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Muddy Waters Playlist

1 Dust My Broom
2 Champagne And Reefer
3 Key To The Highway
4 Mannish Boy
5 Walkin Blues
6 Whiskey Blues

Muddy Waters was the patriarch of post-World War II Chicago blues. A master artist who played slashing slide guitar and sang with the tough, sinewy view of a man who had seen his share of good and evil in life, Waters was also a compelling songwriter and song interpreter, a powerful stage performer and recording artist, and a superb bandleader. A list of those musicians who passed through his bands reads like a Who's Who of Chicago blues greats. Guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Pat Hare, Luther Tucker, and Earl Hooker; harp players Little Walter, Junior Wells, Big Walter Horton, James Cotton, and Carey Bell; bass player Willie Dixon; pianists Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, and Pinetop Perkins; and drummers Elgin Evans, Fred Below, and Francis Clay are just some of the bluesmen who played in the Muddy Waters Band at one time or another. Many of these artists went on to lead prestigious blues bands of their own, or became highly respected sidemen, though none, save Little Walter, ever came close to attaining the success or building the legacy that Waters did.

The list of artists Waters influenced would go on almost indefinitely. Besides the entire generation of Chicago blues artists who came of age in the '50s and '60s, Waters also left his mark on dozens of British and American blues rockers. Chuck Berry, Bob Dylan, Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Johnny Winter, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Robert Cray, and the Rolling Stones (who named their group after one of Waters' songs) are just the tip of the iceberg.

The attraction of Waters' brand of blues is due to his brilliant blues artistry and his critical role in providing the link between deep Mississippi Delta blues and hard-edged, urban and electric Chicago blues; more than any other musician, Waters was responsible for the mesh between old and new blues in the early postwar period.

Waters also helped transform the blues guitar sound. Although other bluesmen had recorded with an electric guitar before Waters did, his importance as an innovative player is substantial. Waters' guitar work was raw and vital and executed with the same urgency as the blues of Robert Johnson and Son House, two of Waters' mentors.

Waters was a convincing blues dignitary; an impeccably sharp dresser and a man who, though uneducated, spoke about the blues with a simple eloquence, he helped cultivate for the blues a respect the music had never known before.

During the years 1951 to 1960, there wasn't a more compelling blues band anywhere than the Muddy Waters Blues Band. They juiced the music with a rocking backbeat and an unfiltered down-home intensity. Waters' blues possessed an honesty and emotional clarity. He saw the blues as a vehicle by which he could speak about human suffering, jubilation, and truth. For these reasons, he stands out as one of the greatest artists the blues has ever produced.

Waters was born into a Mississippi Delta sharecropping family in 1915. His mother died when he was three, and he was raised by his grandmother, who lived on Stovall's Plantation, just outside Clarksdale. Waters got his nickname as a child because he loved to play near a muddy creek. He learned how to sing out in the cotton fields, where, as a youth, he worked for fifty cents a day. When he was a young boy, perhaps seven or eight, Waters learned how to play the harmonica. He didn't learn how to play guitar until he was seventeen. Not long afterwards, he began to perform at house parties and fish fries with friends Scott Bohannon (or Bowhandle) and Henry "Son" Simms. Impressed by the deep blues sounds that Delta bluesman Son House drew from his guitar, Waters built his style from what he saw and heard House play. Later, Waters would also borrow guitar ideas from Robert Johnson.

Waters first recorded in 1941. He cut a number of songs for folklorist Alan Lomax, who was collecting songs for the Library of Congress. Two of them- "I Be's Troubled" and "Country Blues"-were released on a Library of Congress folk anthology album. A year later, when Lomax returned to the plantation, Waters recorded for him a second time.

Waters left the Mississippi Delta for Chicago in 1943. Big Bill Broonzy helped him break into the city's thriving blues scene. For a while, Waters played acoustic guitar behind John Lee "Sonny Boy" Williamson. But his reputation as a performer didn't take shape until 1944 when he began to play an electric guitar, teaming up with Jimmy Rogers on harp and Claude Smith on guitar, and then with Eddie Boyd on piano (later joined by Sunnyland Slim). Waters was still playing in a traditional Delta bottleneck style, but his sound was fatter and louder and far more moving than before.

