McKinley Morganfield (April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983), known by his stage name Muddy Waters, was an American blues musician who is often cited as the "father of modern Chicago blues".
Muddy Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and by age 17 was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. He was recorded in Mississippi by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941. In 1943, he moved to Chicago with the hope of becoming a full-time professional musician, eventually recording, in 1946, first for Columbia Records and then for Aristocrat Records, a newly formed label run by the brothers Leonard and Phil Chess.
In the early 1950s, Muddy Waters and his band—Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums and Otis Spann on piano—recorded several blues classics, some with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, including "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I Just Want to Make Love to You" and "I'm Ready". In 1958, he traveled to England, helping to lay the foundations of the subsequent blues boom there. His performance at the Newport Jazz Festival in 1960 was recorded and released as his first live album, At Newport 1960.
Muddy Waters' influence is tremendous, not just on blues and rhythm and blues but on rock and roll, hard rock, folk music, jazz, and country music. His use of amplification is often cited as the link between Delta blues and rock and roll.
Although in his later years he usually said that he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, in 1915, he was most likely born in Jug's Corner, in neighboring Issaquena County in 1913. Recent research has uncovered documentation showing that in the 1930s and 1940s, before his rise to fame, he reported his birth year as 1913 on his marriage license, recording notes, and musicians' union card. A 1955 interview in the Chicago Defender is the earliest claim of 1915 as his year of birth, which he continued to use in interviews from that point onward. 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 the Social Security card application submitted after his move to Chicago in the mid-1940s, lists him as being born April 4, 1913. His gravestone gives his birth year as 1915.
His grandmother, Della Grant, raised him after his mother died shortly following his birth. Grant gave the boy the nickname "Muddy" at an early age, because he loved to play in the muddy water of nearby Deer Creek. He later changed it to "Muddy Water" and finally "Muddy Waters".
The shack on Stovall Plantation where Muddy Waters lived in his youth is now at the Delta Blues Museum in Clarksdale, Mississippi. He started playing the harmonica, but by age 17, he was playing the guitar at parties, emulating two blues artists in particular, Son House and Robert Johnson.
On November 20, 1932, Muddy married Mabel Berry. Guitarist Robert Nighthawk played 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, 16 years old (Leola later used her maiden name, Brown), "married to a man named Steven" 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 left for Chicago in 1943, he had another wife, Sallie Ann, whom he left behind.
In August 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 Rolling Stone, "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 in July 1942 to record Muddy again. Both sessions were eventually released as Down on Stovall's Plantation by Testament Records. The complete recordings were reissued on CD as Muddy Waters: The Complete Plantation Recordings. The Historic 1941–42 Library of Congress Field Recordings by Chess Records in 1993 and remastered in 1997.
In 1943, Muddy headed 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 Broonzy, then one of the leading bluesmen in Chicago, helped Muddy break into the competitive market by allowing him to open for his shows in the rowdy clubs. In 1945, Muddy's uncle, Joe Grant, gave him his first electric guitar, which enabled him to be heard above the noisy crowds.
In 1946, he recorded some songs for Mayo Williams at Columbia Records, but they were not released at the time. Later that year, he began recording for Aristocrat Records, a newly formed label run by the brothers Leonard and Phil Chess. 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 its name to Chess Records, and Muddy's signature tune "Rollin' Stone" also became a hit.
Initially, the Chess brothers would not allow Muddy to use his working band 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 one of the most acclaimed blues groups in history: Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elga Edmonds (also known as Elgin Evans) on drums, and Otis Spann on piano. The band recorded a series of blues classics during the early 1950s, some with the help of bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon, including "Hoochie Coochie Man" (number eight on the R&B charts), "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (number four), and "I'm Ready". These three were "the most macho songs in his repertoire," wrote Robert Palmer in Rolling Stone. "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."
Along with his former harmonica player Little Walter Jacobs and recent southern transplant Howlin' Wolf, Muddy 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 in the 1950s, Muddy developed a long-running, generally good-natured rivalry with Wolf. The success of Muddy's ensemble paved the way for others in his group to break away and make 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. Around that time, Muddy Waters scored hits with songs "Mannish Boy" and "Sugar Sweet" in 1955, followed by the R&B hits "Trouble No More," "Forty Days & Forty Nights", and "Don't Go No Farther" in 1956.
Muddy toured 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 Brownie McGhee 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, introduced a new generation to Muddy's sound.
However, for the better part of 20 years (following his last big hit, "I'm Ready", in 1956) Muddy was put on the back shelf by Chess and recorded albums with various "popular" themes, such as Brass and the Blues and Electric Mud. In 1967, he joined forces with Bo Diddley, Little Walter, and Howlin' Wolf to record the albums Super Blues and The Super Super Blues Band, containing Chess blues standards. In 1972, he went back to England to record The London Muddy Waters Sessions with Rory Gallagher, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech, 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, in both his vocals and slide playing, made it difficult to duplicate and follow correctly. "When I play on the stage with my band, I have to get in there with my guitar and try to bring the sound down to me. 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."
Muddy's longtime 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 Westmont, Illinois. His firstborn, Larry Williams (né Mud Morganfield), stayed with his mother, Mildred McGhee. Another teenaged daughter turned up while Muddy was on tour in New Orleans. Big Bill Morganfield was introduced to his father after a gig in Florida. Florida was also where Muddy met his future wife, the 19-year-old Marva Jean Brooks, whom he nicknamed "Sunshine". Eric Clapton served as best man at their wedding in 1979.
