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Folk Singer (album)

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Folk Singer
Studio album by Muddy Waters
Released April 1964
Recorded September 1963
Studio Tel Mar Recording Studios, Chicago, Illinois
Genre Blues
Length 40:05
Label Chess
Producer Muddy Waters, Ralph Bass, Willie Dixon
Muddy Waters chronology
At Newport 1960
Folk Singer
Super Blues

Folk Singer is the fourth studio album by Muddy Waters, released in April 1964 by Chess Records. The album features Waters on acoustic guitar, backed by Willie Dixon on string bass, Clifton James on drums, and Buddy Guy on acoustic guitar. It is Waters's only all-acoustic album. Numerous reissues of Folk Singer include bonus tracks from two subsequent sessions, in April 1964 and October 1964.

Despite not charting in any country, Folk Singer received critical acclaim; most reviewers praised its high-quality sound, especially on remastered versions, as well as the instrumentation. In 2003, the album was ranked number 280 on Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 500 greatest albums of all time.


After his successful performance at Newport Jazz Festival and tours through America, Chess Records encouraged Waters to record songs for a new studio album. Before the recording, several musicians had Waters's band, and other had joined Waters. Andrew Stephens, who played at Newport, was replaced in the following years with numerous bassists. The drummer Francis Clay was replaced by Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, who played in the Muddy Waters Junior Band. Pat Hare was sentenced to life in prison for the murder of his wife (while in jail, he formed the band Sounds Incarcerated).[1] Hare was replaced by a succession of guitarists, including James "Pee Wee" Madison, who played a right-handed guitar left-handed. Madison played guitar on some of the reissue bonus tracks, as did Sammy Lawhorn. Lawhorn allegedly suffered from narcolepsy (Elvin Bishop denied this, believing that Lawhorn's sleepiness was due to alcoholism).[2] The electric guitarist Buddy Guy, who had recorded with Waters on Blues from Big Bill's Copacabana, released by Chess in 1963, was hired. Guy had been discovered by Waters shortly after Guy arrived in Chicago from Louisiana.[3]


Folk Singer is an "unplugged" recording and differs from his earlier albums, which featured an electric blues sound. The title of the album was chosen by Chess Records because it was recorded during the time when folk music was popular. In order to appeal to fans of folk music, Chess recorded a more acoustic album with two acoustic guitarists. Buddy Guy was hired as the second guitarist. Other guitarists played on bonus tracks.[4] Guy played on all original songs, except the last song, "Feel Like Going Home", together with Waters.[5]

The recording took place at the Tel Mar Recording Studios, in Chicago, in September 1963, and was produced by Willie Dixon.[6] The original vinyl release includes nine songs, most of which are performed at a slower tempo, with the exception of the uptempo "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl". During recording, Waters emphasized his singing with hums and sighs.[7]

Releases and tour[edit]

The original album was released as an LP in April 1964 by Chess Records.[5] Since then, numerous record labels have released different versions on CD, with different bonus tracks from Waters's 1964 sessions. One of the first CD versions was released in 1993 by Mobile Fidelity Sound Lab, containing two bonus tracks, "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" and "The Same Thing."[8] The 1999 remastered version contains five bonus tracks, "The Same Thing", "You Can't Lose What You Never Had", "My John the Conqueror Root", "Short Dress Woman" and "Put Me In Your Lay Away".[9]

The supporting tour through Europe, the second American Folk Blues Festival, began one month after the recording of Folk Singer. The first gig out of seventeen took place in London; other performances were in Belgium, Germany, France and Denmark. In London, Waters began with the unreleased "My Captain", followed by "Rollin' Stone". In keeping with the folk theme, quiet versions of "Five Long Years", "Blow Wind Blow", "Trouble No More", "My Home Is in the Delta" and "Got My Mojo Working" were performed.[10]

Critical reception[edit]

Professional ratings
Review scores
AllMusic4.5/5 stars[5]
Down Beat2.5/5 stars[11]
Encyclopedia of Popular Music4/5 stars[12]
The Rolling Stone Album Guide4/5 stars[12]

In a contemporary review, Down Beat magazine found Waters's singing "forced and artificial", writing that Folk Singer suffers from a major flaw: "He only begins to come close to the power and unforced intensity of the original numbers and style from time to time, as on 'You Gonna Need My Help' and 'My Home Is in the Delta'".[11] In a retrospective review, Cub Koda, writing for AllMusic was more enthusiastic, deeming the record's sound fresh and vital.[5] In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Folk Singer number 280 on its list of the "500 Greatest Albums of AllTime", writing that the "unplugged" playing was pioneering and has since been "beloved by blues and folk fans alike".[13] In a 1994 issue of Rolling Stone, a reviewer wrote, "...There aren't too many blues albums that qualify as audiophile recordings, but Muddy Waters Folk Singer surely does. A wonderfully intimate session, it delivers Waters' voice in all its power and subtlety, while rendering his guitar work...with such vivid realism, you would think you were sitting in the studio...."[14]

Track listing[edit]

  1. "My Home Is in the Delta" (Waters) – 3:58
  2. "Long Distance" (Waters) – 3:30
  3. "My Captain" (Willie Dixon) – 5:10
  4. "Good Morning Little Schoolgirl" (Sonny Boy Williamson) – 3:12
  5. "You Gonna Need My Help" (Waters) – 3:09
  6. "Cold Weather Blues" (Waters) – 4:40
  7. "Big Leg Woman" (John Temple) – 3:25
  8. "Country Boy" (Waters) – 3:26
  9. "Feel Like Going Home" (Waters) – 3:52

1993 bonus tracks[edit]

  1. "The Same Thing" (Dixon) – 2:57
  2. "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" (Waters) – 2:46

1999 bonus tracks[edit]

  1. "The Same Thing" (Dixon) – 2:57
  2. "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" (Waters) – 2:46
  3. "My John the Conqueror Root" (Dixon) – 2:22
  4. "Short Dress Woman" (John T. Brown) – 2:49
  5. "Put Me in Your Lay Away" (L.J. Welch) – 2:56


Credits are adapted from AllMusic.[15]


  1. ^ Gordon 2003, pp. 202–203.
  2. ^ Gordon 2003, pp. 203.
  3. ^ Gordon 2003, pp. 211.
  4. ^ Matthew Rowe. "Music Review". Musictap. Retrieved January 28, 2012. 
  5. ^ a b c d Cub Koda. "Allmusic -> Folk Singer". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved January 28, 2012. 
  6. ^ Santelli 1997, p. 128.
  7. ^ Gordon 2003, pp. 212.
  8. ^ "Allmusic -> Folk Singer [Mobile Fidelity]". Allmusic. Rovi Corporation. Retrieved January 28, 2012. 
  9. ^ "Folk Singer [Extra tracks, Original recording remastered]". Amazon. Retrieved January 28, 2012. 
  10. ^ Gordon 2003, pp. 212–213.
  11. ^ a b Down Beat. Chicago. 31: 32. 1964. 
  12. ^ a b c "Folk Singer". Acclaimed Music. Retrieved September 24, 2015. 
  13. ^ "500 Greatest Albums of All Time: 280 Folk Singer – Muddy Waters". Rolling Stone. Wenner Media. 2003. Retrieved January 28, 2012. 
  14. ^ Rolling Stone, 3/10/94, p. 67.
  15. ^ Credits. AllMusic. Retrieved September 24, 2015.
  • Gordon, Robert (2003). Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. Back Bay Books. ISBN 978-0-316-16494-8. 
  • Santelli, Robert (1997). The Best of the Blues: The 101 Essential Albums. Penguin Books. ISBN 978-0-14-023755-9.