Blues Then and Now - The History of the Blues (Chapter 9, page 2 of 3)


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Chapter 9

It was however, Sunnyland Slim that introduced another young singer who was to be responsible for the transformation of Chicago blues. McKinley Morganfield was from the Delta area in Rolling Fork, Mississippi was also known as Muddy Waters. The Delta area is a 200 mile stretch of low, flat plains running between Memphis, Tennessee and Vicksburg, Mississippi, bordered by the Mississippi River on the west and the Yazoo River on the east. He started his musical career as a harmonica player and by the age of 17, he was playing the guitar. Muddy admits that he learned a good deal about guitar playing by listening repeatedly to Leroy Carr's 1928 record "How Long, How Long Blues" on which the famed guitarist Scrapper Blackwell was heard.

In the early 1940s, Muddy was found working as a field hand on Stovall's Farm in Clarksdale, Mississippi by Alan Lomax and had Waters make his first record for the Library of Congress, "I Be's Troubled" and "Country Blues." In 1943, he boarded the Illinois Central train to Chicago. When the train arrived at 12th and Michigan in the downtown section, just a few blocks from the south side black population and emptied the last three cars that were restricted for blacks only. It was remarked that it looked like 'the Ellis Island of the black migration."

As soon as Muddy Waters settled down to his own south side apartment, he immediately began working as a sideman with Memphis Slim, 'Sonny Roy' Williamson, Sunnyland Slim and most or the other top loading musicians. Word got around about his talent and he soon became in demand. Muddy was among the first to switch from the acoustic to the electric guitar. After teaming up with Big Bill Broonzy the leading blues artist along with his rival Tampa Red. Big Bill introduced Muddy to Lester Melrose, a white record producer who had an open door to RCA and Columbia Records. Melrose recorded Waters in 1946 and sold the masters to Columbia. Columbia executives however, decided not to release the sides because they were not acquainted with the sound of an electric guitar for the blues.

In 1947, Sunnyland Slim brought Muddy Waters to Aristocrat Records, a new company that just settled in Chicago. Aristocrat owners, Leonard and Phil Chess look Muddy into the studio and recorded "Gypsy Woman" and "Little Anna May," both sides were financial flops for the Chess brothers. However, Waters with the assistance of Sunnyland Slim convinced the brothers to do one more session. Muddy worked out a duo with Big Crawford on string bass. The song was "I Can't Be Satisfied." The record became a local hit. The Chess brothers had records hand delivered to radio stations and it was heard throughout the immediate area. Muddy went on to make more records that became hits such as, "I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man," "Rolling Stone," "Got My Mojo Workin," and "I Just Want To Make Love To You." Waters became a worldwide superstar and was considered to be the best blues singer of all times.

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