Hailing from Issaquena County, Mississippi (10 bucks to anyone who can prove they’ve actually been there), McKinley Morganfield—the man you know as Muddy Waters—spent the better part of the second half of the century becoming one of the greatest guitar players of all-time. Though there is some dispute over his actual date of birth, most think that the bluesman came into the world in early April of 1913. Raised by his grandmother, young McKinley was christened “Muddy” at an early age, due to his predilection to playing in the mud. He began playing harmonica in his teens, but picked up the guitar at 17 and never put it down.
After a brief stint in Chicago, Muddy Waters returned to Mississippi in 1941 and really got his start when musicologist extraordinaire Alan Lomax paid a visit to his house. Lomax sent Waters the recording of their session, which spurred the guitarist on to return to Chicago to try his luck again. After a few years, he joined up with Chess Records and started to find commercial success. While at Chess, he recorded some of the finest songs in blues history. Tracks like “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and “Rollin’ Stone” cemented Muddy as one of the most important voices in blues.
For the next 30 years, Muddy Waters enjoyed a varied, successful career that brought him all over the world. In 1958, he moved to England and started playing blues on an electric guitar, which represented a totally new sound. His time in the UK influenced many of the important UK blues-rock bands, such as the Rolling Stones (who, of course, named their group after his song “Rollin’ Stone”). His music was repeatedly covered by music’s biggest names. Jimi Hendrix recorded a version of “Rollin’ Stone” and both Cream and Bob Dylan covered “Rollin’ and Tumblin’.”
This video is from Wolfgang’s Vault was recorded at a performance at Ash Grove in Los Angeles on Jul 29, 1971.
Waters passed away in his sleep in 1983 at his house near Chicago. He was 70 years old.