo afterwards and said they wanted a copy of the picture.

Jo said it happened because both her and Muddy were celebrating their birthdays that night.

I thought the photograph was too good not to share.

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Jo Cain photograph.

Posted in: photography