Muddy Waters

(1915 – 1983)

A Mississippi native who rose to prominence in Chicago in the early 1950s, Muddy Waters is one the most esteemed figures in Blues, and a seminal figure in the postwar electrification of acoustic Delta Blues. He was a major influence on many Rock musicians of the 1960s, revered in particular among players who made up the British Blues scene.

Waters was born McKinley Morganfield in 1915, and raised on the Stovall Plantation in the Delta town of Clarksdale, Mississippi. At age five Waters began to play harmonica and as a teen he taught himself guitar, emulating the style of Delta bluesmen like Robert Johnson and Charley Patton. Waters spent his days working the fields as a sharecropper and his off hours entertaining locally. In 1941 he joined a traveling tent show and was soon sought out by folklorist Alan Lomax, who recorded him for the Library of Congress Field Recording project.

In 1943 Waters headed north to Chicago and its booming wartime economy and emergent Blues scene. In order to be heard over the noise of Chicago’s clubs Waters began playing the electric guitar, which gave his country style a gritty and powerful edge that reflected his new urban surroundings. He recorded for several different labels, but failed to find large scale success until 1950, when his recordings for Chess Records began to connect with record buyers, beginning with “Rollin’ Stone” (from which a prominent, Blues-influenced British band would later take its name).

Waters filled out his sound with bass, drums, harmonica, and piano, assembling one of the most highly rated Blues bands ever. His deep, impassioned singing translated well to the recording studio and many of the songs he recorded helped to define the postwar Blues sound.

In the mid 60s Waters’ records were discovered by young Blues fans in the U.K. (where he’d been the first electric Blues musician to tour, in 1958). many of whom would form the bands that would make up the British Invasion. Waters’ classics like "Hoochie Coochie Man,"  "I Just Want to Make Love to You," “Mannish Boy,” and “Got My Mojo Working” became staples in the repertoire of British Blues and Blues-Rock bands of the era.

For the remainder of his career Waters performed mostly for younger, mostly white audiences, often collaborating with the very Rock musicians he helped inspire, as on the albums The London Sessions and Fathers and Sons, on which he played with disciples including Michael Bloomfield, Paul Butterfield, and Steve Winwood. In the late 1970s Waters released a string of highly rated records on the Blue Sky label, produced by Blues Rock guitarist Johnny Winter, including the Grammy winners Hard Again and I’m Ready. Waters died in his sleep in 1983.