(April 4, 1913 April 30,
1983), known as Muddy Waters
, was an American
musician, generally considered "the
Father of Chicago blues
". He is also
the actual father of blues musicians Big Bill Morganfield
and Larry "Mud
Morganfield" Williams. A major inspiration for the British blues
explosion in the 1960s, Muddy
was ranked #17 in Rolling
magazine's list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All
Life and career
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.
Recent research has uncovered documentation
showing that in the 1930s and 1940s he had reported his birth year
as 1913 on both his marriage license and musicians' union card. A
1955 interview in the Chicago
is the earliest claim of 1915 as his year of
birth, which he continued to use in interviews from that point
onward. On the other hand, 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 his Social
Security card application, lists him as being born April 5,
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 later 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
Like Going Home
, "but the embellishments which he added, the
imaginative slide technique
agile rhythms, were closer to Johnson."
On November 20, 1932 Muddy married Mabel Berry; Robert Nighthawk
played guitar 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, sixteen years old,
"married to a man named Steve" 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.
In 1940, Muddy moved to Chicago for the first time. He played with
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
, "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
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
, 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, his uncle Joe
Grant gave him his first electric guitar which enabled him to be
heard above the noisy crowds.
In 1946, he recorded some tunes for Mayo
weren't released at the time. Later that year he began recording
, a newly-formed label
run by two brothers, Leonard
. In 1947, he played guitar
with Sunnyland Slim
on piano on the
cuts "Gypsy Woman" and "Little Anna Mae." These were also shelved,
but in 1948 "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "I Feel Like Going Home"
became big hits and his popularity in clubs began to take off. Soon
after, Aristocrat changed their label name to Chess Records
and Muddy's signature tune
" also became a smash
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 arguably the
best blues group ever: Little
on harmonica; Jimmy
on guitar; Elga Edmonds (a.k.a. Elgin Evans) on drums;
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
" (Number 4), and "I'm
". These three were "the most macho songs in his
repertoire," wrote Robert Palmer
. "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
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 but
generally good-natured rivalry with Wolf. Wolf's band, like
Muddy's, featured an all-star lineup, including the now-legendary
guitarist Hubert Sumlin
. Wolf also
competed with Waters for the songwriting attention of Willie Dixon
and recorded a number of Dixon tunes.
By 1954, Muddy was at the height of his career. "By the time he
achieved his popular peak, Muddy Waters had become a shouting,
declamatory kind of singer who had forsaken his guitar as a kind of
anachronism and whose band played with a single pulsating rhythm,"
wrote Peter Guralnick in his book The Listener's Guide to The
The success of Muddy's ensemble paved the way for others in his
group to break away and enjoy their own solo careers. In 1952
Little Walter left when his single "Juke
" became a hit, and in 1955 Rogers quit to
work exclusively with his own band, which had been a sideline until
that time. Although he continued working with Muddy's band, Otis
Spann enjoyed a solo career and many releases under his own name
beginning in the mid-1950s.
England and low profile
Muddy headed to England in 1958 and shocked audiences (whose only
previous exposure to blues had come via the acoustic folk/blues
sounds of acts such as Sonny Terry
and Big Bill Broonzy
) with his loud, amplified
electric guitar and thunderous beat. His performance at the 1960
Newport Jazz Festival
recorded and released as his first live album, 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
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
, etc. In 1967, he joined forces with Bo Diddley
, Little Walter and Howlin' Wolf to
record the Super Blues
and The Super Super Blues
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
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
both his vocals and slide playing, made it extremely difficult to
duplicate and follow correctly. "When I plays onstage with my band,
I have to get in there with my guitar and try to bring the sound
down to me," he said in Rolling Stone
. "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."
Waters in Ontario, Canada, 1971
Courtesy: Jean-Luc Ourlin
Muddy's long-time wife Geneva died of cancer on March 15, 1973. A
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, all-white Westmont. 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
On November 25, 1976, Muddy Waters performed at The Band
's farewell concert at Winterland
in San Francisco. The concert was
released as both a record and a film, The Last Waltz
, featuring a performance
of "Mannish Boy
" with Paul Butterfield
In 1977 Johnny Winter
label, Blue Sky, to sign Muddy, the beginning of a fruitful
partnership. His "comeback" LP, Hard
, 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
-winning album and a brief
but well-received tour followed.
