- The Best of Muddy Waters (1958)
- Muddy Waters at Newport (1960)
- Muddy Waters (1964)
- Folk Singer (1964)
- Fathers and Sons (1969)
- After the Rain (1969)
- They Call Me Muddy Waters(1971)
- London Sessions (1972)
- Hard Again (1977)
- King Bee (1981)
- I Feel Like Going Home (1948)
- I Can’t Be Satisfied (1948)
- Mannish Boy (1955)
- I’m Ready (1956)
by Jimmy Pratt (SHS)
Muddy Waters was one of the fathers of Chicago blues and a key figure in the history of blues. He was a master artist of his time, a terrific guitarist, a great song writer, a sensational bandleader, and a powerful performer. His unique style and personality revolutionized a new era in music and had a major impact on many musicians in both blues and rock (“Muddy Waters” 1).
Waters was born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in 1915 but was raised by his grandmother in Clarksdale, Mississippi, after his mother died. He earned the nickname Muddy because he enjoyed playing near a muddy creek when he was a young child. As a young child, he also spent time singing as he worked in the cotton fields. He also played the harmonica. At seventeen, he learned how to play the guitar and later began playing at parties and fish fries. Waters fashioned his style of guitar playing after the great Delta bluesmen Son House and Robert Johnson (LaBlanc 246; “Muddy Waters” 2).
When he was a young adult, Waters ran a juke house. His big break came when Alan Lomax came to Stovall, Mississippi, looking for various blues musicians to record for the Library of Congress. Two of the songs recorded– “I Be’s Troubled” and “Country Blues”- were released on a Library of Congress folk anthology album. Waters was so excited after his very first recording was made that he played his own copy of the record in the jukebox over and over again. He had a hard time comprehending that it was actually he himself doing that singing. A year later, Lomax returned and Waters did another recording for him (LaBlanc 246).
Two years later, Waters left the Mississippi Delta and headed north to Chicago with a dream of becoming a full-time professional. He started off by driving a truck and working in a factory during the day and playing clubs at night. Big Bill Broonzy helped open the doors for Waters in Chicago by getting him gigs in nightclubs. In 1945, Waters’s Uncle gave him his first electric guitar, a spark that marked the beginning of Waters’s reputation as a classic blues guitarist. Waters was still playing his old Delta style blues, but with a louder and far more moving sound than he had ever played before (LaBlanc 246-247; Awmiller 90).
Waters made his first Chicago recording for Columbia Records in 1946, but these tracks weren’t released until 1971, after Waters was already famous. A year later, Waters made his first recording for Chess Records as a guitarist behind Sunnyland Slim, but these songs too were not released because Leonard Chess was not impressed with the recording. In 1948, Waters recorded his first two hit songs: “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Feel Like Going Home.” The two songs were performed in Waters’s Delta style, with the exception of the electric guitar which gave him a new edge in his songs. In less than a day, the record’s entire stock had been sold. Waters was on his way to stardom (“Muddy Waters” 2).
Astonished by the record’s major success, Chess brought Waters back into the studio to make another recording, but he wouldn’t let Waters use his own musicians. Instead, Waters was backed by a hot bass player named Big Crawford. By 1950, Waters was recording with one of the best and hottest blues groups: Little Walter Jacobs on harp; Jimmy Rogers on guitar; Elgin Evans on drums; Otis Spann on piano; Big Crawford on bass; and Waters on vocals and a slide guitar. The band performed some of the greatest blues songs: “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “I Just Want To Make Love To You”, “Mannish Boy”, and “I’m Ready.” Waters was now at the peak of his career and a successful blues musician, but like all things, it wouldn’t last forever (LaBlanc 247).
Unfortunately, Waters was not the only one seeking to be a great blues musician. Waters’s group was also looking for the same fame and stardom. In 1953, Little Walter left when his song “Juke” became a major hit and two years later Jimmy Rodgers left to form his own band. Waters could never again recapture the glory days of the early 1950’s, but he was still a leading bluesman and well renowned performer (LaBlanc 247).