In 1981, Muddy Waters was invited to perform at ChicagoFest, the city's top outdoor music festival. He was joined onstage by Johnny Winter, who had produced Muddy's 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. Later that year, he performed live with the Rolling Stones at the Checkerboard Lounge; a DVD version of the performance was released in 2012.
In 1982, declining health dramatically curtailed Muddy's performance schedule. His last public performance took place when he sat in with Eric Clapton's band at a concert in Florida in the summer of 1982.
Muddy Waters died in his sleep from heart failure, at his home in Westmont, Illinois, on April 30, 1983. Throngs of blues musicians and fans attended his funeral at Restvale Cemetery, in Alsip, Illinois, to pay tribute to one of the true originals of the art form. "Muddy was a master of just the right notes," John P. Hammond told Guitar World magazine. "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". The Chicago suburb of Westmont, where Muddy lived the last decade of his life, named a section of Cass Avenue near his home "Honorary Muddy Waters Way". Following his death, fellow blues musician 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". A Mississippi Blues Trail marker has been placed in Clarksdale, Mississippi, by the Mississippi Blues Commission designating the site of Muddy Waters' cabin.
His influence is tremendous, over a range of music genres: blues, rhythm and blues, rock and roll, hard rock, folk music, jazz, and country music. He also helped Chuck Berry get his first record contract.
His 1958 tour of England marked possibly the first time amplified, modern urban blues was heard there, although on this tour he was the only one amplified. His backing was provided by the trad jazz group of the Englishman Chris Barber.
His use of amplification has been cited as "the technological missing link between Delta Blues and Rock 'N' Roll." This is underlined in a 1968 article in Rolling Stone magazine: “There was a difference between Muddy’s instrumental work and that of House and Johnson, however, and the crucial difference was the result of Waters’ use of the electric guitar on his Aristocrat sides; he had taken up the instrument shortly after moving to Chicago in 1943.”
The Rolling Stones named themselves after his 1950 song "Rollin' Stone" (also known as "Catfish Blues", which was covered by Jimi Hendrix). Rolling Stone magazine took its name from the same song. Hendrix recalled that "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". The band Cream covered "Rollin' and Tumblin'" on their 1966 debut album, Fresh Cream, as Eric Clapton 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 Monterey Pop Festival and later adapted by Bob Dylan on his album Modern Times. One of Led Zeppelin's biggest hits, "Whole Lotta Love", is lyrically based on the Muddy Waters hit "You Need Love", written by Willie Dixon. Dixon wrote some of Muddy Waters' most famous songs, including "I Just Want to Make Love to You" (a big radio hit for Etta James, as well as the 1970s rock band Foghat), "Hoochie Coochie Man", which the Allman Brothers Band famously covered (the song was also covered by Humble Pie, Steppenwolf, and Fear), "Trouble No More" and "I'm Ready". In 1993, Paul Rodgers released the album Muddy Water Blues: A Tribute to Muddy Waters, on which he covered a number of Muddy Waters songs, including "Louisiana Blues", "Rollin' Stone", "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "I'm Ready" in collaboration with a number of famous guitarists, including Gary Moore, Brian May and Jeff Beck.
Angus Young, of the rock group AC/DC, has cited Muddy Waters as one of his influences. The AC/DC song title "You Shook Me All Night Long" came from lyrics of the Muddy Waters song "You Shook Me", written by Willie Dixon and J. B. Lenoir. Earl Hooker first recorded it as an instrumental, which was then overdubbed with vocals by Muddy Waters in 1962. Led Zeppelin also covered it on their debut album.
Muddy Waters' songs have been featured in long-time fan Martin Scorsese's movies, including The Color of Money, Goodfellas, and Casino. Muddy Waters' 1970s recording of his mid-'50s hit "Mannish Boy" (also known as "I'm a Man") was used in the films Goodfellas, Better Off Dead, Risky Business, and the rockumentary The Last Waltz.
The song "Come Together" by the Beatles mentions Muddy Waters: "He roller coaster/he got Muddy Waters."
Van Morrison's song "Cleaning Windows", on his album Beautiful Vision (1982), includes the lyric "Muddy Waters singin', I'm a Rolling Stone".
The American stoner metal band Bongzilla covered Muddy Waters' song "Champagne and Reefer" on their album Amerijuanican.
In 2008, actor Jeffrey Wright portrayed Waters in the film Cadillac Records, about Chess Records and its recording artists. Another 2008 film about Leonard Chess and Chess Records, Who Do You Love, also covers Muddy's time at Chess Records.
In the 2009 film The Boat That Rocked (retitled Pirate Radio in the U.S) about pirate radio in the UK, the cryptic message that late-night DJ Bob gives to Carl to give to Carl's mother is "Muddy Waters rocks."
In 1990, the television series Doogie Howser, M.D. featured an episode called "Doogie Sings the Blues" with the main character, Blind Otis Lemon, based on Muddy Waters, with references to his influence on the Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin, along with the performance of "Got My Mojo Working" by Blind Otis Lemon. He is also referred to as the original "Hoochie Coochie Man".
Muddy's sons Larry "Mud" Morganfield and Big Bill Morganfield are professional blues singers and musicians.
The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame listed four songs of Muddy Waters among the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
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