McKinley Morganfield or Muddy Waters as he is more famously known is often cited as being the ‘father of modern Chicago blues’. Born in 1913, he would go on to pave the way for rock and roll with his dynamic electrified blues.
Muddy Waters grew up on Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi. Muddy’s mother died shortly after his birth and was raised by his grandmother, Della Grant. It was Della that gave him the nickname ‘Muddy’ due to his enthusiasm for playing in the mud by the water of Deer Creek.
Muddy Waters started out by playing harmonica before moving onto guitar. By the age of 17 he was playing at local parties, emulating his heroes, Son House and Robert Johnson. In 1941, Alan Lomax visited Stovall to record musicians for the Library of Congress, Muddy was one of the musicians he recorded during this time. Lomax would return a year later to record Muddy again, both these sessions were released by Testament Records as ‘Down on Stovall’s Plantation’.
In 1943, Muddy Waters relocated to Chicago to peruse a full-time career as a musician. Blues legend, Big Bill Broonzy helped Muddy break into the competitive Chicago scene by letting him open shows for him and in 1945 Muddy’s uncle would buy him his first electric guitar. In 1945 Muddy would start recording for Aristocrat Records (soon to become the famous Chess Records) where he would find commercial success.
Muddy Waters’ band was unrivalled, boasting Little Walter on harmonica they had a visceral and immediate sound. Muddy developed a long-running rivalry with other Chicago blues great, Howlin’ Wolf. This rivalry however, was good natured and the two men had a great deal of respect for each other. Throughout the 1950s Muddy Waters released a number of successful singles, his most famous being a Bo Diddley cover, ‘Manish Boy’.
Muddy would enjoy a renewed interest in his music during the folk and blues revival of the late 1950s and 1960s. He would tour Europe, taking his music to a new generation of fans and influence bands such as The Rolling Stones, who named themselves after his 1950 song ‘Rollin’ Stone’.
Throughout the 1960s, Muddy would continue to record. This would include the release of the ‘Electric Mud’ record which would take traditional blues in a whole new direction, mixing blues with elements of psychedelia.
Muddy Waters died in his sleep from heart failure in 1983. Many blues musicians attended his funeral to pay their respects to a man that had a profound impact upon their lives. Muddy’s childhood home in Stovall Plantation has now been renovated into the Delta Blues Museum. As a boy, the odds were stacked against him but Muddy Waters went on to become one of the most famous and influential bluesmen of all time. His songs have been covered by countless bands and his influence has shaped the way music sounds to this day.