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Muddy Waters is undoubtedly one of the greatest blues musicians in American history.
Waters transformed from being a folk singer in the delta region of the Mississippi River to integrating real folk blues to develop a unique style. Muddy Waters songs have made several records and have paved the way for modern Chicago blues.
In a career spanning over 40 years, Muddy Waters created some of the most famous blues classics ever written. He was an absolute pioneer in his field and is considered the chief architect of Chicago blues.
In an interview with Rolling Stone Magazine, Waters said that he tried to play just the right notes in front of his audience and give them his version of electric blues. It looked easy on the stage but was one of the hardest blues to play.
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Muddy Waters' early life is not adequately documented. So we are not sure which year he was born. Most records show that he was born McKinley Morganfield in 1913 in a town named Rolling Fork, Issaquena County, Mississippi. Other sources talk about him being born in 1915.
Muddy's father, Ollie Morganfield, was a farmer and a blues guitar player. As a child, he loved to play alongside a creek situated close to where he lived. Incidentally, this became the idea for her sister to start calling him with the nickname 'muddy waters.' That name got stuck to him for the entirety of his life.
Soon after Muddy's birth, Muddy's father left the family, never to return. His mother, Bertha Jones, passed away when he was about three years old. So he had to spend his childhood living in his grandmother's house to his mother's side, whose name was Della Grant. She used to live in a place called Stovall Plantation in Clarksdale. Muddy Waters had already started showing his inclination towards music when he learned to play the harmonica by himself in his early life. By the time he became a teenager, this superstar-in-the-making was performing in the streets of his town.
While living with his grandmother at the Stovall Plantation, young Muddy worked as a tractor driver. He was also earning money by performing in parties and juke joints on the sidelines. Around this time, a man named Alan Lomax took recordings of his solo performances. He then proceeded to submit the same at the Library of Congress in Washington DC. Two of the songs that Muddy performed for Alan Lomax were included in a record in later years. However, the whole recording set took many more years to be released in one single volume. This took place in 1993 when MCA Records published The Complete Plantation Records.
Muddy Waters influenced a host of musicians in his lifetime. He was heavily influenced in youth by Robert Johnson and Son House. These greats were champions of the classic Delta blues and Louisiana blues genres. Although his primary contribution was towards the genres of blues and rhythm, other musical styles such as hard rock, rock, jazz, folk music, and country music were all heavily influenced by this great singer and songwriter.
Waters was mainly a country blues singer accompanied by an acoustic guitar before purchasing his first electric guitar in 1944. He began experimenting with his electric guitar and breaking away from the country blues style. Waters soon started playing his electric guitar in the fashion of a slide guitar.
Some of the musicians who became greats in their own right had at one point or the other players in Waters's band. These included James Cotton, Junior Wells, and Buddy Guy. Waters' influence did not just remain within the shores of America. In fact, after a series of very successful tours in Europe, Waters had become a big name in the UK and influenced the likes of Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones. They were particularly impressed by Waters's use of the electric guitar, which created a high-pitched sound that was yet to be heard in the UK. The British rock band Rolling Stones had named itself after taking inspiration from Waters's hit song Rollin Stone.
Being one of the most successful musicians of his generation, it is no wonder that Muddy Waters made a lot of money in his lifetime. He was estimated to be worth around five million dollars in the year he died, i.e., 1983. Five million dollars would amount to 13 million dollars in today's estimates. Most of his income was generated mainly through the royalties that he received from the record companies. During his lifetime, Muddy Waters performed regularly in concerts, festivals, bars, and hotels. The money he used to earn through these gigs also went towards his total net worth.
Muddy Waters got his first break in the city of Chicago. He had left his home in Mississippi in the early 1940s to pursue his dream of becoming a successful musician. His luck changed when he met popular blues singer Big Bill Broonzy. The latter understood that Muddy had a natural talent and took him under his wing. This was the first big break Muddy had been waiting for his entire life. He began performing with Broonzy in bars and clubs and soon made a name for himself. More success followed in the form of a deal with Columbia Records in 1946. Muddy recorded his first set of hit songs after signing for Aristocrat Records (later Chess Records). These were 'Little Anna Mae,' 'Gypsy Woman,' 'I Feel Like Going Home,' 'Rollin Stone,' and 'I Can't Be Satisfied.'
By the early 1950s, Muddy Waters had become the foremost blues singer in Chicago, and his fame reached America's larger audience. This was when he was playing and recording with his own band that had some of the biggest names in music history. He had alongside him Jimmy Rogers, who played guitar, Otis Spann on Piano, Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, and Elga Edmonds on drums.
With this ensemble by his side, Waters's ascendancy continued to rise during this period. Some of his most well-known songs were produced during this phase of his career. He and his band recorded notable songs like 'I'm Ready,' 'Hoochie Coochie Man,' 'Mannish Boy,' and 'I Just Want to Make Love to You' that became blues classics. Willie Dixon is credited with writing most of Waters's songs during this phase. His role was to provide the backing bass in the band. However, his bandmates left his group one by one, the first being Little Walter.
The late 1950s were not as prolific for Waters, and only the song 'Close to You' rose in the charts. This song was released in an album called 'The Best of Muddy Waters.' In the 1970s, he worked with guitarist Johnny Winter on the album 'Hard Again.' Johnny Winter had invited Waters to sign for the label Blue Sky in 1976. This turned out to be a solid partnership for Waters and Blue Sky. Waters had his reunion with Jimmy Rogers while working for 'I'm Ready' in 1978. His last collaboration with Chess Records came in 1975 when the LP 'The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album' came out.
Waters' health had begun to deteriorate in the 1980s, and in 1982 he took the call of retiring from music. He had sensed that his end was near, and the following year, on April 30, Waters left the world in his sleep after a heart attack. He was around 70 at the time of his demise. In 1985, the city of Chicago honored Waters by renaming a portion of the street close to his erstwhile house as the Muddy Waters Drive.
Waters was officially married two times during his lifetime. His first marriage took place in 1932 with a woman named Mabel Berry. This was, however, a very short-lived union, as it ended only a year later. Waters next got hitched to a woman named Geneva Morganfield. It is not known when they tied the knot. But Waters separated from his second wife in 1973. Waters' third and final marriage was officiated in 1979 when he took Marva Jean Brooks as his wife. He stayed married to her till his final days. In total, Waters fathered five children from his three marriages. One of his sons later became the famous blues musician named Big Bill Morganfield.
Waters was the recipient of several awards in his lifetime. Six of his songs were declared winners in the Best Ethnic or Traditional Folk Recording category. These famous songs are 'They Call Me Muddy Waters,' 'The London Muddy Waters Session,' 'The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album,' 'Hard Again,' 'I'm Ready,' and 'Muddy Mississippi Waters Live.' As a salute to his musical genius, the Blues Hall of Fame inducted Waters within its fold in 1980. The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame followed suit and inducted Waters posthumously in 1987.
In a 2004 survey, The Rolling Stone Magazine placed Muddy Waters in the 17th position in its list of 100 greatest musicians of all time.
Here at Kidadl, we have carefully created many interesting family-friendly facts for everyone to enjoy! If you liked our suggestions for Muddy Waters facts, then why not take a look at Bob Ross facts or Andrea Joseph facts?
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