Muddy Waters

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Muddy Waters Photo: David Redfern/Redferns
Photo: David Redfern/Redferns

American blues singer and musician McKinley Morganfield was born on 4 April 1913, (although his place and date of birth are not conclusively known). He became known professionally as Muddy Waters, and became an important figure in the post-World War II blues scene, and is often cited as the “father of modern Chicago blues”.

His grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly after his birth. Grant gave him the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek.

Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and by age 17 was playing the guitar and the harmonica, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. He was first recorded in Mississippi by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941.

In 1943, Muddy headed to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician. He recalled arriving in Chicago as the single most momentous event in his life. He lived with a relative for a short period while driving a truck and working in a factory by day and performing at night.

In 1944, he bought his first electric guitar and formed his first electric combo. He felt obliged to electrify his sound in Chicago because, he said, “When I went into the clubs, the first thing I wanted was an amplifier. Couldn’t nobody hear you with an acoustic.”

He began recording for Aristocrat Records in 1946, a newly formed label run by the brothers Leonard and Phil Chess. Soon after, Aristocrat changed its name to Chess Records. Muddy Waters’s signature tune ‘Rollin’ Stone’ also became a hit in this year.

In the early 1950s, Muddy Waters and his band—Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elga Edmonds on drums and Otis Spann on piano—recorded several blues classics. These songs included ‘Hoochie Coochie Man,’ ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’ and ‘I’m Ready’.

1956 saw the release of one of his best-known numbers, ‘Got My Mojo Working’. Written by Preston “Red” Foster with some different lyrics and a new musical arrangement by Waters. It was a feature of his performances throughout his career, with a live version recorded in 1960 identified as the best known. Waters’ rendition has received several awards. In 1999, it received a Grammy Hall of Fame Award and it is identified as one of the “Songs of the Century” by the RIAA.

In 1958, Waters travelled to England, laying the foundations for the resurgence of interest in the blues there. He had been invited over by trombonist Chris Barber to join a ten-date tour. The Chris Barber Band was one of Britain’s most popular acts in the 50s. Barber liked traditional rather than hip modern jazz, but was a man with an open mind and ears. The first show took place at the Odeon Theatre, Leeds.

The Rolling Stones are named after Muddy’s 1950 hit ‘Rollin’ Stone’. According to Keith Richards, Brian Jones named the band during a phone call to Jazz News. When asked by a journalist for the band’s name, Jones saw a Muddy Waters LP lying on the floor; one of the tracks was ‘Rollin’ Stone’.

His performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960 was recorded and released as his first live album, At Newport 1960.

In 1967, he re-recorded several blues standards with Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Howlin’ Wolf, which were marketed as Super Blues and The Super Super Blues Band albums in Chess’ attempt to reach a rock audience.

Eric Clapton was a big fan of Muddy Waters growing up and his band Creamcovered ‘Rollin’ and Tumblin” on their 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream. The Led Zeppelin hit ‘Whole Lotta Love‘ has lyrics heavily influenced by the Muddy Waters hit ‘You Need Love’ (written by Willie Dixon). Angus Young has cited Muddy as an influence and the AC/DC song ‘You Shook Me All Night Long’ came from lyrics of Waters’ song ‘You Shook Me’.

In 1970, Muddy Waters established his own record label called “Blue Sky Records.” This venture allowed him to have greater control over his music and career, giving him the artistic freedom he desired.

In 1972, he won his first Grammy Award, for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for They Call Me Muddy Waters, a 1971 album of old, but previously unreleased recordings.

Muddy Waters’ unique style of playing the slide guitar, often using a bottleneck or a metal tube, helped popularise this technique in the blues genre. His distinctive sound and expressive slide guitar playing became a trademark of his music.

In 1982, declining health dramatically stopped his performance schedule. His last public performance took place when he sat in with Eric Clapton’s band at a concert in Florida in the summer of 1982.

Muddy Waters died in his sleep from heart failure, at his home in Westmont, Illinois, on April 30, 1983, from cancer-related complications.

Waters was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987. Six of his albums earned Grammy Awards, and he received the Grammy for lifetime achievement in 1992.

