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Saturday, May 31, 2014

Muddy Waters - Folk Blues - Chess 1483 (1964) - an obsession

... sure I'm NOT alone... the first day at M.O.C., few weeks ago, I met early in the morning Chad Kassem of Analogue Productions' fame, from Salina, KS, USA.

He's a blues scholar and with his company he's reissuing the best of every kind of music, with a tender attention to the humblest one, blues.

I was browsing vinyls bins at Fenn Music booth, eyes wide shut, and... I found a minty copy of Chess "black label" and when it was the time to share the joy for the find of a very, personal fave and sought-after wax... I met the eyes of Chad, who immediately understood the matter and... we almost hugged and hand-shaked vigorously as, hey, Chad was "da man" who distributed my "Barocco Tedesco"  disc, in early '90s... and I've been an avid collector of his blues and classic rock reissues for decades, now.

So... Chad and myself carefully inspected the Muddy Waters' Chess disc, talking about the vinyl quality and (possible) defects... as the disc wasn't that cheap, I did more... went to Klaudio booth were the extremely kind Doug cleaned the disc and gave me back... visited a nearby room where I beg for a listen to the Chess' and the, happy and satisfied was back at Fenn's for completing the deal.

That would be in an ideal world the way to go when purchasing vinyls.

Anyway, underlining and telling you about the lucky find to tell you, at last, about my obsession:
I'm a lunatic who chased for (and bought) every available copy of this very disc - for the sake of knowledge and appreciation of this music, Muddy's art and everyone who had the chance to work on the master-tapes for a reissue of the sooo elusive original of this historic recording, aiming to spread its beauty to a broader audience. A very worthy, deserving task.

So, I currently own five copies, all different, issued in a time-span of 50 years!


... or not?

I feel it's all very, VERY instructive and worth experimenting what different vinyl, cutting, pressing, re-mastering can do to the same master-tape and sonic palette.

My first copy was and still is, steady in the plethora, a "Chess Original Master" reissue from the '80s... second is a Pye from England thick vinyl '60s copy, then comes a MoFi from early 1993, a 2011 Analogue Production 45 RPM two-records set and, last but not least, the recently found original Chess 1483 from 1964 in gorgeous, shiny vintage nice shape.

So what?

More than a prosaic contest-and-podium affaire, I'd wish to share my findings... and yes, ending with "... and the winner is???".

Some details:

The humble, cheap "Chess Original Master" is GON 8040, pale brown label and the vinyl is light, about 130-140 grams;

The Mobile Fidelity is from 1993, MFSL 1201 and comes on 180 grams vinyl, mastering is Bernie Grundman's;
The Pye International is NPL 28038 and about 150-170 grams vinyl;

The two records set 45 RPM edition from 2011 is APB 1483-45 B0015121-01, comes on 200 grams vinyl.

The original 1964 Chess' is sporting the black label with chess' horse head, weights about 170 grams.

Exists another so-called "original" Chess issue, but it's a 2nd or 3rd reissue which I don't have... an orange/blue label with modern "Chess" in red is herewith shown. 

Closely examining the above mentioned copies, something is immediately apparent: the disc length is slightly more than 30 minutes... the different lathe cuttings were all different... only the cheap Dutch reissue, the Pye and the Chess original shows each side cutted with same or so width - i.e. from first groove to the label only some millimeters difference is found...

Not the same happened with Mobile Fidelity MFSL 1201: each side shows an embarassingly compressed cutting, which gives to the pressing a strange, EP disco/sampler look... even worst, it looks wrong, with more than half the side unrecorded, because many ot these disco pro-pressings were sporting deep, wide grooves and superb dynamics to par.

The mastering tech-head maybe guessed... hey, it's just a 15 minutes side... I won't use all the side width!


The double records-set, 45 RPM is showing apparently the same look, but it's 45 RPM and the four sides are 2-3 tracks, only... clever.

Sound-wise... well... BIIIG surprises, here... the Pye is grainy, dynamics are compressed and studio details (room, musicians feet tapping, assorted noises) are barely audible.

The original,  the "Real McCoy" copy is very, very nice, timbre-wise... voice is uncompressed and studio acoustic seems, is very natural, where the halo of Muddy's powerful voice is almost endless, untruncated... some vinyl crackling isn't disturbing so much, rather it adds blues to Blues, something both (late) John Fahey or (still alive and kickin' & swingin') Robert Crumb sometimes did in their records, adding some "ol' 78s scratches" to give a vintage '20s spice to their discs. 

... and the music flows so untiring and easy. Gorgeous sonics and such a pleasure.

On MoFi pressing... the sounds isn't bad, rather it is nice and smooth... only sometimes truncating decays and halos on most impressive passages... dynamics is OK, but not IMPRESSIVE like on other pressings... the tight grooves and conservative cutting job avoided the risk to overload and mistracking, so choosing a medium lathing... so-so choices, compromising this or that usually gives a medium result... and this is the case.  

The cheap '80s reissue is GORGEOUS, as well... the better spaced grooves and MUCH better use of the vinyl side width made a little miracle... the dynamics are superb, studio halo is perfect, guitars strings slapping is natural and defined and not glassy... like on MoFi... only some studio noises aren't nicely captured as on...

... the two-records set 45 RPM by Chad Kassem's Analogue Production... the mess of having to go back and forth from the couch to the turntable every two songs is balanced by the glorious sound coming from these 200 grams waxes: voice peaks are AWESOME, strings slapping are explosive and feets on studio floor and assorted chairs squeakings are "here"... only caveat: the most extreme cannon-like vocal shots shows a VERY strange truncation on studio ceiling and walls and floor...

Only the original from 1964, U.S. pressing and the humble El Cheapo reissue are able to show ALL the potential of this very parameter... i.e. the untamed decay of loudest vocals in the studio.

The others exceed or not on other parameters... considering the five copies, I sure could happily live with my Dutch reissue and with 45 RPM double records-set... talking about balance, untiring sound and all the sheer, almost wild power contained in these amazing 51 years old recordings. 

As a plus, the 2 records set inner cover shows rare, seldom seen pixes from the September 1963 studio sessions.     
... but now that I own it, I wouldn't resist without looking sometimes to the old Chess' black label and chess horse head !

If you're not content and satisfied enough... well, you could give a try to the four single sided discs 45 RPM on Clarity...

... the ultimate?

If you don't own this very disc go out and buy it... aehm, not necessarily the 4-single-sided 45s:-)

One copy will be enough for most of you... the lunatic, obsessive, can use my humble above mentioned suggestions as a start.

Bon chance.  

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

Thank you, Stefano.
Great information.

I have a copy of the 1987 "reissue"...& it sounds very good indeed.

Thanks for your work!
Cheers, Owen