April 30, 1983 – Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield on April 4th 1913 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He taught himself harmonica as a child. He later took up guitar, eagerly absorbing the classic delta blues styles of Robert Johnson and Son House and went on to become known as “the Father of Chicago blues”.
Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Mississippi, and by age seventeen was playing the guitar at parties, emulating local blues artists Son House and Robert Johnson. 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”.
In 1940, Muddy moved to Chicago for the first time. He played with Silas Green a year later, and then returned to Mississippi. He was recorded in Mississippi by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941. In the early part of that decade he ran a juke joint, complete with gambling, moonshine and a jukebox, while he also performed music there himself. I
In 1943, he moved once again 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 and shocked audiences with his loud, amplified electric guitar and thunderous beat, he was a major inspiration for the British blues explosion in the 1960s.
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 his sound. In the 70s he won six Grammy Awards, plus recieving a Grammy Lifetime Achievement Award in 1992. In the 90s and 2000s he won 4 Blues Foundation Awards. Muddy has also been inducted into both the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame and Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was ranked #17 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time.
He passed away in his sleep at the age of 68 on 30 April 1983.
Muddy Waters’s influence on American roots music 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. 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’s 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 and Steppenwolf), “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’s song Champagne and Reefer on their album Amerijuanican.
In 2008, the 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 son Larry “Mud” Morganfield is a professional blues singer and musician.