Waters' first Chicago recordings, which were made in 1946 for producer Lester Melrose and Columbia Records, featured Waters with a five-piece band. These tracks weren't released until 1971. (Waters also allegedly recorded at least one song, "Mean Red Spider," using the pseudonym James "Sweet Lucy" Carter in 1946 or '47.) In 1947 Waters played guitar behind Sunnyland Slim on two Aristocrat sides, "Johnson Machine Gun" and "Fly Right Little Girl." Two other songs, "Gypsy Woman" and "Little Anna Mae," were recorded by Waters and bass player Big Crawford. Not impressed with the results, producer Leonard Chess nonetheless brought Waters and Crawford back into the recording studio in 1948, at which time the duo cut "I Can't Be Satisfied" and "Feel Like Going Home." The two songs were performed in a traditional Delta blues style, but Waters' shivering electric guitar gave them an exciting new edge. Chess released the songs as an Aristocrat single (number 1305). In less than a day, the record's entire stock had been sold.

The record's startling success prompted Chess to bring Waters back into the studio. Eager to stay with what worked, Chess insisted that the lineup-Waters on guitar and vocals and Crawford on bass remain the same, even though at the time Waters was working regularly in Chicago clubs with a full band (featuring Jimmy Rogers on second guitar and harmonica and "Baby Face" Leroy Foster on drums and guitar. A little later Little Walter Jacobs joined the band on harmonica. Waters didn't get the opportunity to record with a band until 1950. By this time, his sound harsh, heavy, and beat driven was well in place, and blues history was made.

What followed in the years 1951 to 1960 was the greatest collection of electric blues recordings ever made. Waters originals like "Long Distance Call," "Mannish Boy" (108 k, 10 sec.),"Got My Mojo Working," "She Moves Me," and "She's Nineteen Years Old" were supplemented by the songs Willie Dixon had given to him: "Hoochie Coochie Man," "I Just Want to Make Love to You," and "I'm Ready," among others. These records defined the Chicago blues sound during its classic period. Though Waters had all but quit playing guitar at this point-his voice, thick and rough, gave the recordings and his live performances their incredible power.

Chess Records released Waters' debut album in 1958. Called The Best of Muddy Waters, it was a collection of his hit singles. That same year, Waters and his pianist, Otis Spann, toured England. The tour opened up a new audience for Waters abroad-and at home. White folk fans fascinated with the blues heard about Waters' triumph in England and sought out his records. For his next album Waters interpreted a collection of Big Bill Broonzy songs to take advantage of this new audience that seemed to prefer rural-flavored acoustic blues to the riveting electric style Waters had perfected in the '50s.

Yet it was Waters' electric band that transformed the Newport Folk Festival into a romping blues bash in 1960. Waters and his band were at their best as they worked their way through a feverish set on the Newport stage. Later that year Chess released the live album Muddy Waters at Newport, and those new blues fans not at the fest found ample cause to seek out electric blues.

Yet Chess continued to push Waters as a folk-blues artist to capitalize on the continuing interest of white fans in down-home blues. The album Folk Singer was released in 1964. The Real Folk Blues and More Real Folk Blues, both of which contained old recordings, followed. To balance out Waters' catalog, Chess released the soulish Muddy, Brass, and the Blues in 1966, a deserved failure. A number of late-'60s and early-'70s albums, especially Fathers and Sons, They Call Me Muddy Waters (which won a Grammy for best ethnic/traditional recording in 1971), and The London Muddy Waters Sessions (which featured Waters jamming with English blues-rockers like Rory Gallagher) sold almost exclusively to white record buyers.

In the 1970s Waters toured almost constantly, playing all over the world. By 1977 he had ended his long-standing relationship with Chess and signed with CBS/Blue Sky. Collaborating with producer-guitarist Johnny Winter, Waters enjoyed a resurgence of his recording career with the album Hard Again in 1977, which won Waters his second Grammy and featured some of his most inspired studio work since the early '60s. The 1978 follow-up album, I'm Ready, was also a critical and commercial success; like its predecessor, I'm Ready featured re-workings of some of Waters' classic songs fueled with new energy and drive. A tour of the U.S. included a special performance at the White House for President Jimmy Carter and his staff, and a memorable rendition of "Mannish Boy" captured in the Band's farewell concert film, The Last Waltz.

Waters' final two albums, Muddy "Mississippi" Waters Live and King Bee, were also produced by Winter, whose devotion to Waters was unwavering. Waters and Winter often performed together in the early '80s, playing mostly to white blues and rock fans who often came to his shows to pay respect.

Waters died of a heart attack in his sleep in 1983 at age sixty-eight. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation's Hall of Fame in 1980 and the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

 Muddy Waters