Monday, September 18, 2006

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield in the tiny hamlet of Rolling Fork, Mississippi, on April 4, 1915. From the age of three, when his mother died he was raised by his maternal grandmother in Clarksdale, a small town one hundred miles to the north.

Growing to manhood there he had been working as a farm laborer for several years when at thirteen he took up the harmonica, the instrument on which many blues performers first master the music's rudiments. Four years later he made the switch to guitar. "You see, I was digging Son House and Robert Johnson." The two were the undisputed masters of the region's characteristic "bottleneck" style of guitar accompaniment.

Within a year, Waters recalled, he had mastered the bottleneck style and the jagged, pulsating rhythms of Delta guitar. By the time a team of Library of Congress field collectors headed by Alan Lomax visited and recorded Waters for the Library's folksong archives in 1941.

He moved to Chicago in 1943, and never looked back. Working as a truck driver, Waters had managed to persuade the operators of Aristocrat-later Chess-Records, a small, independent Chicago firm, to record him. After several exploratory recordings made in the company of pianist Sunnyland Slim and bassist Ernest "Big" Crawford which made absolutely no impression on the record-buying public, Waters suddenly scored with the single "I Can't Be Satisfied/I Feel Like Going Home". And it is with this record that the history of the modern Chicago blues properly begins. Over the next few years, Waters gathered around him a group of like-minded, country-reared musicians with whom he proceeded to make blues history.

When he died quietly in his sleep on April 30, 1983, in his home in suburban Westmont Illinois, America lost one of the greatest, most influential and enduringly important musicians of the century. MP3: Mannish Boy


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