Above all others, it was Waters who linked the country blues of his native Mississippi Delta with the urban blues that were born in Chicago. Waters bought his first electric guitar in 1944 and revolutionized the blues with therecordings he began making for Chess Records in 1948. His amplified combo consisted of himself on slide guitar and vocals, a second guitarist, bass, drums, piano and harmonica. The Muddy Waters Blues Band bore all the earmarks - in terms of size, volume and attitude - of the great rock and roll bands that would follow in its wake.
He was born McKinley Morganfield in Rolling Fork, Mississippi,in 1915. At the age of three he was sent to live with his grandmother, on the Stovall Plantation north of Clarksdale, after his mother died. There he acquired the nickname “Muddy” for his penchant for playing in nearby creeks and puddles. Waters began playing harmonica at the age of seven and took up guitar at seventeen. He picked cotton on the plantation for fifty cents a day and played music aspart of a trio at fish fries and house parties on weekends. Folklorist Alan Lomax, while making field recordings for the Library of Congress, tracked down and recorded Waters in 1941 on the Stovall Plantation, near Clarksdale, Miss. Several of these performances were released on Library of Congress anthologies and stand as his first recordings. In May 1943, Waters made the move from the ruralplantation to the big city, heading north to Chicago by train.
Waters’ approach to the blues underwent a dramatic metamorphosis after moving to Chicago, where he befriended and played with such estimable figures as Big Bill Broonzy and John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson. Waters switched from acoustic to electric guitar in order to be heard over the din of patrons at the clubs he played on Chicago’sSouth Side. After a few false starts, Waters’ recording career began in earnest soon after pianist Sunnyland Slim introduced him to Leonard Chess, co-owner of the Aristocrat label (later Chess Records). Working at the famed Chess Studios on South Michigan Avenue, Waters cut many of the greatest recordings in the blues canon. He developed a fruitful team approach to record-making withproducerLeonard Chess, bassist/songwriter Willie Dixon, and various musical associates.
In a relaxed, informal studio setting Waters and band laid down a string of citified, plugged-in electric blues that bore the rustic stamp of their Mississippi Delta underpinnings. A flood of blues-standards-to-be from Waters commenced with the 1948 release of “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” a raw, uncut Delta blues. Otherclassic sides included songs written for Waters byWillie Dixon ("I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You,” “I’m Ready") and by Waters himself ("Got My Mojo Working,” “Mannish Boy,” “Rollin’ and Tumblin’").
Waters was a fierce singer and slashing slide guitarist whose uncut blues bore the stamp of his mentors, Robert Johnson and Son House. For his own part, Waters served tomentor or at least launch many prominent blues musicians, many of whom went on to careers as bandleaders in their own right. The list of notable musicians who passed through Waters’ band includes harmonica players “Little Walter” Jacobs, “Big Walter” Horton, Junior Wells and James Cotton; guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Pat Hare, Luther Tucker and Earl Hooker; pianists Memphis Slim, Otis Spann and...