When Muddy Waters played the Maryland by David Beckett: Glasgow Music Walking Tour Guest Blog
On our Music Mile Tour we tell our guests about the former Maryland club, which was located in what was once a private villa and is now within the CCA in Glasgow’s Sauchiehall Street. Our guest blog is by friend of the tours, David Beckett, who worked at the Maryland. David remembers when blues legend, Muddy Waters, came to town and played two dates at the club. David has previously blogged for us about the Maryland, and big thanks to him for sharing this story with us…over to David…
On a Friday night in November 1970, Muddy Waters played the first of two nights at the Maryland Club in Glasgow. Blues fans from an older generation and hippies, who were introduced to the blues via bands like Led Zeppelin and Cream, came to pay homage to the legend. The gig had been announced weeks before and the excitement was palpable.
Just off Sauchiehall Street, the Maryland was situated halfway up an infamously steep hill on Scott Street leading to Glasgow School of Art. It was a very small venue, owned by Bob Gardiner — a sign affixed to railings on Scott Street hinted at its location — “Bob Gardiner, 5 Scott Street, Glasgow”.
Admission was paid in cash (no tickets) at the reception desk. Tucked in behind reception was the stage, and a snack bar selling soft drinks and filled rolls stood opposite. A corridor led to a split-level dance floor. The office and DJ box were on a mezzanine overlooking the stage: this was a very intimate venue where you could see your favourite band up close and personal.
The doors generally opened around 8.30pm and, as the club’s resident DJ, I was usually there playing records until the support act kicked off around 9pm. Strange as it may seem to younger generations, the pubs closed at 10pm in those days, so the club would generally fill up after that.
On the nights of Muddy Waters’ gigs the crowd assembled earlier to ensure a good position in the hall. I’d arrived around 8-ish, and just got the music going when Bob Gardiner invited me into the office to meet the great man himself. This video features the same band that played the Maryland…
Now, this office was tiny: probably about three metres by three metres. Muddy was seated in a corner, straight-backed, like royalty. He looked immaculate, dark suit, crisp white shirt with cufflinks, tie with tie-clip, a very expensive looking watch and highly polished black shoes. He was holding a glass of champagne and the bottle was in an ice bucket at his side. I was a seventeen-year-old, long-haired skinny waif, open-mouthed in wonder — I had absolutely no idea what to say. At the time Bob was married to my sister and he was twenty-two years older than me. He led off the conversation by introducing me as his brother-in-law. Shaking my hand Muddy said: “Brother-in-law? He ain’t nothin’ but a schoolboy!” and I was.
Although it was the first time I’d met a true blues legend, it wasn’t my first experience of witnessing true blues performers. I saw Champion Jack Dupree a couple of times and Otis Spann and Albert King in the Glasgow City Halls. I’d ventured through to Edinburgh to see Son House perform in Leith Town Hall. It wasn’t until 1978 that I got to see BB King and I had to go to London for that pleasure — a similar trip came later to see Otis Rush perform during the Camden Jazz Festival. A visit to London meant a trip to Dobell’s Record Shop on Charing Cross Road, which specialised in Jazz and Blues. Opportunities to enjoy live blues, and indeed to buy records, were thin on the ground in Glasgow: 23rd Precinct in Bath Street valiantly stocked a reasonable blues section. Radio and TV coverage was sparse — a blues fan had to dig deep in the early 1970s. I chuckle to myself nowadays when I enjoy a drink in Howlin’ Wolf, the blues bar on Bath Street, because I can remember a time when it was impossible to buy a Howlin’ Wolf record in Glasgow city centre.
The atmosphere generated by the blues-starved crowd on the first night Muddy Waters and his Chicago Blues Band performed was electric.
The band — James “Peewee” Madison and Sam Lawhorn on guitars, Joe “Pinetop” Perkins on piano, Carey Bell on Harmonica, Sonny Wimberley on bass, and Willie Smith on drums —took to the stage and started the warmup. After a couple of numbers Muddy Waters was welcomed on stage to tumultuous applause. Assisted by crutches after a horrific car accident almost one year before he tore into his hour-long set with “Honey Bee.” This was the real deal: “Blow Wind Blow”, “Long Distance Call” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” followed. Muddy’s slide playing was transcendent. The set ended with a very long version of “Got My Mojo Working,” and those of us who were fortunate could look forward to it all again the following evening.
Exhilarated by the Friday night’s experience, I made sure I was at the turntables at eight o’clock on the Saturday evening. Between the DJ box and the office was a small sitting area accessed by a narrow stairway and sliding door. Raring to go, I ran up the stairs two at a time, yanked the door open and got the surprise of my life — my reaction was met by friendly hellos and laughter —Muddy Waters’ band were relaxing in the cramped sitting area.
I clambered over outstretched legs and bodies to reach the DJ box and proceeded to get the records going. When I was playing records, the door to the DJ box was always open, so I was able to talk to the band. Immediately to my right sat Carey Bell, the Blues Harp (harmonica) player. We chatted — a fly on the wall would have found this encounter hilarious: I couldn’t understand his deep Mississippi accent and he couldn’t understand my Glaswegian one, even though we were speaking the same language. On his lap was a small attaché case and when he opened it there was a collection of harmonicas of varying keys, neatly packed to make room for a bottle of Scotch – Johnnie Walker Black. Paper cups were produced, and I can always say I enjoyed a dram or two with Carey Bell, gold dust to a young blues enthusiast.
Later that evening the Maryland crowd was presented with another memorable rendition of authentic Chicago Blues. The band served up the same set as the previous evening and the crowd were ecstatic, although I had only really known about the blues for just over a year, I knew I was witnessing something very potent and authentic.
Muddy Waters was a living connection to the blues going from Chicago back to Mississippi and to the original recording artists of the Delta Blues, namely Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson. What I didn’t realise on those November nights in 1970 was how unique these concerts of Muddy’s European tour really were.
He’d been touring on occasion since 1958 but was generally performing with British musicians. The first time he toured he played alongside Chris Barber’s Band. Following the Maryland gigs, the next time he played in Glasgow at the Apollo was when he was to support Eric Clapton. My view is that Muddy Waters supporting Eric Clapton is ludicrous — and by all accounts Muddy’s performance was well worth the ticket price on its own!
The uniqueness of the Maryland gigs was that this was the one and only time Muddy’s full Chicago band toured. Muddy continued to play with this band but never again outside the US. When he played the Apollo with Clapton, he was accompanied by competent but not entirely authentic musicians.
Seeing Muddy Waters perform those two nights in the Maryland was about as near to seeing him at one of Chicago’s Southside post-war blues clubs as it was possible to get. For me these were stand out occasions and are something I hope I will never forget.