When the sun finally set on the life of McKinley Morganfield better known as Muddy Waters, he had received six Grammy Awards and 11 nominations during his Chicago Blues era. So much was his sound influence that he is cited as the “father of modern Chicago blues.”
For one who taught himself the guitar and harmonica, he didn’t fare badly at all. He was also impressive with his development of an electric blues band sound.
Waters was also the first blues musician recorded for the Library of Congress historical records in 1941. He was first recorded by archivists/researchers Alan Lomax and John Work, for the Library of Congress Field Recording project leading to the songs “Can’t Be Satisfied” and “Feel Like Going Home.”
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Born on April 4, 1913 in Issaquena County, a rural town on the Mississippi River, Waters was born to Ollie Morganfield, a farmer and a blues guitar player, who left the family shortly after his birth and to Bertha Jones, who died when he was three.
Waters was thus raised by his maternal grandmother, Delia Jones who lived and worked on the Stovall Plantation. Coming from a family of sharecroppers, Waters spent countless hours working as a sharecropper at a cotton plantation; he, however, made time to entertain folks around town with his music. He was given the moniker “Muddy Waters” because he played in the swampy puddles of the Mississippi River as a boy.
The singer and guitarist grew up immersed in the Delta blues. In 1943, he moved to Chicago, Illinois and began playing in clubs. When an uncle gave him an electric guitar, he used it to develop the legendary style that transformed the rustic blues of the Mississippi with the urban vibe of the big city.
Fame and wealth did not come cheap. Waters worked at a paper mill by day, while sweeping the blues scene by night. By 1946, he was noticeable and began making recordings for big record companies such as RCA, Colombia and Aristocrat. However, it will be in 1950, when Aristocrat became Chess Records, that Waters’ career really began to take off. With hits like “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Got My Mojo Working.”
“Rollin’ Stone,” one of his singles, became so popular that it went on to influence the name of the major music magazine as well as the well-known band.
By 1951, Muddy Waters had established a full band with Otis Spann on piano, Little Walter on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on second guitar and Elgin Evans on drums. The songs were popular in New Orleans, Chicago and the Delta region in the United States.
However, it will be in 1958, when the group brought their electric blues sound to England that Muddy Waters became an international star. It was after the English tour that Waters’ fan base expanded and began to catch the attention of the rock ‘n’ roll community. The exposure led to frequent dates at jazz, folk, and blues festivals.
Waters continued to record with rock musicians throughout the 1960s and ’70s, and won his first Grammy Award in 1971 for the album They Call me Muddy Waters. After his 30-year run with Chess Records, he went his separate way in 1975, suing the record company for royalties after his final release with them. Waters then signed on with Blue Sky Label after the split producing great music using dramatic shouts, swoops and his falsetto moans.
Waters died after suffering a heart attack on April 30, 1983, in Downers Grove, Illinois.
“Since his death, Waters’s contribution to the music world has continued to gain recognition. In 1987, Waters was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Five years later, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded the musician a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. Additionally, some of the most recognizable names in music have named Muddy Waters as their single-greatest influence, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Johnny Winter.”
He was also a member of the inaugural class (1980) of the Blues Hall of Fame.