Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Muddy Waters at the Vulcan 1968

Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, Luther "Georgia Boy Snake" Johnson at the Vulcan in 1968. First night of two.
Otis Spann, Muddy Waters, Luther “Georgia Boy Snake” Johnson at the Vulcan in 1968. First night of two.

It’s one of the most notorious bookings in Austin music history, the weekend in 1968 that Muddy Waters and his band played the Vulcan Gas Company, with an albino blues guitarist from Beaumont named Johnny Winter opening the show. On the Friday night, the Waters band didn’t arrive until after the Winter trio finished.

“They did a standard 45 minute set,” Vulcan owner Don Hyde recalls of Muddy’s Friday show. As you can see from the photo, they weren’t even wearing their customary suits. “It was only 10:45, so I asked Johnny if he would play for a couple of more hours. He said sure.” Waters did hear that set, when JW came out and blew the doors off the place.

There was a pay phone on a wall backstage and Muddy made a collect call to Memphis and got King Curtis on the line. Hyde was standing next to him. “He said, ‘King, you won’t believe this!’ and held the phone out into the air for a half minute, while Johnny played,” Hyde recalled. “Then he took the phone back and said ‘He WHITE, I mean he is really WHITE! Do you believe this shit!?'”

Aug. 2, 1968 at the Vulcan.
Aug. 2, 1968 at the Vulcan.

“The next night, Muddy’s band came back dressed to the nines and played for over two hours,” Hyde says. “They blew Johnny off the stage, then they did a couple of tunes together.” Winter went on to produce and play on some of Muddy’s great ’70s albums.

Asked about that weekend, his first visit to Austin, Muddy’s harmonica player Paul Oscher says he doesn’t remember any time Winter cut Muddy’s band. “It wasn’t possible,” said Oscher, who now lives in far South Austin. “I think maybe we’d been driving all day Friday and we were tired. And then we were well-rested on Saturday and got down to business.”

(NOTE: When Don Hyde told me this story I felt he was wrong about Muddy calling King Curtis. They had never worked together and seemed to have no association. But research shows Curtis was producing Freddie King in 1968 for new new Atlantic offshoot Cotillion. So it’s very plausible that Curtis, staff producer for the new Southern blues and soul label asked Muddy to let him know if he saw any new talent out on the road.)

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