Muddy Waters

McKinley Morganfeld is literally one of the most important names in all of music history. Really, you say? McKinley Morganfeld? Well, you probably know him by a different name. Muddy Waters. And even if you’re one of the few who don’t know Muddy, you’ve surely heard his music. Or at least you’ve benefited from his legacy. Yep. Both the magazine and the band took their names from Muddy’s song ‘Rolling Stone.’ Cause Muddy’s a big deal. He’s the father of Chicago Blues. And he’s considered the main link between Blues and Rock n’ Roll. His specific style of raw electrified blues paved the way for the next generation.

Over the course of his life, he came to represent Chicago to the world. But it all started down in the Delta. Muddy was working on a plantation. Had been playing harmonica for years. But he’d only been fussing around with a guitar for a little while when folklorist Alan Lomax showed up and asked to record him. They cut a song called “I Be’s Troubled.” Everything changed right then. It was the beginning of a colossal culture shift. Muddy heard his voice coming out of a record player, knew he was just as good as anyone, and moved to Chicago. It was up north that he cut that track again. Re-titled it “I Can’t be Satisfied.” It became a hit. The Blues grew up, had a baby, and Rock n’ Roll was in the cradle.



(April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983)

McKinley Morganfield was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, April 4, 1913 or 1915, depending who you ask. Under the stage name Muddy Waters, he’s known as was an American blues musician is known as the “father of modern Chicago blues.”

Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi. After his mother died shortly following his birth, Muddy’s grandmother, Della Grant, raised him. She was the one who gave him the nickname “Muddy” at an early age because he loved to play in the muddy water of a nearby creek. He later changed it to “Muddy Water”, and finally added on the s to become “Muddy Waters”.

Muddy began to play the harmonica around the age of 5. He received his first guitar at age 17, and taught himself to play by listening to recordings. Soon enough, Muddy was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists like Charley Patton, Son House and Robert Johnson.

In August 1941, ethnomusicologist Alan Lomax visited Stovall, on behalf of the Library of Congress to record local musicians. Muddy told Rolling Stone magazine (which was named after his hit, Rolling Stone): “He brought his stuff down and recorded me right in my house 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.’”

Two years later, in 1943, Muddy headed to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician. He started out driving a truck and working in a paper factory by day and performing at night. It was Big Bill Broonzy who helped Muddy break onto the scene by allowing him to open for his shows. Two years after that, Muddy’s uncle gave him his first electric guitar. It changed everything.

muddy-waters-1950-photo-art-shayBy 1946, he had become so popular that he had begun making recordings for big record companies like as RCA, Colombia and Aristocrat. Soon enough he landed a deal with Aristocrat Records, soon to become Chess. Initially, Muddy wasn’t allowed to use his working band in the recording studio; instead he was provided with a backing band of musicians assembled for the sessions. Thank god Chess let up, and by September 1953 he was recording with one of the most acclaimed blues groups of all time. Who came to be known as the “Headcutters”: Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elga Edmonds (also known as Elgin Evans) on drums and Otis Spann on piano. During the early 1950s the band recorded a series of now classics, many with the help of bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, including “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “I’m Ready”.

Muddy Waters also struck gold with hits like “Mannish Boy” and “Sugar Sweet”, as well as “Trouble No More,” “Forty Days & Forty Nights” and “Don’t Go No Farther.”

It wasn’t until 1958, when the group brought their electric blues sound to England, that Muddy Waters became a worldwide star. After that Waters caught the attention of the rock ‘n’ roll community.

Muddy is so crucial to the history of music, due to the fact that his use of amplification is considered the missing link between Delta Blues and Rock ‘N’ Roll.

Muddy’s sound is basically electrified Delta blues. He took the stylings of Robert Johnson and basically electrified them. And though his work often sounds simple, his use of microtones, tiny tonal shifts that often can’t be charted on music paper, 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,” he’d say, “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 passed away from heart failure on April 30, 1983. His influence on popular music is incalculable.

C.C. Rider’s Muddy Waters Playlist: