Muddy Waters

In the late 1940s and early '50s, Chicago was the epicenter of the blues explosion; all the roads led there, from Mississippi Delta, the Midwest and the Southeast. It all began in 1948 with the release of a 78-rpm single by a singer-guitarist called Muddy Waters. Aristocrat 1305 bore a pair of traditional Mississippi Delta-styled pieces "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "I Feel Like Going Home", and on them, Waters powerfully syllabized mighty singing. It was exactly what moved the musicologist Alan Lomax who, on behalf of Library of Congress, traveled through Stovall's to find and field-record new talents performing original, pure blues at its very source. He found Muddy or McKinley Morganfield as he was known at the time.

At the age of thirteen Muddy took up the harmonica and four years later he made the switch to guitar. "You see, I was digging Son House and Robert Johnson.", the two absolute masters of that typical "bottleneck" guitar style. This technique made the sliding ?bottleneck? guitar a perfect extension and a mimer of a bluesman voice, matching the dips, twists, glissandos and all the shady tonal skips within its12-bar score. Pianists Sunnyland Slim and Eddie Boyd and guitarist Blue Smitty played with Muddy on the very beginning of his Chicago's South Side fame. Sunnyland was especially involved in Muddy's career take-off; he invited Muddy to participate in his 1947 Aristocrat session (?Johnson Machine Gun?) and immediately after, Muddy had his own Aristocrat debut with his ?Gypsy Woman?. But, nothing compares to the ? I Can't Be Satisfied? clamour that became Muddy's first national R&B hit in 1948.

When Muddy Waters put together his own band with Little Walter on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers as the second guitar and Baby Face Leroy Foster on drums (and guitar), all of them powerful singers, he knew their superiority among the South Side performers and beyond, was ubiquitous. By 1951 Waters was already the R&B charts king producing one hit after another. ?Louisiana Blues?, ?Long Distance Call?, ?Honey Bee?, ?Still A Fool?, ?She Moves Me? and ?Mad Love? are just a few titles that marked the epoch. His 1950 classic ?Rollin' Stone? didn't chart, but it brought a good fortune to young, emerging British band. With Willie Dixon, the veteran bassist and a talented songwriter, the band was finally complete, enabling Waters to achieve even wider success through the many songs he wrote (?I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man?, ?Just Make Love To Me?, ?I'm Ready?).

Another major change occurred when James Cotton replaced Little Walter in 1954. With rock & roll making its way through and the modernism of Chuck Berry, Bo Diddley, the Moonglows and the Flamingos, Muddy was changing too. After 1958 his titles are totally urban, like ?Walking Thru The Park? "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had" and the anthemic "Got My Mojo Working," and ?She's Nineteen Years Old? among others. Muddy's blues survived the big changes of the ?60s (think of B.B. King on one hand and all mass phenomena like James Brown on the other) and became a world-known classic in the ?70s. When his fire burnt out quietly in his sleep on April 30, 1983, in Westmont, Illinois, a human life was outlived by a spirit that had reshaped the course of the blues, reaching deep in the heart of all modern popular music.