Waters, Muddy (originally, Morganfield, McKinley)

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Waters, Muddy (originally, Morganfield, McKinley)

Waters, Muddy (originally, Morganfield, McKinley ), premier blues-music singer, guitarist, and songwriter; b. near Rolling Fork, Miss., April 4, 1915; d. Westmont, 111., April 30, 1983. Waters effected the transition between the rural, acoustic folk blues he inherited from such influences as Robert Johnson and Son House while living in the Mississippi River Delta and the urban, electrified blues he developed after moving to Chicago that went on to influence generations of rock ’n’ roll musicians starting with The Rolling Stones, who named their band after one of his songs. His career had two distinct phases: in the 1940s and 1950s he dominated the Chicago blues scene and recorded a string of R&B hits that included such boastful songs as “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Just Make Love to Me” (aka “I Just Want to Make Love to You”), and “I’m Ready” and, from the 1960s to the 1980s, as his music was discovered by rock ’n’ roll fans, he became increasingly successful as a national and international touring act while making a series of albums that either attempted to update his style or to re-create his earlier work.

Waters was the son of Ollie Morganfield, a farmer who also sang and played guitar. His mother, Berta Jones, died when he was three, after which he was raised by his maternal grandmother, Della Jones, a sharecropper, on a plantation near Clarksdale, Miss. He had a few years of grade school but was doing farm work by about the age of ten. He began playing the harmonica at seven, and he took up the guitar around the age of 17. On Nov. 20,1932, he married Mabel Berry, but he fathered a child by another woman two years later; they separated in 1940 when he began to live with Sally Ann Adams, whom he married on Dec. 23, 1942. For the rest of the 1930s and into the 1940s he worked as a sharecropper, augmenting his income by playing music.

In August 1941 folklorist Alan Lomax, doing field recordings for the Library of Congress, was in Miss. looking for Robert Johnson, who had died three years earlier. Instead he was directed to Waters and recorded the singer/guitarist then and on a second trip in July 1942. In May 1943, Waters moved to Chicago, where he worked at menial jobs while building up his reputation as a musician. In 1947 he made his first recordings to be commercially released under his name, the original songs “Gypsy Woman” and “Little Anna Mae,” issued as a single that spring on the Aristocrat label. In April 1948, at a second Aristocrat recording session, he recorded his compositions “I Can’t Be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home.” These too were released as a single, and in September “I Feel Like Going Home” reached the national R&B charts. In the late 1940s he married Geneva Wade; they remained married until her death in May 1973, although Waters had liaisons with many women and he acknowledged fathering three more illegitimate children.

In June 1950, Aristocrat became Chess Records. In January 1951, Waters scored the first of 14 R&B Top Ten hits with “Louisiana Blues,” his first record made with a full band. This was followed by “Long Distance Call” (April 1951); “Honey Bee” (July 1951); “Still a Fool” (November 1951); “She Moves Me” (February 1952); “Mad Love” (November 1953); “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” (music and lyrics by Willie Dixon; March 1954); “Just Make Love to Me” (music and lyrics by Dixon; June 1954); “I’m Ready” (music and lyrics by Dixon; October 1954); “Mannish Boy” (music and lyrics by Waters, Mel London, and Ellas McDaniel [Bo Diddley]; July 1955); “Trouble No More” (January 1956); “Forty Days & Forty Nights” (music and lyrics by Bernard Roth; May 1956); “Don’t Go No Farther” (music and lyrics by Dixon; September 1956); and “Close to You” (music and lyrics by Dixon; October 1958). (Music and lyrics are credited to Waters unless otherwise noted.)

With his recording success, by the mid-1950s Waters was touring nationally, albeit still in clubs. By the late 1950s his opportunities to play had expanded further: in October 1958 he performed in England; in April 1959 he was part of a folk music concert at Carnegie Hall in N.Y; and in July 1960 he appeared at the Newport Jazz Festival. The last resulted in an album, Muddy Waters at Newport 1960, from which “Got My Mojo Working” (music and lyrics by Preston Foster) was nominated for the 1960 Grammy Award for Best Rhythm & Blues Performance.

Waters returned to Europe in 1962,1963, and 1964 as part of package tours of U.S. blues performers, helping to fuel a blues revival that led to the formation of such groups as The Rolling Stones, who in turn brought his music back to the U.S.: their version of “I Just Want to Make Love to You” appeared on their debut album in 1964. Meanwhile, Chess Records attempted to position Waters to take advantage of the folk music revival, and he returned to playing the acoustic guitar for the album Folk Singer, released in January 1964. With the onset of The Beatles-led British Invasion, however, he began to perform more frequently at rock ’n’ roll concerts attended by young white fans than at blues venues attended by older black fans.

