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Remembering Muddy Waters

04/30/2012
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(Gibson) On this day in 1983, American Blues legend Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield) died in his sleep. Gibson takes a look back: In the 1950s, Muddy Waters pretty much ruled the Chicago blues scene. His singles on the Chess Records label, such as "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man" and "Mannish Boy," became smash hits. His versions of blues songs became the standards. Even his bandmates became legitimate stars of their own.

It was a long way from Jug's Corner, Mississippi, where Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield in 1913. As a young man, Muddy (who earned his nickname from playing in the Mississippi mud) took inspiration from the playing styles of Robert Johnson and Son House, combining the former's slide technique with the latter's dark tones. "I stone got crazy when I saw somebody run down them strings with a bottleneck," Waters later said. "My eyes lit up like a Christmas tree and I said that I had to learn."

Pretty soon, the blues musician had developed a pretty unique sound of his own on the acoustic guitar.

When he was about 30 years old, he moved to Chicago (for the second time), with aspirations of finding work as a full-time musician. He soon took to playing electric guitars to be heard above the din of the rowdy Chicago crowds. His emphatic, electric performances began to win over fans, which led to recording opportunities, which spawned some hits on the R&B charts, which led to a recording contract with Aristocrat Records and then Chess (both owned by Leonard and Phil Chess), which led to Muddy's full-blown blues stardom in the early '50s.

It has been said that, during this time, Muddy Waters pretty much invented the rock and roll combo by playing electrified blues with driving rhythms with guitar, drums, bass, piano and harmonica. Some younger, white musicians (especially in Britain) were taking notice. Muddy and his music inspired the guys that would form The Rolling Stones, The Yardbirds and many other '60s bands.

Of course, by the time those groups would come to prominence, Waters receded out of the spotlight a little bit. His last charting hit had come in 1958, although he and his band maintained a steady touring schedule in the '60s. As albums, and not singles, became a big deal in the music industry, Muddy took to recording theme LPs such as 1964's Folk Singer and 1968's Electric Mud. more on this story

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