In 1958, Chess Records released Waters’s debut album The Best of Muddy Waters, a collection of some of his hottest hit singles. Later that year, Waters toured England and was a major success. Not only did the tour enhance his reputation in foreign countries, but in his home country as well. Many white folks, after hearing about his triumph in England, rushed to the stores to buy his albums. Then in 1960, Waters and his electric style blues transformed the Newport Folk Festival into a smashing blues bash (Awmiller 92; LaBlanc 247; “Muddy Waters” 3).
Chess continued to push Waters as a folk-blues artist to gain the interest of white fans; but at the same time, Waters was losing the support of his fellow black fans. His recorded work was now directed towards the young white public. He was angry at the fact that his own race was turning its back on him while the white kids were playing and respecting his music (“Muddy Waters” 3; LaBlanc 247). For the next twenty years, Waters was put on the shelf and subjected to ridiculous album themes and forced to play with new bands. Although the musicians were extraordinarily good and very talented, Waters felt they couldn’t play with the heart and soul he needed them to play with and that it wasn’t a Muddy Waters sound they were producing. Fortunately, one man, another Mississippian named Johnny Winter, understood the difficulties Waters was enduring, and convinced Blue Sky to sign Waters. In just two days, Waters’s comeback album, Hard Again, was produced and included the famous blues classic “Mannish Boy.” Waters kept performing in Europe and America, more and more for the young white public. In 1981, he recorded his final album King Bee (LaBlanc 247; Awmiller 94).
On April 30, 1983, Muddy Waters died of a heart attack in his sleep. However, his musical talents and achievements are remembered. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987 (“Muddy Waters” 3). One of the best musicians of postwar blues, he has made his mark in the history of blues. His compelling influence and strong words not only left a mark on the history of blues, but on all forms of popular music of the twentieth century.
- 1915- Muddy Waters was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi
- 1941- Waters made his first recording
- 1942- Alan Lomax made recordings for Library of Congress
- 1943- Waters settled in Chicago
- 1945- Began playing the electric guitar
- 1946- Waters made his first recording in Chicago at Colombia Records, but it wasn’t released until 1971
- 1948- The songs “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home” marked the beginning of Waters’s popularity
- 1958- Chess Records released Waters’s debut album The Best of Muddy Waters, a collection of his hit singles
- 1958- Waters toured England
- 1971- They Call Me Muddy Waters won a Grammy for best ethnic/traditional recording
- 1977- Blue Sky released Waters’s comeback album Hard Again
- 1980- Waters was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Hall of Fame
- 1981- Waters final album King Bee was produced
- 1983- Waters died of a heart attack in his sleep
- 1987- Waters was inducted in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame
- 2017 – Inducted in to the Mississippi Arts + Entertainment Experience Hall of Fame
- Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: Muddy Waters Biography
- Biography.com page on Muddy Waters
- Rolling Stone page on Muddy Waters
- Muddy Waters, Blues performer, dies (New York Times, 1983)
- Mississippi Blues Trail marker for Muddy Waters Birthplace – Rolling Fork
- LaBlanc, Michael L., ed. Contemporary Musicians: Profiles of the People in Music. Volume IV. Michigan: Gale Research Inc., 1991.
- Larkin, Colin, ed. The Guiness Encyclopedia of Popular Music. Volume IV. New York: Guiness Publishing, 1995.
- Awmiller, Craig, ed. This House on Fire. New York: Grolier Publishing, 1996.
- “Waters, Muddy.” Encarta 98 Encyclopedia . Computer Software. Microsoft Corporation, 1997.
- “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Online. Internet. 27 April 1998.
- “Muddy Waters.” Online. Internet. 27 April 1998.
- “Muddy Waters/ Gold Collection.” Online. Internet. 30 April 1998.
- Baxter, Nicky. “Chess-Deep Waters.” Online. Internet. 3 May 1998.