From Eagle Rock Entertainment comes a true curiousity: a one-of-a-kind meeting of legends in the Checkerboard Lounge in Chicago, November 22, 1981. The concert starts as a Muddy Waters gig, with Waters calm, cool, collected – the very picture of authoritative blues mastery. His band is tight and the crowd is reponsive.
Then, a flurry of activity outside the club – The Rolling Stones, in town for three-nights of their 1981 American tour, arrive and take seats in the audience. During “Baby Please Don’t Go,” Waters summons Mick Jagger to the stage. Jagger cautiously trades vocals lines with Waters; his respect for the blues giant is obvious. “What about Keith?” Waters shouts. Keith Richards makes his way to the stage (I can only imagine the lucky audience members’ reactions to this incredible turn of events) and straps on a guitar. Shortly thereafter, Ronnie Wood joins them. Now it’s a party (but actually, it’s only getting warmed up).
Keep in mind, despite the co-billing, this isn’t really The Rolling Stones. Longtime pianist and road manager Ian Stewart comes up as well, but drummer Charlie Watts and bassist Bill Wyman are nowhere to be seen. But three-fifths of the Stones jamming with a legend like Muddy Waters is still very much worth the price of admission. No Stones originals are in the set, but with “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Mannish Boy,” and “Long Distance Call,” you aren’t likely to feel their absence.
Jagger and Waters take a seat late in the show, allowing for the spotlight to shift to a trio of blues greats making guest appearances: Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, and most outrageously (and simply flat-out entertaining), Lefty Dizz. Yes, this is a powerhouse superjam and blues fans would simply be crazy to miss it. Richard and Wood remain on stage until the end, when Jagger and Waters get back up to finish off the show.
The whole show was shot on videotape, standard definition of course since this was 1981. That’s why a Blu-ray presentation wasn’t necessary (unlike with Eagle Rock’s other recent Stones releases, the magnificent Ladies & Gentleman The Rolling Stones and Some Girls Live in Texas ’78). But take note, Bob Clearmountain has remixed the sound for Checkerboard Lounge – Live Chicago 1981 and it is nothing short of fantastic.
That’s why I highly recommend springing for the few extra bucks for the DVD/CD edition. Eagle Rock did this with Some Girls Live in Texas ’78, basically making it a concert video and a live album in one package. The 106 minute video set list has, of course, been trimmed to fit on a CD (the DVD has 16 tracks, while the CD has 11). It holds up as a strong listening experience and Clearmountain’s mix is stellar. The DVD has a couple short extras, too: John Primer (Waters’ guitarist) leading the band through “You’re Gonna Miss Me What I’m Gone” and a performance of “Black Limousine” by the Stones from one of their own gigs on the ’81 tour.