Muddy Waters: Father of Modern Chicago Blues


Roger M. Reaves, MRHS Teacher

Muddy Waters was a great American and a hero of mine. He was an American blues musician who is known as the “father of modern Chicago blues.” He should be honored during “Black History Month” as a titan of American Music, and it is my privilege to tell you a few things about him.

McKinley ‘Muddy Waters’ Morganfield was born on April 4, 1913 and grew up near Clarksdale, Mississippi as a sharecropper on a plantation. He could play the guitar and the harmonica by the age of 17, and he was always trying to sound like local blues artists such as Son House and Robert Johnson, both of whom are giants of American music in their own right.

Muddy Waters was first recorded in Mississippi, on his front porch by Alan Lomax for the Library of Congress in 1941. In 1943 he moved to Chicago to become a full-time, professional musician.

In the early 1950s, Waters and his band (including Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums, Otis Spann on piano and bassist Willie Dixon) simply “invented” American Music. Without question, his songs including “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “I’m Ready” are at the root of the American lexicon.

He took his music to England in 1958, and therefore influenced an entire generation of Englishmen. Everyone from the Beatles to Eric Clapton to the Rolling Stones were deeply influenced by his music. In turn, these men became instrumental in bringing African American music back to American white audiences.

The influence of Mr. Morganfield’s music cannot be measured. His influence can be heard in every strain of American music–not just on blues and rhythm and blues, but on rock and roll, hard rock, folk music, jazz and country music. It is his decisions about instrumentation and the number of band members that make him the archetypical American band leader. In other words, if you have ever seen a band, of any type, that has one drummer, one bass player, keyboards (or harmonica) and a guitarist or two, then you have witnessed Muddy Waters’ influence.

I am going home today and listening to some more of his music. I might dance, too. And I can sincerely recommend the same for you.