The Muddy Waters Blues Band included guitarist Bob Margolin
, pianist Pinetop Perkins
, and drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith
. Winter played guitar in
addition to producing. Muddy asked James
to play harp on the session, and Cotton brought his
bassist Charles Calmese. According to Margolin's liner notes, Muddy
did not play guitar during these sessions. The album covers a broad
spectrum of styles, from the opening of "Mannish Boy", with shouts
and hollers throughout, to the old-style Delta blues of "I Can't Be
Satisfied", with a National Steel solo by Winter, to Cotton's
screeching intro to "The Blues Had a Baby", to the moaning closer
"Little Girl". Its live feel harks back to the Chess Records days,
and it evokes a feeling of intimacy and cooperative musicianship.
The expanded reissue includes one bonus track, a remake of the
1950s single "Walking Through the Park". The other outtakes from
the album sessions appear on King Bee
. Margolin's notes
state that the reissued album was remastered but that remixing was
not considered to be necessary. Hard Again
was the first
studio collaboration between Waters and Winter, who produced his
final four albums, the others being I'm Ready
, King Bee
, and Muddy "Mississippi" Waters - Live
, for Blue Sky,
a Columbia Records
In 1978 Winter recruited two of Muddy's cohorts from the early
'50s, Big Walter Horton
, and brought in the rest
of his touring band at the time (harmonica player Jerry Portnoy
, guitarist Luther "Guitar Junior"
, and bassist Calvin
) to record Waters' I'm Ready
LP, which came
close to the critical and commercial success of Hard
The comeback continued in 1979 with the lauded LP Muddy
"Mississippi" Waters Live
. "Muddy was loose for this one,"
wrote Jas Obrecht in Guitar
, "and the result is the next best thing to being
ringside at one of his foot-thumping, head-nodding, downhome blues
shows." On the album, Muddy is accompanied by his touring band,
augmented by Johnny Winter on guitar. The set list contains most of
his biggest hits, and the album has an energetic feel. King
the following year concluded Waters' reign at Blue Sky,
and these last four LPs turned out to be his biggest-selling albums
ever. King Bee
was the last album Muddy Waters recorded.
Coming last in a trio of studio outings produced by Johnny Winter,
it is also a mixed bag. During the sessions for King Bee
Waters, his manager, and his band were involved in a dispute over
money. According to the liner notes by Bob Margolin, the conflict
arose from Waters' health being on the wane and consequently
playing fewer engagements. The bandmembers wanted more money for
each of the fewer gigs they did play in order to make ends meet.
Ultimately a split occurred and the entire band quit. Because of
the tensions in the studio preceding the split, Winter felt the
sessions had not produced enough solid material to yield an entire
album. He subsequently filled out King Bee
from earlier Blue Sky sessions and the cover photograph was by
David Michael Kennedy
. For the
listener, King Bee
is a leaner and meaner record. Less of
the good-time exuberance present on the previous two outings is
present here. The title track, "Mean Old Frisco", "Sad Sad Day",
and "I Feel Like Going Home", are all blues with ensemble work. The
Sony Legacy issue features completely remastered sound and
Margolin's notes, and also hosts two bonus tracks from the King
sessions that Winter didn't see fit to release the first
In 1981, Waters was invited to perform at ChicagoFest, the city's
top outdoor music festival. He was joined onstage by Johnny Winter
— who had successfully produced
Waters’ most recent albums — and played classics like “Mannish
Boy,” “Trouble No More” and “Mojo Working” to a new generation of
fans. This historic performance was made available on DVD in 2009
by Shout! Factory
In 1982, declining health dramatically curtailed Muddy's
performance schedule. Muddy Waters' last public performance took
place when he sat in with Eric
's band at a Clapton concert in Florida in autumn of
His influence is tremendous, over a variety of music genres
: blues, rhythm and blues
, rock 'n' roll
, and country
He also helped Chuck Berry
get his first
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
's trad jazz
group. (One critic retreated to the
toilets to write his review because he found the band so
The Rolling Stones
themselves after his 1950 song "Rollin'
", (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
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.
of Led Zeppelin
's biggest hits,
"Whole Lotta Love
", is lyrically
based upon the Muddy Waters hit "You Need Love", written by
. Dixon wrote some of Muddy
Waters' most famous songs, including "I Just Want to Make Love to
" (a big radio hit for Etta James
as well as the 1970s rock band Foghat
"Hoochie Coochie Man
The Allman Brothers Band
famously covered, and "I'm Ready", which was covered by Humble Pie
. In 1993, Paul
released the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to
, 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 such as Brian
and Jeff Beck
of the rock group AC/DC
has cited Muddy Waters as one of his influences.
