Muddy Waters Profile:
Born: April 4, 1915 in Rolling Fork MS
Died: April 30, 1983 in Westmont IL
For better than three decades, Muddy Waters sat atop the fertile Chicago blues scene as its benevolent ruler, setting the style that others would follow and discovering the musicians that would help create the city's sound. As a singer, songwriter, guitarist, and band leader, Waters' shadow looms large over the contemporary blues and blues-rock worlds.
Born in the Mississippi Delta as McKinley Morganfield, he picked up the "Muddy Waters" nickname as a child, raised by his grandmother on the Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale. When musicologist Alan Lomax discovered Waters at Stovall's, the singer was already a well-known performer across the Delta. Waters made his first recordings in 1941 and '42 with Lomax for the Library of Congress.
Singing the Chicago Blues
Waters left the sharecropper's life behind and moved to Chicago in 1943. With the help of established star Big Bill Broonzy, Waters quickly became a fixture on the local blues scene. A 1947 recording session with pianist Sunnyland Slim featured Waters playing guitar, leading to a contract with the legendary Chess Records.
One of the songs recorded during that session was "I Can't Be Satisfied," which became a local sensation. Waters enjoyed his first national R&B hit a few months later with "I Feel Like Going Home."
Performing live is where Waters earned his reputation, though, with a band that initially included harp player Little Walter and guitarist Jimmy Rogers. Through the years, musicians like Otis Spann, James Cotton and Junior Wells would pass through Waters' bands.
The Real Folk Blues
Recording a number of R&B hits through the 1950s, Waters crossed over to a rock audience in the '60s, performing at folk festivals and rock clubs. Chess released a number of odd Waters albums through the decade, stylistically ranging from country blues to psychedelic rock.
Working with blues-rock guitarist Johnny Winter, Waters recorded a trio of albums in the late-1970s that returned the artist to his blues roots and earned him a larger audience. Waters would later be inducted to the Blues and Rock & Roll Hall of Fames.
Recommended Albums: Hard Again represents the best of Waters' 1970s work but His Best, 1947 To 1955 features the songs that defined the Chicago blues.