On this day in 1913 blues great McKinley Morganfield was born in the tiny town of Rolling Fork in the Mississippi Delta just off the famous Highway 61. He could not have been born anywhere else. Had to be the Delta. Had to be near Highway 61.
His mother began calling him Muddy because of his habit of playing in the rich Delta mud and later his friends added Waters to his moniker, one that would stick with him throughout his life. He began playing music around age 4 and by 12 entertained folks with his harmonica playing at picnics and fish fries. He watched and learned from blues legends such as Robert Johnson, Son House, and Robert Nighthawk. He devoured recordings by Blind Lemon Jefferson, Memphis Minnie, Tampa Red, and other blues greats.
He came across an electric guitar and added that to his harmonica playing and his gritty falsetto voice. The great Muddy Waters was born. He moved to Chicago and became the Father of Chicago Electric Blues. The people who played in his band over the years are a who’s who of the blues: Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Baby Face Leroy Foster, James Cotton, Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Luther Johnson, the incomparable Willie Dixon, and the great Buddy Guy. And many more. He became Chess Records’ leading blues talent and did more to spread the blues than virtually anyone else.
His song Rolling Stone gave the Rolling Stones their name and Bob Dylan his hit Like a Rolling Stone. His recordings fill the lexicon of blues music: Got my Mojo Working, Hoochie Coochie Man, Mannish Boy, She Moves Me, I Just Want To Make Love To You, I’m Ready, You Need Love, and so many others. Many of his most famous songs were written for him by the prolific Willie Dixon, arguably the greatest writer of blues tunes ever.
The guitarists who cite Muddy Waters as having influenced their playing also reads like a who’s who of blues rock: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page, Bob Dylan, Angus Young, Johnny Winter, and others. The artists and bands that have covered his tunes include The Rolling Stones, Led Zeppelin, Cream, The Allman Brothers, AC/DC, Canned Heat, Foghat, Humble Pie, Bob Dylan, Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter, Etta James, and Buddy Guy.
He died from a heart attack on May 1, 1983 at the age of 68 but he left us a catalog of blues recordings that might never be equaled. If you’ve never sat and listen to Muddy play and sing, you’re missing one of life’s great pleasures. Check him out here.