Born McKinley Morganfield on April 4, Muddy Waters is still held in high standard as one of the greatest blues musicians to ever come out of the juke joints and dusty roads of the Mississippi Delta.
Though Waters would often tell reporters he was born on April 4, 1915, blues historians argue that he was actually born in 1913 or even 1914 based on documentation that has been unearthed over the years.
What is certain is that Waters music is legendary. He had a strong vocal presence incorporating blues and gospel; he could handle his guitar with dexterity and grace while leading one of the strongest bands on the planet from 1950 through 1970.
There is no doubt that Waters had a very rough upbringing, with his mother passing away when he was a mere three years old, and then being raised on the Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale, Mississippi by his grandmother. As a young child, Waters absorbed as much music as he could, from his grandmother’s singing in the cotton fields to the live music of the Delta in the 1920s and ‘30s.
After taking up the harmonica, he was performing locally at parties and fish fries by the age of 13. Cutting his teeth on Son House, Robert Johnson, and Charley Patton, Waters was inspired to take up the guitar at age 17. Shortly after mastering the guitar, Waters became the main attraction in all the juke joints of Mississippi in hopes of making a living off his music. Waters pulled up stakes and headed north to Chicago where he found another type of blues – the Chicago Blues. Waters discovered the electric guitar and how to use a slide while legendary label Okeh Records discovered Waters. He did some session work then moved onto Aristocrat Records, a Chicago-based label founded by brothers Leonard and Phil Chess. The Chess brothers began recording Waters in 1947, and his second single “I Can’t Be Satisfied” b/w “(I Feel Like) Goin’ Home,” became a significant hit and launched Waters as a star on the Chicago blues scene.
From those early recordings until his death on April 30, 1983 in Chicago, IL, Waters recorded over 200 songs which influenced everyone from the Rolling Stones, to Jimi Hendrix, to the casual music fan. In honor of his birthday, we pay tribute to the late great blues man Muddy Waters with our 10 favorite songs.
10. “Long Distance Call” (1951) – With Muddy’s guitar and harmonica carrying this one, he sings with some doubt in his voice in regards to his lovers fidelity. All will be better once he gets home.
9. “Honey Bee” (1951) – I guess since the bee is in reference to the birds and bees, it makes a great metaphor for a blues man. Waters’ take here is so smooth and laid back with the groove that would match his honey bee walking away.
8. “She Moves Me” (1959) – It says a lot when this Muddy classic is so far down on the list. Make no mistake this is a classic Waters blues jam.
7. “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (1948) – The slide guitar on this song is some of the finest work you will hear on any Waters track. In addition, this is some of his earliest recordings and it shows in his young playful vocals.
6. “I Just Want to Make Love to You” (1954) – This track isn’t a Muddy original, it was written by the great Willie Dixon, but it was a main staple in Muddy’s live shows and greatest hits compilations. A terrific sound with the reverb on the harmonica and the slow beat.
5. “Rock Me” (1957) – This song was my gateway to discovering how great Muddy Waters is. I was hugely into Jimi Hendrix in my teens and bought his album ‘Live at Monterey’ and heard his live version of the song. It blew me away and like a true music nerd I had to find the original version and I was a Muddy fan for life.
4. “Got My Mojo Working” (1956) – This song was written by Preston Foster and first recorded by Ann Cole, but it wasn’t until Muddy got his hands on it that he made it a hit. For his entire career, “Got My Mojo Working” was a crowd pleaser at his live shows thanks to its upbeat jazz flavor.
3. “Baby Please Don’t Go” (1960) – As simple blues riff with lyrics about a woman Muddy had his eye on. It’s all so simple, at least it seems, but whatever he does to these types of songs, and he’s written many, he makes them classics.
2. “Hoochie Coochie Man” (1954) – Written by Willie Dixon and originally recorded by Muddy, this is one of the two most popular Waters songs. “Hoochie Coochie Man” is down and dirty, sexy, and rough. This song just screams cool.
1. “Mannish Boy” (1955) – This is a blues standard and an “answer song” to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” which in turn was inspired by Waters’ and Willie Dixon’s “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Even though we are a much more liberal society today, writing lyrics like “Mannish Boy” in 1955 was unheard of. This song is pure sexy, and let’s face it, dirty.