In the summer of 1981, I was fortunate to catch Muddy Waters live twice. Once with thousands of others at a music festival called Chicago Fest (which later morphed into The Taste Of Chicago) and in front of about 50 people at a local junior college near my hometown. These memorable shows turned out to be some of the last of Mud’s career. After that Chicago Fest appearance, Muddy Waters joined The Rolling Stones for an epic concert in the tiny Checkerboard Lounge. The local PBS film crew was on hand and recorded this remarkable testament to rock and roll. It’s no lie the Stones were heavily influenced by Waters – taking their name as well as naming a song after the famed Chess records studio where Waters made much if his classic recordings; but they also took so much more- like Muddy’s credence to play until you truly physically can not anymore. That you are never too old to rock and roll.
Muddy Waters passed away soon after that near spiritual performance (look it up and watch it) but he left a legacy for the Stones that they continue to try to emulate. Most recently they released a full length album paying homage to the Blues and by continuing to perform in concert -they are paying heed to the spirit of Waters. The Stones recently made headlines for their politically historic performance in Havana, Cuba. The septuagenarians could have phoned it in and also could have retired years ago, but leaning on their hard lessons from Uncle Muddy they continue to perform at the highest level and the music world is better for it. The Stones concert in Communist Cuba was not just culturally significant, it was also one hell of a rock show.
The movie and CD of the concert were recently released for sale and on various streaming services. It is a testament to the ageless power of rock and roll and the special groups of human beings that make up the world’s most important and yes greatest rock and roll band ever. The film, Havana Moon – The Rolling Stones, – is a pretty straight forward read of the band’s performance with not a lot of distractions nor side bars and in that it finds it vigor as a true document of the enormity of this show. The estimated crowd for the free show in the nation’s capital city reportedly attracted one million people of all ages and as powerful as Mick Jagger and the boys performance was, it is the exasperated Cuban people that steal the show. From young children to aged elders, the crowd is completely enthralled from the first notes of “Jumping Jack Flash” to the extended coda of “(I can’t get no) Satisfaction,” the crowd exhibits pure joy received through the universal language of music- The ties that could bind.
And man, can these 70-year olds rock. The band that Jagger introduces as “the revolutionary Ronnie Wood, drummer Charlie Che Watts, and compadre Keith Richards” proves their mettle like never before and Jagger is absolutely mesmerizing in what can only be defined as an ageless performance. A true Rock of ages. Jagger seems to feed off the crowd and Richards and Wood parlay their decades old collaboration into as formidable guitar one-two ever recorded. The director, Paul Dugdale, just lets the images speak for themselves. The camera work is flawless and there is no need to augment the performance with fancy political messaging, behind the stage interviews or unnecessary banter. It’s only rock and roll and I love it and I hope they play it forever. I know Muddy would be most proud.