In 2007, Muddy Waters was posthumously awarded the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest honour given to civilians in the United States. This prestigious recognition further cements his place in history as a true musical pioneer.

Important Dates In The Life Of Muddy Waters:

On this day in music
29 Jan 2022
American drummer and vocalist Sam Lay died at the age of 86. He began recording and performing with prominent blues musicians, including Willie Dixon, Howlin' Wolf, John Lee Hooker, Junior Wells, Bo Diddley, Earl Hooker and Muddy Waters. In the mid-1960s, Lay joined the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Bob Dylan used Lay as his drummer when he introduced electric rock at the Newport Folk Festival in 1965. Lay also recorded with Dylan, notably on the album Highway 61 Revisited.
17 Feb 2020
American blues piano player and singer Henry Gray died age 95. He performed with many artists, including Robert Lockwood Jr., Billy Boy Arnold, Morris Pejoe, The Rolling Stones, Muddy Waters, and Howlin' Wolf. He released over 60 albums including recordings for Chess Records.
3 May 2017
American drummer Casey Jones died aged 77. In the early 1960s, he recorded with Earl Hooker, A.C. Reed, McKinley Mitchell, and Muddy Waters. As a session drummer, he worked with artists such as Lou Rawls, Otis Rush and Johnny Winter. For six years he was a member of Albert Collins's band as his drummer.
16 Mar 2017
American blues harmonica player, singer and songwriter James Cotton died from pneumonia age 81. Cotton worked in Howlin' Wolf's band in the early 1950s. In 1955, he was recruited by Muddy Waters to move to Chicago and join his band. In 2006, Cotton was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame.
16 Jul 2014
Blues guitarist Johnny Winter died at the age of 70 in Zurich, just days after playing at the Lovely Days Festival in Austria. Winter, who was instantly recognisable by his long white hair, worked with some of the greatest bluesmen, producing several albums for his childhood hero Muddy Waters - with whom he won a number of Grammy Awards.
28 Feb 2008
Drummer Buddy Miles, who played with Jimi Hendrix in his last regular group, Band of Gypsys, died aged 60 at his home in Austin, Texas after struggling with a long-term illness. Born George Allen Miles in Omaha, Nebraska, Buddy's nickname was a tribute to his idol, jazz drummer Buddy Rich. Rich also played with The Delfonics, The Ink Spots, Wilson Pickett, Electric Flag, Stevie Wonder, David Bowie, Muddy Waters and Barry White. In the 1980s, he achieved a certain amount of notoriety in the US as the vocalist on the celebrated claymation California Raisins commercials.
12 Mar 2004
Rosalind Morganfield, the 34 year old daughter of Blues artist Muddy Waters, surrendered to police after a warrant was issued accusing her of being involved in the 1996 murder of 19-year-old Timothy Jason Harrington during a drug deal.
9 Nov 1999
American producer, songwriter and co-founder of Atlantic records Herb Abramson died age 82. He produced Tommy Tucker's 1964 hit 'High Heeled Sneakers.' He was the owner of A-1 Sound studios and clients included Barry Manilow, Bette Midler, The Supremes, Patti Smith and Muddy Waters.
15 Jan 1998
American Chicago blues vocalist, harmonica player, Junior Wells died aged 63. Born Amos Blakemore he is best known for his signature song ‘Messin' with the Kid’ and his 1965 album Hoodoo Man Blues. He also worked with Muddy Waters, Van Morrison, Carlos Santana, Bonnie Raitt and The Rolling Stones.
17 Mar 1990
British multi-instrumentalist. Rick Grech who had worked with Family, Blind Faith, Traffic, and Ginger Baker's Air Force died of renal failure at the age of 43, as a result of alcoholism. As a session musician Grech also worked with Rod Stewart, Ronnie Lane, Vivian Stanshall, Muddy Waters, The Crickets, the Bee Gees and Gram Parsons.
30 Apr 1983
American Blues legend Muddy Waters (born McKinley Morganfield) died in his sleep at his home in Westmont, Illinois, aged 68. He was a major influence on many acts including, Cream, Eric Clapton, and Led Zeppelin. The Rolling Stones named themselves after Waters' 1950 song 'Rollin' Stone.' Some of his best known songs include 'I Just Want To Make Love To You', 'I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man', and 'Got My Mojo Working.'
