Donald's Encyclopedia of Popular Music



(b McKinley Morganfield, 4 April '15, Rolling Fork MS; d 30 April '83, Chicago) Blues singer, guitarist, songwriter; the greatest artist in the genre after the classic era of the '20s--30s, inspiring generations of urban blues. Nickname from playing in a muddy creek; learned to play harmonica at 13, guitar at 17 infl. by Son House and Robert Johnson; recorded by John Lomax (Stovall's Plantation '41--2 on Testament; later The Complete Plantation Recordings on Chess). To Chicago '43, already a master of slide guitar; switched to electric guitar '44, played clubs and parties nights, worked in paper mill, then drove truck days. Recorded for OKeh '46 (unreleased until anthology OKeh Chicago Blues '81), for Aristocrat '46, which became Chess '48: first Chess records reissued on Best Of, later called Sail On, a classic compilation: 'I Can't Be Satisfied' '48; 'Rollin' Stone' '50; 'Honey Bee', 'She Moves Me', 'Long Distance Call', 'Louisiana Blues' '51, 'Hoochie Coochie Man' and 'I'm Ready' '54; others: all R&B hits, all profoundly influential. Urban blues took up the electric guitar in order to be heard in noisy clubs, but in Waters's hands the urgency of country blues, its aching sexuality, homesickness for the South, touches of country superstition (black cat bone, mojo tooth) were undiluted. 'I Can't Be Satisfied' did not have drums on it, and the bass sound (probably Big Crawford) was similar to that of Marshall Grant, with Johnny Cash some years later: the infl. of white and black musics, country and urban musics can never be fully sorted out. From '50 Waters's band incl. Little Walter on harmonica, then Elgar Edmonds or Elgin Evans on drums, Jimmy Rogers on second guitar, Otis Spann on piano; others passing through incl. arranger/producer/songwriter Willie Dixon or Luther Tucker on bass, Fred Below or Francis Clay on drums; then Walter Horton, James Cotton, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, nearly all the stars of Chicago blues (Tucker d 17 June '93, San Fafael CA, aged 57). White kids heard these strange records on the radio from the South Side and were enchanted by a mysterious world they could never hope to enter; English kids would be bolder. 'I Love The Life I Live' (covered by Mose Allison), 'Rock Me', 'Got My Mojo Working', 'She's Got It', 'She's Nineteen Years Old' all came in '57, 'Baby Please Don't Go' in '58, but none charted; Waters's last R&B chart hit was 'Close To You' '58 as younger black record buyers wanted the sweeter voices of people like Sam Cooke and Waters's classic work was done. (But Chicago blues wasn't over, and pianist Pinetop Joe Willie Perkins, who replaced Spann in Waters's band, was still carrying on with Born In The Delta '97 on Telarc.)

On his first UK tour '58 Waters discovered that his audience was international; when black music once again revitalized popular music in the '60s, no one had been more influential. He played concert tours and festivals all over the world; the Rolling Stones named themselves after the '50 hit, and Waters said, 'They stole my music, but they gave me my name.' Waters's LPs on Chess incl. Electric Mud, widely considered to have been a disaster; two-disc Fathers And Sons '69 (one disc live, one studio) was much better, with Spann, Sam Lay on drums, young white acolytes Paul Butterfield, Michael Bloomfield, Donald 'Duck' Dunn on bass, others guesting on various tracks. Mud In Your Ear '67 on Muse incl. classic lineup; At Newport '60 and Live At Mr Kelly's were on French Vogue, later on Chess; They Call Me Muddy Waters '71 won first of several Grammys; The London Muddy Waters Sessions '72 was highly rated, also Rare And Unissued tracks from '47--60. After Can't Get No Grindin' '73, Waters left Chess (sued them for back royalties), recorded for Blue Sky, Hard Again '77 and I'm Ready '78 prod. by Johnny Winter, with Cotton and Rogers; also Live '80 and King Bee on that label. He was one of the most important guests in the valedictory concert/film of the Band The Last Waltz '76, with 'I'm A Man'. As Chess masters were kicked around for years, reissue series stopping and starting, Syndicate Chapter bootlegged classics on vinyl in UK; later everything was reissued on Chess incl. six-CD The Chess Box. Also The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album made in Bearsville NY '75 on Chess, The Warsaw Sessions in two vols on Kicking Mule, Goin' Home: Live In Paris 1970 on New Rose, Goodbye Newport Blues on Magnum America etc. Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man '98 by Sandra B. Tooze was a thorough biography with discography.