Muddy Waters

April 4, 1913 – April 30, 1983

Recording history: early 1940’s for Library of Congress, late 1940’s for Aristocrat (which would soon become Checker/Chess), thru 1975 on Chess, late 1970’s on Blue Sky

Also recorded with: Sunnyland SlimLittle Walter, Bo Diddley, Howlin’ Wolf, Otis Spann

Important/historic recordings: “Evan’s Shuffle”, “She Moves Me”, “Baby Please Don’t Go”, “Hoochie Coochie Man”, “Mannish Boy”, “Walkin’ Through The Park”…and many more!

Random fact: Muddy Waters is known as the “Father of Chicago Blues”, not because he was the first Chicago Blues artist, but because his band & style in the heyday of post-war Chicago-style blues (the late 1940’s-late 1950’s) set the standard for pretty much every other “traditional” blues band out there…and this standard still remains to this day. Blues bands the world over strive to have a cohesive and effective sound like Muddy did with his vocals, guitar and whole band approach, which would regularly incorporate the harmonica as a featured lead and accompaniment instrument.

About: Born McKinley Morganfield in Mississippi, his mother died shortly after birth and was then raised by his grandmother. The name “Muddy” stuck from being fond of playing with mud as a youngster, which later changed to “Muddy Water(s)”. Like an earlier pioneering blues man – Robert Johnson – Muddy started on the harmonica before learning blues on the guitar. In his teens he would learn blues on the guitar much like the styles of the aforementioned Robert Johnson and another Delta Blues great – Son House. in 1940 Alan Lomax recorded Muddy for the Library of Congress, and in 1943 Muddy would move to Chicago to try to break into the music scene there while working a factory job during the day. In the late 1940’s Leonard & Phil Chess recorded Muddy for their Aristocrat label. Soon thereafter, the Chess brothers’ label would change names to Chess and American music history would never be the same.

When Muddy Waters would start electrifying his blues in the late 1940’s and early 1950’s (first with amplified guitar, then harmonica, then with a full band), the new sound for blues took off almost immediately and a new standard was set for the ensemble sound of post-war Chicago blues. Early on, at the core of this sound was Muddy Waters (guitar & vocals), Little Walter (harmonica) and Jimmy Rogers (2nd guitar). Many of his recordings for Chess (of which many were written by Willie Dixon) have become blues “standards” played around the globe, such as “Hoochie Coochie Man“, “Mannish Boy“, “I Just Want To Make Love To You“, “I’m Ready“, “I Want To Be Loved“, and “I Got My Mojo Working“. Through the years, Muddy Waters had many of the best harmonica players performing and recording with him, starting with Little Walter (late 1940’s, through 1950’s), Junior Wells (1952), Big Walter Horton (1953), James Cotton (mid-1950’s through mid-1960’s), George “Harmonica” Smith (late 1960’s), Mojo Buford, Paul Oscher, Jerry Portnoy and more.

The blues of Muddy Waters, especially the late 1940’s through the mid-1960’s recordings, are not only some of the best and most popular examples of electric Chicago blues, but also did a lot to carve out a permanent place for the harmonica in the context of a full band. These recordings have influenced harmonica players AND full bands for generations, and their importance in the history of blues and American music cannot be overestimated.

Recommended Recordings in-print:

  • “The Chess Box”- MCA/Chess (great collection of his Chess recordings)
  • “One More Mile” – MCA/Chess (rare & unissued Chess recordings)
  • “Real Folk Blues/More Real Folk Blues” – MCA/Chess (if you don’t want the 3-CD Chess box, a good single disc collection)
  • “The Anthology” - MCA/Chess (if you don’t want the 3-CD Chess Box, this is a good 2-CD set)

I’ve found the best selection of blues harmonica CDs to be available at:

blues harmonica, blues harp, lessons, history
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