The song title "You Shook Me
All Night Long
" came from lyrics of the Muddy Waters song
"You Shook Me
", written by Willie Dixon
first recorded it as an
instrumental which was then overdubbed with vocals by Muddy Waters
Muddy Waters' songs have been featured in long-time fan Martin Scorsese
's movies, including
The Color of Money
. Muddy Waters' 1970s recording of
his mid-'50s hit "Mannish Boy" (a.k.a. "I'm A Man
") was used in
and the hit film Risky Business
Screenwriter David Simon
written an unproduced teleplay about Muddy Waters' life.
The 2006 Family Guy
episode "Saving Private Brian
" includes a parody
of Muddy Waters trying to pass a kidney stone; his screams of pain
form a call and response with the Chicago blues band in his
In 2008, Jeffrey Wright
portrayed Muddy in the biopic Cadillac Records
, a film about the
rise and fall of Chess Records
lives of its recording artists. A second 2008 film about Leonard Chess
and Chess Records
, Who Do You Love
covers Muddy's time at Chess Records
Who Do You Love
premiered at the 2008 Toronto
International Film Festival; David
portrays Muddy Waters.
30, 1983 Muddy Waters died in his sleep, at his home in Westmont, IL. At his funeral at Restvale Cemetery in
Illinois, throngs of
blues musicians and fans showed up to pay tribute to one of the
true originals of the art form.
"Muddy was a master of just
the right notes," John Hammond Jr.
told Guitar World
. "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." Two years after his death,
Chicago honored him by designating the one-block section between
900 and 1000 E. 43rd Street near his former home on the south side
"Honorary Muddy Waters Drive" More recently, the Chicago suburb of
Westmont, where Waters lived the last decade of his life, named a
section of Cass Avenue near his home "Honorary Muddy Waters Way".
Following Waters' death, B.B. King
told Guitar World
, "It's going to be
years and years before most people realize how greatly he
contributed to American music".
to the historic place of Muddy Waters in the development of the
blues in Mississippi, a Mississippi Blues Trail marker has
been placed in Clarksdale, Mississippi by the Mississippi Blues Commission designating the
site of Muddy Waters' cabin to commemorate his
Awards and recognitions
|Muddy Waters Grammy Award
Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording
||They Call Me Muddy
||Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording
||The London Muddy Waters Session
||Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording
||The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album
||Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording
||Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording
||Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording
||Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live
Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
Rock and Roll
Hall of Fame listed four songs of Muddy Waters of the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock
The Blues Foundation Awards
|Muddy Waters: Blues Music Awards
||Reissue Album of the Year
||The Complete Plantation Recordings
||Reissue Album of the Year
||One More Mile
||Traditional Blues Album of the Year
||The Lost Tapes of Muddy Waters
||Historical Blues Album of the Year
||Fathers and Sons
||Historical Album of the Year
||Hoochie Coochie Man: Complete Chess Recordings, Volume 2,
U.S. Postage Stamp
- The Best of Muddy
