9:00am

Sat May 4, 2013
marc on the blues

Muddy Waters Fades And Rises Again

Most of us think of Muddy Waters as one of the all time legends of the Blues, the standard by which we judge Chicago Blues. There was a time in his career though that he had faded from being the “King Bee” we think of today.

They don’t come much bigger in the Blues than McKinley Morganfield, known to the world as Muddy Waters. He often said he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi, though records say it was Jug's Corner in neighboring Issaquena County. For many years he said he was born in 1913 but after a 1955 interview he henceforth said it was 1915.

There’s really too much that can be said about Muddy Waters and much already has been said. I’ve written about him myself. What I want to cover here is the fact that great success doesn’t mean permanent ongoing success. At the time of the early 1960s "British invasion” he was far better known to English musicians than to American audiences.

In 1958, Muddy had become disillusioned by the fact that while white Americans were starting to discover the masters of early acoustic Blues like Son House, Robert Johnson and others, black Americans were turning their backs on the Blues. He decided to try the waters* in England and Europe. His hard edged electric sound stunned young musicians who had previously only known the Country Blues of the early acoustic players. (* pun intended…sorry)

When the “British invasion” was in full swing in 1965 and 1966 the English artists that Muddy had impacted returned the favor by doing a great deal to revitalize Waters’ own career in America.

Especially important were The Rolling Stones, appropriately, as they got their name from a Muddy Waters song. The Stones variously asked Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, John Lee Hooker and others to open for them and jam with them. The collaboration was central in the resurgence of the Blues in the United States.

Having learned the fun and value of collaboration, Waters recorded and played with many great artists in the later years of his career including Chuck Berry, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Water and Bo Diddley from the Chess records and Chicago scene. Many British artists too like Rory Gallagher, Steve Winwood, Rick Grech, and Mitch Mitchell. In 1976 he joined The Band for their famous Last Waltz concert.

Muddy Waters’ own last public performance came when he sat in with Eric Clapton at a concert in Florida in autumn of 1982

Along with those collaborations he brought white musicians into his own now legendary band, most significant perhaps being Johnny Winter. Winter was a vital part of Waters’ last albums, especially Hard Again and King Bee.

Coming this week on The Nine O’clock Blues we’ll check out a track recorded but not released when King Bee first came out, but added for the CD re-release. Hooray for “bonus tracks.”

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