In 1968, Chess released Electric Mud, an album on which Waters rerecorded many of his songs in a psychedelic style heavily influenced by guitar virtuosos like Jimi Hendrix. Blues fans were dismayed but the album spent several months in the charts. A better compromise with contemporary styles was achieved on 1969’s Fathers and Sons, which found Waters accompanied by such disciples as Paul Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield and which also spent months in the charts.

On Oct. 27, 1969, Waters was involved in an automobile accident that sidelined him for several months. In 1970 he earned a Grammy Award nomination for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording for his album Sail On, a resequenced reissue of his first album, the compilation The Best of Muddy Waters, originally released in 1958 and consisting of recordings made between 1948 and 1954. For the next ten years he was nominated for the same award nearly every year and frequently won. His first victory came in 1971 for the album They Call Me Muddy Waters, which contained recordings made between 1951 and 1967. He won a second time in 1972 for the newly recorded The London Muddy Waters Sessions, on which he was accompanied by such British musicians as Steve Winwood and drummer Mitch Mitchell, formerly of The Jimi Hendrix Experience, and was nominated for his 1973 album Can’t Get No Grindin’ as well as for the 1974 album London Revisited, which also featured recordings by Howlin’ Wolf. He won for the third time for the 1975 album The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album, featuring members of The Band, which also reached the charts and was his final album for Chess before the company ceased to be an active label.

In 1976, Waters signed to Blue Sky, a label run by Johnny Winter’s manager and distributed by CBS Records. Winter oversaw his Blue Sky recordings, starting with Hard Again, which reached the charts in 1977 and earned his fourth Grammy Award. I’m Ready (1978) repeated this success, as did 1979’s Muddy “Mississippi” Waters Live. Waters married Marva Jean Brooks on June 5, 1979. His fourth and final Blue Sky album, King Bee, reached the charts in May 1981. He earned another Grammy nomination for Best Ethnic or Traditional Recording in 1981 as part of the various artists album Blues Deluxe. He gave his final performance as a guest of Eric Clapton at a concert in Miami on June 30, 1982. After suffering from cancer in his final year, he died of a heart attack at 68 in 1983.


Muddy Waters Best (recorded 1948-1954) (1958); Sings Big Bill Broonzy (1961); At Newport 1960 (1961); Folk Singer (1964); Muddy, Brass and the Blues (1966); More Real Folk Blues (1967); Electric Mud (1968); After the Rain (1969); Down at StovalVs Plantation (1969); They Call Me Muddy Waters (1971); AKA McKinley Morganfield (1971); Live at Mr. Kelly’s (1971); London Muddy Waters Sessions (1972); Can’t Get No Grindin’ (1973); Mud in Your Ear (1973); “Unk” in Funk (1974); At Woodstock (1975); Muddy Waters (1977); Rolling Stone (1982); Rare and Unissued (1984); Trouble No More: Singles (1955-1959) (1989); The Chess Box (1989); Live in Switzerland 1976 (1991); Unreleased in the West (1992); Unreleased in the West (1992); Muddy Waters Chicago Blues Band: Live in Switzerland 1976, Vol. 2 (1993); The Complete Plantation (1993); Goin Home Live in Paris 1970 (1993); One More Mile: Chess Collectibles, Vol. 1 (recorded 1948-1972) (1994); Goodbye Newport Blues (1995); Blues Straight Ahead (1995); Baby Please Don’t Go (1996); Live at Newport (with B.B. King and Big Mama Thornton) (1993); Sweet Home Chicago (1980); The Complete Plantation Recordings/The Historic 1941-1942 Library of Congress Field Recordings (1993); Chicago Blues: The Beginning (1966); His Best, 1947 to 1955 (1997); The Warsaw Session (1976); The Warsaw Sessions, Vol. 2. MUDDY WATERS, BO DIDDLEY, AND LITTLE WALTER: Super Blues (1967). MUDDY WATERS, HOWLIN’ WOLF, AND BO DID DLEY: The Super Super Blues Band (1968). MUDDY WATERS, OTIS SPANN, AND OTHERS: Fathers and Sons (1969). MUDDY WATERS AND OTIS SPANN: Collaboration (1995). MUDDY WATERS AND HOWLIN’ WOLF: London Revisited (1974). MUDDY WATERS AND MEMPHIS SLIM: Chicago Blues Master, Vol. 1 (1995).


A. Maass, M. W.(c. 1951); P. Oliver, M. W. (Bexhill-on-Sea, 1964); J. Rooney, Bossmen: Bill Monroe & M. W.(N.Y., 1971); S. Tooze, M. W.: The Mojo Man (Toronto, 1997).

—William Ruhlmann