McKinley Morganfield better known as Muddy Waters was born on April 4, 1915 to a sharecropping family in the Mississippi Delta. His stage name was actually given to him when he was but a child who was almost always playing in the mud. By the time he was thirteen, however, he had rose up out of the mud and taken up the guitar and developed an interest in the blues.
Alan Lomax was visiting the Delta region in 1941 looking for artists to record for the Library of Congress folk-song archives when he discovered Waters. Lomax was intrigued by Waters jagged bottleneck guitar-playing style. Lomax convinced Waters to relocate to Chicago where Waters would soon switch to an electric guitar because “couldn’t nobody hear you with an acoustic.”
The electric guitar was all it took to lift Waters above his contemporaries. In truth, Waters’ traditional, earthy vocal style layered over the almost urgently amplified guitar ignited the modern-day Chicago-blues movement. Well into the 1950s, he refined his signature sound with such songs as the anthemic “Got My Mojo Working” and “Hoochie Coochie Man”.
In fact, the “father of modern Chicago blues” honed a musical style that ultimately influenced the development of rock and roll. As the 1950s moved into the 1960s Waters’ blues unfortunately became less relevant to black listeners who became more and more involved with soul music and its related offshoots. The loss of a black audience though meant little because Waters had gained a new audience: the white, young, middle class born of the folk music revival.
The back halls and taverns in which Waters first performed were soon replaced by jazz clubs, college auditoriums and festival stages. He was well accepted by the rock community, received the respectful adulation accorded a founding figure and was also the reason for the British blues explosion. Waters talent aged well.
In truth, in the final decade of his life he produced three of his best-selling albums: Hard Again, I’m Ready and King Bee. Waters regularly performed with such greats as Eric Clapton and The Rolling Stones who looked on him as a mentor. At age 68 Waters, who was ranked number 17 in Rolling Stone magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Artists of All Time, died in his sleep from heart failure at his home in Westmont, Illinois on April 30, 1983.
Blues musician B.B. King who admitted being influenced by Waters told the press: “It’s going to be years and years before most people realize how greatly he contributed to American music”. Waters was buried at Restvale Cemetery in Worth, Illinois. People wishing to visit his grave take the Route 50 exit in Alsip and travel north for a few hundred yards.
One then turns left on 122nd Street and right on Laramie Avenue a half mile later. The cemetery is up ahead on the left. Visitors enter the cemetery and park. Waters’ grave is located in Section H to the left of the office, three stones from the drive.
Waters name may have been “Muddy” but one thing is crystal clear. Waters’ musical legend lives on despite the fact that his physical presence has reached the end.
My name is Phoenix and . . . that’s the bottom line.