On April 4, 1915, McKinley Morganfield was born on the Kroger Plantation in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. He was the second son of Ollie Morganfield and Berta Jones. When, as a youngster, little McKinley showed a penchant for playing in mud puddles, his grandmother started calling him “Muddy.” His friends later added the “Waters.”
In August of 1941, Library of Congress song collector Alan Lomax and Fisk University scholar John Work visited the 26-year-old Muddy Waters’ cabin on the Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi. Lomax and Work had been told that Muddy played guitar and sang a lot like the late Blues musician Robert Johnson. They recorded Muddy playing and singing three songs. Years later, Muddy recounted what it was like hearing himself on those recordings that day: “I really HEARD myself for the first time. I’d never heard my voice. I used to sing; used to sing just how I felt, ’cause that’s the way we always sing in Mississippi. But when Mr. Lomax played me the record I thought, man, this boy can sing the Blues.”
In May of 1943, Muddy Waters took the train from Clarksdale to Chicago, Illinois, leaving the plantation far behind. He lived his new life working at various day jobs and playing his music all over Chicago’s South Side at night. Muddy made his first commercial recordings for Columbia Records in 1946, but the record company decided not to release them.
In 1947, Muddy Waters tried again, this time recording for Aristocrat Records. He had his first national R&B hit record in 1948: “I Can’t Be Satisfied” b/w “I Feel Like Going Home.”
Here it is.
That man can indeed sing and play the Blues.
After a long and illustrious performing and recording career, Muddy Waters passed away on April 30, 1983 in Westmont, Illinois.
Sources for this post were: Folk & Blues: The Encyclopedia (2001) by Irwin and Lyndon Stambler; Bill Dahl’s bio of Muddy Waters in The All Music Guide To The Blues (2003); and my blog post It Was The Last Week In August from August 29, 2010.