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Muddy Waters

Peter Madsen By

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Muddy Waters! Muddy Waters! Muddy Waters!

Damn this man could sing and play the blues. Lately I've been listening to his very first recording done for the Library of Congress in 1941 in the fields of the Mississippi Delta. Absolutely some of the finest music ever!!

Beginning in 1933 music researcher and historian Alan Lomax was working for the Library of Congress traveling throughout the Southern United States making field recordings of American traditional music with his 300 pound so-called portable tape recorder. Just imagine carrying this huge beast around in the trunk of your car criss-crossing the country in search of every possible kind of folk music to include in the first official documentation of the diversity of American music. Lomax scoured roadside markets, work camps, prisons, storefront churches, juke joints, plantations and anywhere else on the back roads of the South to find musicians who would record for him. Of course many people in the south were sceptical of some white guy approaching them to record music for the American government but with his own southern charm and a bit of money he found quite a few willing participants who would perform for him all kinds of facinating and hidden music including sea shanties, Cajun music, Mexican-American music, Appalachian music, Native-American music and of course the blues.

In 1941, Alan Lomax made one of his greatest discoveries while searching the famous Mississippi Delta where many of the greatest blues artists had lived and performed like Charlie Patton, Son House, Skip James, and of course the fabulous Robert Johnson. Working on Stovall's Plantation in the Mississippi Delta was a young black man named McKinley Morganfield. He was driving tractor during the day and playing guitar in a local string band at night. His nickname was Muddy Waters and the locals recommended him as the best musician around. Lomax found Muddy during the day as he was riding on his tractor and asked him if he wanted to record some blues for the U.S. government. As this was the early forties and most of the record companies had stopped recording the blues in the mid to late thirties I imagine Muddy never thought the day would come that he would get a chance to be heard beyond his local bars and juke joints. He jumped at the chance and the next thing you knew Lomax was setting up his monster recorder on a hot August Mississippi day right on the plantation where Muddy was working. It was the best recorder he had ever had as it could cut high-fidelity sound onto 16 inch acetate discs that would last up to fifteen minutes. Muddy was a bit nervous because he didn't have his own guitar with him. He had lent his to a friend and luckily Lomax had brought a beautiful Martin guitar with him just for such occassions. A few moments after the barefooted Muddy sat down with his glass bottle-neck slide and Lomax's Martin he recorded two incredible songs that would literally make music history, "Country Blues" and "I Be's Troubled". Muddy was equally impressive as a singer as he was a guitarist. Not only did Lomax record Muddy's music but he also interviewed him about his history and about the blues in general. Muddy was 26 then.

Muddy had never heard his own voice before and was stunned as to how good he sounded. This event gave Muddy the motivation to quit farming a couple years later and move to Chicago where he would literally turn the music world on it's ear. Because of the huge noisy bars he played in in the big city he started playing the electric guitar but he never gave up his country blues songs and style. As millions of southern black people had been migrating to the north at this time to escape the horrendous conditions there, Muddy had a built in audience. This was an audience that was not used to the big city life and who often missed their friends and families back home and who were looking to find something to remind them of what they left behind. This gave Muddy a platform to write music that would deeply touch his fellow transplanted southerners and because of this popularity to work constantly with the best musicians in Chicago. In 1947 he started working for the Chess Record label recording hundreds of classic blues such as "Gypsy Woman", "Rolling Stone" (yes Mick Jagger got the name from Muddy!), "Honey Bee", "Baby Please Don't Go", "Hoochie Coochie Man", "I'm Ready", "Smokestack Lightnin'", "Got My Mojo Working" and too many more to mention.


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