Monday, November 1, 2010
McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983), known as Muddy Waters, was an American blues musician, generally considered "the Father of blues". A major inspiration for the British blues explosion in the 1960s, Muddy was ranked #17 in Rolling Stone magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time. Although in his later years Muddy usually said that he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi in 1915, he was actually born at Jug's Corner in neighboring Issaquena County, Mississippi in 1913. Recent research has uncovered documentation showing that in the 1930s and 1940s he reported his birth year as 1913 on both his marriage license and musicians' union card.
His grandmother Della Grant raised him after his mother died shortly after his birth. His fondness for playing in mud earned him the nickname "Muddy" at an early age. He then changed it to "Muddy Water" and finally "Muddy Waters". He started out on harmonica but by age seventeen he was playing the guitar at parties emulating two blues artists who were extremely popular in the south, Son House and Robert Johnson. "His thick heavy voice, the dark coloration of his tone and his firm, almost solid, personality were all clearly derived from House," wrote music critic Peter Guralnick in Feel Like Going Home, "but the embellishments which he added, the imaginative slide technique and more agile rhythms, were closer to Johnson. In 1940, Muddy moved to Chicago for the first time. He played with Silas Green a year later, and then returned to Mississippi. In the early part of the decade 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. "He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house," Muddy recalled in Rolling Stone, "and when he played back the first song I sounded just like anybody's records. Man, you don't know how I felt that Saturday afternoon when I heard that voice and it was my own voice. Later on he sent me two copies of the pressing and a check for twenty bucks, and I carried that record up to the corner and put it on the jukebox. Just played it and played it and said, `I can do it, I can do it.'" Lomax came back again in July 1942 to record Muddy again. Both sessions were eventually released as Down On Stovall's Plantation on the Testament label.
In 1943, Muddy headed back to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician. He lived with a relative for a short period while driving a truck and working in a factory by day and performing at night. Big Bill Broonzy, one of the leading 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, Muddy's uncle Joe Grant gave him his first electric guitar which enabled him to be heard above the noisy crowds.Initially, 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, or by musicians assembled specifically for the recording session, including "Baby Face" Leroy Foster and Johnny Jones. Gradually Chess relented, and by September 1953 he was recording with one of the most acclaimed blues groups in history: 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". These three were "the most macho songs in his repertoire," wrote Robert Palmer in Rolling Stone. "Muddy would never have composed anything so unsubtle. But they gave him a succession of showstoppers and an image, which were important for a bluesman trying to break out of the grind of local gigs into national prominence.
Muddy, along with his former harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs and recent southern transplant Howlin' Wolf, reigned over 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, generally good-natured rivalry with Wolf. The success of Muddy's ensemble paved the way for others in his group to break away and enjoy their own solo careers. At Newport 1960, helped turn on a whole new generation to Waters' sound. He expressed dismay when he realized that members of his own race were turning their backs on the genre while a white audience had shown increasing respect for the blues.
However, for the better part of twenty years (since his last big hit in 1956, "I'm Ready") Muddy was put on the back shelf by the Chess label and recorded albums with various "popular" themes: Brass And The Blues, Electric Mud, etc. In 1967, he joined forces with Bo Diddley, Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf to record the Super Blues and The Super Super Blues Band pair of albums of Chess blues standards. In 1972 he went back to England to record The London Muddy Waters Sessions with Rory Gallagher, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech and Mitch Mitchell — but their playing was not up to his standards. "These boys are top musicians, they can play with me, put the book before 'em and play it, you know," he told Guralnick. "But that ain't what I need to sell my people, it ain't the Muddy Waters sound. An' if you change my sound, then you gonna change the whole man."
Muddy's sound was basically Delta blues electrified, but his use of microtones, in both his vocals and slide playing, made it extremely difficult to duplicate and follow correctly."When I play on the stage with my band, I have to get in there with my guitar and try to bring the sound down to me. But no sooner than I quit playing, it goes back to another, different sound. My blues look so simple, so easy to do, but it's not. They say my blues is the hardest blues in the world to play." Muddy's long-time wife Geneva died of cancer on March 15, 1973. A very devastated Muddy was taken to a doctor and told to quit smoking, which he did. Gaining custody of some of his "outside kids", he moved them into his home, eventually buying a new house in suburban, mostly white Westmont, IL. Another teenage daughter turned up while on tour in New Orleans; Big Bill Morganfield was introduced to his Dad after a gig in Florida. Florida was also where Muddy met his future wife, the 19-year-old Marva Jean Brooks whom he nicknamed "Sunshine". In 1977 Johnny Winter convinced his label, Blue Sky, to sign Muddy, the beginning of a fruitful partnership. His "comeback" LP, Hard Again, was recorded in just two days and was a return to the original Chicago sound he had created 25 years earlier, thanks to Winter's production. Former sideman James Cotton contributed harmonica on the Grammy Award-winning album and a brief but well-received tour followed. 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. (One critic retreated to the toilets to write his review because he found the band so loud).
The Rolling Stones named themselves after his 1950 song "Rollin' Stone", (also known as "Catfish Blues", which Jimi Hendrix covered as well). 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. On April 30, 1983 Muddy Waters died in his sleep, at his home in Westmont, Illinois; "Muddy was a master of just the right notes," John P. Hammond, told Guitar World magazine. "It was profound guitar playing, deep and simple... more country blues transposed to the electric guitar, the kind of playing that enhanced the lyrics, gave profundity to the words themselves.