The Great Roll Call
Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Friday, April 5, 2013
Happy 100th Birthday
The kingpin of Chicago's post-war blues scene, Muddy combined the sound of the Mississippi Delta with a sting of urban, electrified blues throughout his fabled career. Born McKinley Morganfield on April 4, 1913, he grew up in nearby Clarksdale on Stovall's Plantation and soon came under the influence of Son House, the powerful Delta slide guitarist and singer whose raw, intense style had a huge impact on the young Morganfield.
In August of 1941, musicologist Alan Lomax traveled to Stovall's Plantation to conduct field recordings for the Library of Congress. After discovering Muddy, he set up his portable recorder and documented his bottleneck stylings and rough-hewn vocals. By 1943, Waters traveled to Chicago and soon began playing with pianist Sunnyland Slim while holding down a day job delivering Venetian blinds. After recording as a sideman on several Sunnyland sessions for the Aristocrat, Waters cut his own first session for the label in 1948 ("I Feel Like Going Home" b/w "I Can't Be Satisfied"). But it was with Chess Records that Waters would eventually hit big. His first recordings for the label, "Louisiana Blues," "Long Distance Call," "Honey Bee," and "Still a Fool," all climbed the R&B charts in 1951. He had a smash hit with 1952's "She Moves Me" and scored big once again in 1954 with a string of Willie Dixon tunes "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," "Just Make Love to Me" and "I'm Ready," all seminal performances by Waters. His profile continued to rise through the '50s. Muddy switched to an electrified band featuring pianist Otis Spann and the exciting blues harp master James Cotton, who had replaced Little Walter in the band.
Waters continued to record for Chess through the '60s, reverting to acoustic blues on his classic 1964 outing, Folk Singer, then making an ill-advised nod to the burgeoning hippie market with 1968's psychedelic Electric Mud (which included a laughable version of the Rolling Stones' "Let's Spend the Night Together"). He continued to tour through the '70s after his career was resuscitated for the commercial masses by blues-rock star and Muddy disciple Johnny Winter, whose misguided production on a string of mediocre recordings for Blue Sky, a Columbia Records subsidiary - 1977's Hard Again, 1978's I'm Ready, and 1980's King Bee. By far the bands best recordings in its final years were the 1978 era series entitled Jacks n Kings with the Nighthawks.
In 1982, during an appearance at the Union Bar in Minneapolis, an extremely drunk college student, whose identity is lost for posterity, approached Muddy in the basement "green room" and proffered the blues legend an album for Mr. Morganfield's autograph. One of the Chess classics? The lesser CBS records? No and NO. A Johnny Winter album?? Subtle as a flying hammer.
More memorable moments that night included the drunk college students mistaking the King of Wings for Muddy at the height of anticipation and Milwaukee Slim, Minneapolis delusional answer to the blues who almost died when he tried to bull rush the stage. He was grabbed by Muddy's personal security contingent which looked like half the front four for the Chicago Bears. I distinctly heard the "singing bus driver" tell his captors "But I'm the singing bus driver"
Waters toured through the early '80s backed by pianist Pinetop Perkins, drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, bassist Calvin "Fuzz" Jones, guitarists Bob Margolin and Luther "Guitar Junior" Johnson, and Cotton on harp.
Mckinley Morganfield passed away on April 30, 1983.