Music Legends: Muddy Waters



Muddy Waters was an American blues singer-songwriter and guitarist primarily known for his classic blues standard “Hoochie Coochie Man.” It became a big R&B hit during the 50s music era and is now considered a very influential song.  Although he was born and raised in Mississippi, he was otherwise dubbed as the “Father of Modern Chicago Blues” as the highlight of his blues music career happened in the Illinois city. His influence is not only centered on blues and blues artists, but he also inspired many classic rock and roll, folk, jazz and country music. More on Muddy Waters here in this article.

Early life and career

Legendary blues singer and musician Muddy Waters was McKinley Morganfield in Issaquena County, Mississippi on April 4, 1913. His father, who worked as a farmer, was also a blues guitarist. Morganfield’s mother died when he was only three. He got his famous nickname because he loved to play at the muddy waters near the Mississippi River.

He moved to Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, to live with his maternal grandmother. It was where he caught a passion for music. When he was 5, he was already proficient in playing the harmonica. When he was 17 he received his first guitar and taught himself how to play it. He was working as a sharecropper by then, but he also performed his music to entertain folks. One of his earliest musical influences was bluesman Charley Patton.

In 1941 he started his professional music career by traveling across the region, and his recognition grew in the process. Then Alan Lomax, an archivist working for the Library of Congress, heard Waters’ unique musical style so he wanted him to put out some records of his songs. Among Waters’ first recorded songs were “Can’t Be Satisfied,” and “Feel Like Going Home.”

Heading for Chicago and achieving mainstream success

In 1943 Waters moved to Chicago, and the following year his uncle gave him his first electric guitar. It was in this instrument where Waters was able to shape his legendary blues style. Every evening after his day job at the paper mill, Waters would perform blues at night and became a prominent figure in the Chicago blues scene.

By the mid-1940s Muddy Waters’ name and reputation became widespread that he had started his recording career with RCA, Columbia and Aristocrat.

When Aristocrat was bought by Chess Records, that’s where Waters’ recording career finally took off. He reached the peak of his fame when his records became R&B chart hits such as “I’m Ready” (#3, 1954), “I’m Your Hoochie Cooche Man” (#3, 1954), “Just Make Love to Me” (#4, 1955),”Manish Boy” (#5, 1955), and a lot others which have become oldies music classic songs. The sensual content of his songs began to pick up interest from the younger audience. His other songs “Got My Mojo Working” and “Rollin’ Stone” (known as “Catfish Blues”) also proved influential (obviously, the British blues rock group the Rolling Stones and the music magazine Rolling Stone had also been influenced by Muddy Waters).

In 1951 Waters formed his own band with Little Walter Jacobs (harmonica), Jimmy Rogers (guitar), Otis Spann (piano) and Elgin Evans (drums) as well as Waters himself. They were responsible for most of Waters’ R&B chart hits during the 1950s. Soon Waters became increasingly popular across the United States, but it wasn’t until their tour in the UK in 1958 that Waters became an international star. He was one of the musicians who laid the foundations of the vibrant and successful blues scene in England.

His 1960 appearance at the Newport Jazz Festival was one of the pivotal moments of his career because it helped him and his music bring closer to the younger audience.

Later life and career

Waters’ influence had a profound effect on several rock musicians, some of whom Waters himself worked with throughout the 1960s and 1970s. In 1971 he received his first-ever Grammy award for his album They Call Me Muddy Waters.

After thirty years with Chess, Waters departed from the label, but not on a good note. He sued Chess for royalties after the release of Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, one of his final recordings with the label. Right after his split with Chess, Waters signed with Blue Sky.

He continued to perform and captivate audiences until his death on April 30, 1983, aged 70. He died of heart attack during his sleep at his home in Westmont, Illinois.

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