McKinley Morganfield aka Muddy

Waters

 

He was born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Fork, Mississippi in 1915.  Because he liked to play in creeks and puddles as a young boy while living with his grandmother on the Stovall Plantation he acquired the nickname “Muddy”.  The Stovall Plantation was just north of Clarksdale, Mississippi where he moved at the age of three after his mother had died.  He started playing the harmonica at the age of seven and picked up the guitar at seventeen.  During the next several years he played in a small band performing at picnics and parties on weekends.  During weekdays his time was spent picking cotton for fifty cents a day.  One of his earliest recordings included a session he did in 1941 for the folklorists Alan Lomax and John Work while they were touring the south.

Waters moved to Chicago in May of 1943 at which time his blues style went through a dramatic transformation where he played with blues greats Big Bill Broonzy and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson.  Because of the noise of the large Chicago club crowds, Waters switched from acoustic to electric guitar.  It wasn’t until he met Leonard Chess that his recording career truly began.  Chess was at the time co-owner of Aristocrat Records which later became Chess Records.  By developing a strong working relationship with Chess and bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon he was able to record many great blues hits.

 

Many of Waters’ blues standards that bore the raw sound of their Mississippi Delta roots were recorded at Aristocrat Records.  In 1948 Waters released his breakthrough hit “I Can’t Be Satisfied”.  Other classic cuts included songs written by Willie Dixon including; “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You”.  Other Waters originals included; “Got My Mojo Workng,” “Mannish Boy” and “Rollin’ and Tumblin”.  His first release on the new Chess Records label in 1950 was “Rollin’ Stone”.  “Rollin’ Stone” would later become the namesake of the legendary British rock band The Rolling Stones.


The influence of his mentors, Robert Johnson and Son House were reflected in his blues with his slashing slide guitar and fierce vocals.  By the same token, Waters’ music influenced and launched many prominent careers of bandleaders as they passed though his band.  Including; “Little Walter” Jacobs,  Junior Wells, Pinetop Perkins, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Jimmy Rogers and Memphis Slim to name a few.


Waters’ first album was released in the late Fifties which was a collection of his greatest studio recording singles simply entitled “The Best of Muddy Waters”.  During this same time and into the early Sixties, Waters released several acoustic and folk blues recordings that didn’t fare too well.  As rock and blues popularity grew so did Waters’ in the Sixties he performed more and more to the younger generation.   In the late Sixties and early Seventies, Waters released albums in which Mike Bloomfield and Eric Clapton appeared, including “Fathers and Sons” in 1969 and “The London Muddy Waters Sessions” in 1972.


In 1976 Waters left Chess Records after thirty years for the Columbia subsidiary Blue Sky.  Another boost to Waters’ career came from his electrifying rendition of “Mannish Boy” accompanied by The Band in their farewell film documentary “The Last Waltz”.

 

Waters continued to tour and record throughout the seventies and early Eighties.  Muddy Waters died on April 30, 1983.  He was 68 years old.

 

Along with his musical legacy, Waters cultivated a great respect for the blues as one of its most dominant innovators.  It is said that no other figure was more important in influencing the history and development of the blues than Muddy Waters with the exception of Robert Johnson.