Waters, Muddy

Waters, Muddy
orig. McKinley Morganfield

born April 4, 1915, Rolling Fork, Miss., U.S.
died April 30, 1983, Westmont, Ill.

U.S. blues guitarist and singer.

He grew up in the cotton country of Mississippi and taught himself harmonica as a child. He later took up guitar, eagerly absorbing the classic delta blues styles of Robert Johnson and Son House. He was first recorded in 1941 by archivist Alan Lomax (see John Lomax). In 1943 he moved to Chicago; there he broke with the country blues style by playing over a heavy dance rhythm, adopting the electric guitar and adding piano and drums while retaining a moan-and-shout vocal style and lyrics that were by turns mournful, boastful, and risqué. The result came to be known as urban blues, from which sprang in large part later forms such as rock music and soul music. A surge in interest in the roots of popular music in the early 1960s brought Waters widespread fame, and he performed internationally into the 1970s.

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▪ American musician
byname of  McKinley Morganfield 
born April 4, 1915, Rolling Fork, Miss., U.S.
died April 30, 1983, Westmont, Ill.

      dynamic American blues guitarist and singer who played a major role in creating the post-World War II ensemble blues style.

      Waters grew up in the cotton country of Mississippi and taught himself to play harmonica as a child; he took up guitar at age 17. He eagerly absorbed the classic delta blues styles of Robert Johnson (Johnson, Robert), Son House, and others while developing a style of his own. He was first recorded in 1941, for the U.S. Library of Congress by archivist Alan Lomax (Lomax, Alan), and in 1943 he moved to Chicago, where he began playing clubs and bars on the south and west sides. He soon broke with country blues by playing electric guitar in a shimmering slide style. His early, aggressive, electrically amplified band, including pianist Otis Spann and harmonica virtuoso Little Walter, created closely integrated support for his passionate singing, which featured dramatic shouts, swoops, and falsetto moans. His repertoire, much of which he composed, included lyrics that were mournful (“Blow Wind Blow,” “Trouble No More”), boastful (“Got My Mojo Working,” “I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man”), and frankly sensual (the unusual 15-bar blues “Rock Me”).

 Waters recorded frequently for the Chess label during the 1950s, when he became the foremost exponent of modern Chicago blues. Tours of clubs in the South and Midwest in the 1940s and '50s gave way, after 1958, to concert tours of the United States and Europe, including frequent dates at jazz, folk, and blues festivals. In later years he concentrated on singing and played guitar only occasionally. A major influence on a variety of rock musicians—most notably the Rolling Stones (Rolling Stones, the)—Waters was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987.

Additional Reading
Jim Rooney, Bossmen: Bill Monroe & Muddy Waters (1971).

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Universalium. 2010.

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