Curt and Rod Presents – Blues Monday   Leave a comment

Muddy Waters

She’s 19 Years Old

McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983), known by his stage name Muddy Waters, was an American blues musician. He is often considered the “father of modern Chicago blues”.

Muddy Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi and by age seventeen was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. He was recorded by Alan Lomax there for the Library of Congress in 1941. In 1943, he headed to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician, eventually recording, in 1946, for first Columbia and then Aristocrat Records, a newly formed label run by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess.

In the early 1950s, Muddy and his band, Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums and Otis Spann on piano, recorded a series of blues classics, some with bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon, including “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “I’m Ready”. In 1958, Muddy headed to England, helping to lay the foundations of the subsequent blues boom there, and in 1960 performed at the Newport Jazz Festival, recorded and released as his first live album, At Newport 1960.

Muddy’s influence is tremendous, not just on blues and rhythm and blues but on rock ‘n’ roll, hard rock, folk, jazz, and country; his use of amplification is often cited as the link between Delta blues and rock ‘n’ roll.

Although in his later years Muddy usually said that he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in 1915, he was most likely born at Jug’s Corner in neighboring Issaquena County in 1913. Recent research has uncovered documentation showing that in the 1930s and 1940s, before his rise to fame, he reported his birth year as 1913 on his marriage license, recording notes and musicians’ union card. A 1955 interview in the Chicago Defender is the earliest claim of 1915 as his year of birth, which he continued to use in interviews from that point onward. The 1920 census lists him as five years old as of March 6, 1920, suggesting that his birth year may have been 1914. The Social Security Death Index, relying on the Social Security card application submitted after his move to Chicago in the mid-1940s, lists him as being born April 4, 1913. Muddy’s gravestone gives his birth year as 1915.

Muddy’s grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Della gave the boy the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. Muddy later changed it to “Muddy Water” and finally “Muddy Waters”.

The shack where Muddy Waters lived in his youth on Stovall Plantation is now located at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He started out on harmonica, but by age seventeen he was playing the guitar at parties, emulating two blues artists in particular, Son House and Robert Johnson.

On November 20, 1932, Muddy married Mabel Berry. Guitarist Robert Nighthawk played at the wedding and the party reportedly got so wild the floor fell in. Mabel left Muddy three years later when Muddy’s first child was born; the child’s mother was Leola Spain, 16 years old (Leola later used her maiden name, Brown), “married to a man named Steven” and “going with a guy named Tucker”. Leola was the only one of his girlfriends with whom Muddy would stay in touch throughout his life; they never married. By the time he finally cut out for Chicago in 1943, there was another Mrs. Morganfield left behind, a girl called Sallie Ann.

His influence is tremendous, over a variety of music genres: blues, rhythm and blues, rock ‘n’ roll, hard rock, folk, jazz, and country. He also helped Chuck Berry get his first record contract.

His 1958 tour of England marked possibly the first time amplified, modern urban blues was heard there, although on his first tour he was the only one amplified. His backing was provided by Englishman Chris Barber’s trad jazz group.

His use of amplification is cited as “the technological missing link between Delta Blues and Rock ‘N’ Roll.” This is underlined in a 1968 article in Rolling Stone magazine: “There was a difference between Muddy’s instrumental work and that of House and Johnson, however, and the crucial difference was the result of Waters’ use of the electric guitar on his Aristocrat sides; he had taken up the instrument shortly after moving to Chicago in 1943.”

The Rolling Stones named themselves after his 1950 song “Rollin’ Stone” (also known as “Catfish Blues”, which Jimi Hendrix covered as well). The magazine Rolling Stone also took its name from the same song. Hendrix recalled “the first guitar player I was aware of was Muddy Waters. I first heard him as a little boy and it scared me to death”. Cream covered “Rollin’ and Tumblin'” on their 1966 debut album Fresh Cream, as Eric Clapton was a big fan of Muddy Waters when he was growing up, and his music influenced Clapton’s music career. The song was also covered by Canned Heat at the legendary Monterey Pop Festival and later adapted by Bob Dylan on the album Modern Times. One of Led Zeppelin’s biggest hits, “Whole Lotta Love”, is lyrically based upon the Muddy Waters hit “You Need Love”, written by Willie Dixon. Dixon wrote some of Muddy Waters’ most famous songs, including “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (a big radio hit for Etta James, as well as the 1970s rock band Foghat), “Hoochie Coochie Man”, which The Allman Brothers Band famously covered (the song was also covered by Humble Pie and Steppenwolf), “Trouble No More” and “I’m Ready”. In 1993, Paul Rodgers released the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, on which he covered a number of Muddy Waters songs, including “Louisiana Blues”, “Rollin’ Stone”, “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I’m Ready” (among others) in collaboration with a number of famous guitarists including Gary Moore, Brian May and Jeff Beck.

Angus Young of the rock group AC/DC has cited Muddy Waters as one of his influences. The AC/DC song title “You Shook Me All Night Long” came from lyrics of the Muddy Waters song “You Shook Me”, written by Willie Dixon and J. B. Lenoir. Earl Hooker first recorded it as an instrumental, which was then overdubbed with vocals by Muddy Waters in 1962. Led Zeppelin also covered it on their debut album.

Muddy Waters’ songs have been featured in long-time fan Martin Scorsese’s movies, including The Color of Money, Goodfellas and Casino. Muddy Waters’ 1970s recording of his mid-’50s hit “Mannish Boy” (a.k.a. “I’m A Man”) was used in Goodfellas, Better Off Dead, and the hit film Risky Business, and also features in therockumentary The Last Waltz.

The song “Come Together” by The Beatles references Muddy Waters: “He roller coaster/he got Muddy Waters.”

Van Morrison lyrics include “Muddy Waters singin’, “I’m a Rolling Stone” from his 1982 song “Cleaning Windows”, on the album Beautiful Vision.

 

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