January 20, 2010

Muddy Waters, The Father of Chicago Blues

Muddy Waters, “The Father of Chicago Blues” is one of the most influential blues guitarists of the golden era. Born on April 13, 1913 Muddy’s real name is McKinley Morganfield.


McKinley earned his nick name at a young age, for his joy of playing and Rollin’ in the mud, which gave him is stage name of Muddy Waters.

He started out playing the harmonica when he was a boy, but by age seventeen he was playing the guitar at parties imitating two blues artists who were extremely popular in the south, Son House and Robert Johnson. 


Muddy Waters PortraitMuddy Waters

Muddy moved to Chicago in 1940, he played guitar with Silas Green a year later, and then returned to Mississippi. In the early 40’s he ran a juke joint, complete with gambling, moonshine and a jukebox; he also performed music there himself.

In the summer of 1941 Alan Lomax went to Stovall, Mississippi, on behalf of the Library of Congress to record various country blues musicians.


Alan brought his recording equipment to Muddy’s house and recorded him there on the front porch. After the recording was done, Alan played back the recording to Muddy. It was the first time Muddy had heard his voice and guitar on a record, and was totally amazed at how he sounded, and the fact that he did sound just like the best blues guitarists around. This was the beginning of the Chicago blues, and the legend of Muddy Waters. Alan then sent Muddy two copies of the record and a check for twenty dollars.


In 1943, Muddy went back to Chicago hopping to becoming a full-time professional musician. He stayed with a relative for a short time while driving a truck and working in a factory by day and performing at night. Big Bill Broonzy, one of the most popular bluesmen in Chicago at the time, helped Muddy break into the very competitive market by allowing him to open for his shows in the rowdy clubs. In 1945, his uncle Joe gave him his first electric guitar which enabled him to be heard above the noisy crowds.


In 1946, he recorded some songs for Mayo Williams at Columbia but they weren't released at the time. Later on that year he was signed and began recording for Aristocrat, a new record label run by two brothers, Leonard and Phil Chess.


In 1947, he played guitar with Sunnyland Slim on piano on the cuts "Gypsy Woman" and "Little Anna Mae." These were also shelved, but in 1948 "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "I Feel Like Going Home" became big hits and his popularity in clubs began to take off. Soon after, Aristocrat changed their label name to Chess Records and Muddy's signature tune "Rollin' Stone" also became a smash hit.


In the begging, the Chess brothers would not allow Muddy to use his own musicians in the recording studio; instead he was provided with a backing bass by Ernest "Big" Crawford, and musicians picked specifically for the recording session, including "Baby Face" Leroy Foster and Johnny Jones. Eventually Chess let Muddy pick his own member, and by September 1953 he was recording with arguably the best blues group ever: Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica; Jimmy Rogers on guitar; Elga Edmonds (a.k.a. Elgin Evans) on drums; Otis Spann on piano. The band recorded a series of blues classics during the early 1950s, some with the help of bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon, including "Hoochie Coochie Man" (Number 8 on the R&B charts), "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (Number 4), and "I'm Ready".


Spinning Blues into Gold: The Chess Brothers and the Legendary Chess Records

This is a great book on the Chess Brothers, and Chess Records. Gives a great historic account of the legendary Chess Records.

The movie “Cadillac Records” was written based on Chess Records, and all its recording artists.

A great read about a record company, that spawned many legendary careers, in Blues music.


Muddy, along with his former harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs and recent southern new comer Howlin' Wolf, were on top of the early 1950s Chicago blues scene, his band becoming a proving ground for some of the city's best blues talent. While Little Walter continued a collaborative relationship long after he left Muddy's band in 1952, appearing on most of Muddy's classic recordings throughout the 1950s, Muddy developed a long-running but usually good-natured rivalry with Wolf. Wolf's band, like Muddy's, featured an all-star lineup, including the now-legendary guitarist Hubert Sumlin. Wolf also competed with Waters for the songwriting attention of Willie Dixon and recorded a number of Dixon’s songs.


In 1954 at the height of his career, the success of Muddy Waters band paved the way for others in his group to break away and enjoy their own solo careers. In 1952 Little Walter left the band when his single "Juke" became a hit, and in 1955 Rogers quit to work exclusively with his own band, which had been a sidelined until that time. Although he continued working with Muddy's band, Otis Spann enjoyed a solo career and many releases under his own name beginning in the mid-1950s


In 1958 Muddy went overseas to England, where he shocked audiences, with his guitar playing and songs. At the time English blues fans were exposed mostly to acoustic folk and blues music. Muddy ripped up the places he played, with his electric guitar, and tremendous deep thumping beats. Muddy’s concert at the Newport Jazz Festival, was recorded, and released as his first live album “At Newport 1960”. This historic concert and album influenced some the best guitarists and bands we know today.

Muddy Waters sound is more or less the Delta Blues electrified, modified with his own unique signature of tones in his voice, and slide guitar playing. It was also difficult for other guitarists to imitate his sound and style.


It’s been said that Muddy’s sound also has a touch of country or honky tonk. Although his sound may sound simple, it is also very difficult to replicate. It is all in the guitar playing.

Muddy Waters dies on April 30, 1983, but left a legacy of music, and influenced many bands and musicians today.


Mick Jagger and Keith Richards named their band The Rolling Stones, after Muddy’s song “Rollin’ Stone”. Led Zeppelin also was influenced by Muddy in many of their songs, such as “Whole lotta Love”. Jimi Hendrix covered Rollin’ Stone, as did many other bands. Eric Clapton was also influenced by Muddy’s playing and songs.


Muddy Waters was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 1980, Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and earned a Grammy Life Time Achievement award in 1992.


Can't be Satisfied: he Life and Times of Muddy Waters

This is a great book, that goes into more details on Muddy waters, his life, career, and music. 

With all the biographies written on Muddy Waters, “Can’t Be Satisfied” is one of the best written.

We recommend this book highly, if you want to know more about The Father of Chicago Blues.


By George Luker Copyright © 2010 Krule Music Group

1 comment:

  1. you've got it right. Muddy is the Father of Chicago Blues.