Waters (1958), Chess
- At Newport 1960 (1960),
- Muddy Waters
Sings Big Bill Broonzy (1960), Chess
- Folk Singer (1964),
- The Real Folk Blues
- Muddy, Brass and the
Blues (1966), Chess
- More Real Folk
Blues (1967), Chess
Blues: Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Little Walter (1967),
The Super Super Blues Band: Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, Howlin'
Wolf (1967), Checker
- Electric Mud (1968),
- After the
Rain (1969), Chess
and Sons (1969), MCA/Chess
- Sail On (1969), Chess
- They Call Me Muddy
Waters (1971), Chess
Morganfield (1971), Chess
- Live (1971),
- The London
Muddy Waters Sessions (1972), MCA/Chess
- Can't Get No
Grindin' (1973), Chess
Revisted with Howlin' Wolf (1974), Chess
- 'Unk' In Funk (1974),
- The Muddy
Waters Woodstock Album (1975), MCA/Chess
- Live at Jazz Jamboree
'76 (1976), Polljazz
- His Best 1947-1955
- Hard Again (1977), Blue
Ready (1978), Blue Sky
- Muddy "Mississippi" Waters -
- King Bee (1981), Blue
Stone (1982), Chess
- Rare and Unissued
- Muddy & The
- Trouble No
- The Complete
Plantation Recordings (1993)
- Paris, 1972 (1997)
- Goin' Way Back (1997),
Just a Memory
- One More Mile (1998)
Tribute to Muddy Waters King of the Blues (1999)
Coochie Man (1999)
- Rollin' Stone:
The Golden Anniversary Collection (2000), MCA/Chess
- The Anthology
- The Definitive
Collection (2006) Geffen/Chess
Hoochie Coochie Man: The Complete Chess Masters, Volume 2,
1952-1958 (2004), Hip-O/Chess/Geffen
Waters - The Johnny Winter Sessions 1976-1981 (2009)
- 1941 "Country Blues" (Recorded by Alan
- 1941 "I Be's Troubled" (Recorded by Alan
- 1942 "Ramblin' Kid Blues"
- 1947 "Gypsy Woman" (with Sunnyland Slim)
- 1947 "Little Anna Mae"
- 1948 "Hard Days"
- 1948 "Down South Blues"
- 1949 "Screamin' and Cryin'"
- 1949 "Last Time I Fool Around with You"
- 1950 "Rollin' Stone" aka "Catfish
- 1950 "Rollin' and
- 1950 "Walkin' Blues"
- 1951 "Howlin' Wolf"
- 1951 "Lonesome Day"
- 1951 "They Call Me Muddy Waters"
- 1951 "Still a Fool"
- 1951 "Long Distance Call"
- 1951 "Honey Bee"
- 1952 "Iodine in My Coffee"
- 1953 "Sad Sad Day"
- 1954 "I Just Want to
Make Love to You"
- 1954 "I'm Your Hoochie
- 1954 "I'm Ready"
- 1955 "Mannish Boy"
- 1955 "Trouble No
- 1955 "Sugar Sweet"
- 1956 "All Aboard"
- 1956 "Rock Me"
- 1956 "Forty Days and Forty Nights"
- 1957 "Got My Mojo
- 1957 "Good Lookin' Woman"
- 1958 "Born Lover"
- 1959 "Goin' Down Louisiana" (aka "Louisiana Blues")
- 1960 "Deep Down in My Heart"
- 1961 "Messin' with The Man"
- 1962 "Going Home"
- 1962 "You Shook Me"
- 1963 "Let Me Hang Around"
- 1964 "My Home is on The Delta"
- 1965 "Early Morning Blues"
- 1966 "Canary Bird"
- 1967 "Trainfare Blues"
- 1968 "Mud in Your Ear"
- 1969 "Blues and Trouble"
- 1970 "Blues for Hippies"
- 1971 "Strange Woman"
- 1972 "My Pencil Won't Write No More"
- 1973 "Muddy Waters Shuffle"
- 1974 "Drive My Blues Away"
- 1975 "Born with Nothing"
- 1977 "Crosseyed Cat"
- 1978 "Copper Brown"
- 1979 "She's Nineteen Years
- 1981 "Forever Lonely"
- Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
by Robert Gordon, 2002, 432 pp. ISBN 0-316-32849-9
- Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man by Sandra B. Tooze, 1997,
383 pp. ISBN 1-55022-296-1
- Muddy Waters: Deep Blues by Muddy Waters, 1995, 183
pp. ISBN 0-7935-0955-6
- Muddy Waters: Deep Blues and Good News by Dave Rubin,
Muddy Waters ISBN 0-7935-6501-4
- Bossmen: Bill Monroe and Muddy Waters by James R.
Rooney, 1991, 163 pp. ISBN 0-306-80427-1