12 Jul 1979
American singer songwriter Minnie Riperton died of cancer aged 31. The Stevie Wonder produced 'Loving You' gave Minnie a US No.1 single in 1975. She worked at Chess records singing backup for various artists such as Etta James, Fontella Bass, Bo Diddley, Chuck Berry and Muddy Waters. She also sang lead for the experimental rock/soul group Rotary Connection, from 1967 to 1971. Also a member of Wonderlove in 1973, a backup group for Stevie Wonder.
27 Oct 1969
Blues musician Muddy Waters was seriously injured in a car crash in Champagne, Illinois. Three of his companions in the vehicle were killed in the accident.
8 Jul 1968
Pink Floyd kicked off their first 20-date North American tour at the Kinetic Playground in Chicago. The club became a driving force in the music business, hosting famous rock acts such as The Doors, The Jimi Hendrix Experience, Led Zeppelin, The Who, The Byrds, Janis Joplin, The Mothers of Invention, Grateful Dead, MC5, Jethro Tull, Deep Purple, Iron Butterfly, Fleetwood Mac, Muddy Waters, Vanilla Fudge and Jefferson Airplane.
15 Feb 1968
American blues musician Little Walter (Marion Walter Jacobs) died in his sleep aged 37 from injuries incurred in a fight while taking a break from a performance at a nightclub in Chicago. Joining Muddy Waters' band in 1948, he was the first harmonica player to amplify his harp (on the 1951 ‘She Moves Me’) giving it a distorted echoing sound.
9 Nov 1967
The first issue of Rolling Stone Magazine was published in San Francisco. It featured a photo of John Lennon on the cover, dressed in army fatigues while acting in his recent film, How I Won the War and the first issue had a free roach clip to hold a marijuana joint. The name of the magazine was compiled from three significant sources: the Muddy Waters song, the first rock ‘n’ roll record by Bob Dylan and The Rolling Stones.
21 Jul 1967
The Jimi Hendrix Experience played the first of three nights at the Cafe-a-Go-Go in New York City. The club featured many well known acts including: Grateful Dead, Tim Buckley, Joni Mitchell,Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters, John Lee Hooker, The Paul Butterfield Blues Band, Jefferson Airplane, and Cream who all appeared at the club.
3 Dec 1964
The Rolling Stones had their second UK No.1 single with their version of 'Little Red Rooster'. The Stones had recorded the song at Chess Studios in Chicago, the same studios where Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter had recorded their blues classics.
10 Jun 1964
The first edition of the official The Rolling Stones book was issued, priced at one and six, (the publication ran for 30 issues). Also on this day, at producers Phil Spector’s suggestion, The Stones recorded 'It's All Over Now', 'I Can’t Be Satisfied' and 'Time Is On My Side' at Chess studios in Chicago. During the day, the Stones got to meet, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Buddy Guy and Chuck Berry.
7 Jan 1964
English blues musician Cyril Davies died of leukaemia aged 32. Davies was a driving force in the early Sixties blues movement forming Blues Incorporated with Alexis Korner. Davies and Korner opened a London Rhythm and Blues club "England's Firstest and Bestest Skiffle Club", later known as the "London Blues and Barrelhouse Club". Popular with other musicians, the club hosted gigs by blues musicians such as Muddy Waters, Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee and Memphis Slim.
26 Oct 1962
The Rolling Stones (known as The Rollin' Stones), and consisting of Keith Richards, Mick Jagger, Brian Jones pianist Ian Stewart and drummer Tony Chapman recorded their first demo tape at Curly Clayton Studios in Highbury, London. They recorded three songs, Jimmy Reed's 'Close Together', Bo Diddley's 'You Cant Judge A Book By The Cover' and Muddy Waters' 'Soon Forgotten.'
16 Oct 1958
Muddy Waters made his live debut in the UK at the Odeon Theatre, Leeds as part of the mainly classical Leeds Centenary Music Festival. Waters had been invited to the UK by trombonist Chris Barber to join a ten-date tour. The Chris Barber Band was one of Britain’s most popular British acts in the 50s.
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