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Nowhere is Muddy’s mastery of the music as evident as when he sings

about a love affair between an older man and his “nineteen years old" lover.



Muddy Waters CDs

The Anthology: 1947-1972  /  A Tribute to Muddy Waters: King of the Blues  /  King of Chicago Blues  Electric Mud   At Newport 

The Muddy Waters Story  /  Can't Get No Grindin'

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Muddy Waters I Can’t Be Satisfied on PBS

Reviewed by  Amin Sharif


Today, there are relatively few young blacks who know anything about the Blues. Names like Robert Johnson and Muddy Waters have no meaning to them. Yet knowledge of Blues figures such as Johnson and Waters is essential if the history of Southern black people is ever to be fully explored. Although W. C. Handy is called the “Father of the Blues,” this music existed long before Handy penned his first Blues score in 1911. The Blues began as a secular counterpoint to the Southern Spirituals and the Gospels. Sometimes referred to as the Devil’s music because its edifice of choice was the infamous Juke Joint where whiskey mixed--many times violently--with hard living men and women. This music may be viewed as the lyrical response to all that black people faced in their everyday lives in the Southland. The love and pain, union and separation, wretchedness and joy are all themes explored by the Blues.

PBS’s I Can’t Be Satisfied is a magnificent rendering of the life of Muddy Waters, perhaps the second most important figure in Blues history. Only the legendary Robert Johnson has made a greater impact than Muddy has on the music. Muddy Waters was born April 4, 1935 in Rolling Fork, Mississippi. His mother died when he was just three years old. Muddy’s grandmother raised him and also gave him his famous nickname His given name was McKinley Morganfield. It was Muddy’s grandmother who moved him two hundred miles north from Rolling Fork to Clarksdale, Mississippi.

I Can’t Be Satisfied begins where all blues begins -- in the Delta where Muddy grew up. But this PBS documentary deftly draws the viewer into the Blues world. At the center of this world is the Blues genius Muddy Waters. What I like about this documentary is that it never forgets that it’s all about a Man and his Blues. Friends, relatives, band members, and lovers all have something to say about Muddy. And, even Muddy, himself, speaks passionately about his life and music. But all these things take a back seat to Muddy’s Blues.

Much has been made about Muddy playing an amplified guitar and using amplified instruments in his band. But none of this would have made a difference if Muddy hadn’t been one hell of a musician. And everyone in this documentary makes it clear that when Muddy played or sang something special, even mythic, was going on. After all, it was Muddy’s earthy music, not Austin Powers, who taught us what Mojo was. And, it was Muddy who sang the national anthem for all black men. Yeah, Muddy spelled it all out for us when he said he was a Mmmaannn! 

Nowhere is Muddy’s mastery of the music as evident as when he sings about a love affair between an older man and his “nineteen years old" lover. It is this song that sets up a segment of the documentary that explores Muddy Waters love and family life. What is made clear in this segment is that Muddy loved “beautiful” young women. And Muddy was not one to let marriage get in the way when it came to his pursuing what he loved. To some this segment may paint an unpleasant picture of a black man. But Muddy was what he was. And there is no doubt that he would have never wanted anyone to apologize for the life that he lived.

Like other documentaries about black artists, I Can’t Be Satisfied tells of Muddy’s exploitation by the owner of the legendary Chess Record Company. There is also a segment about what happened to the Blues when R&B came along. But while other black artists were broken by the dirty dealings of their record companies and changes in popular musical taste, Muddy found a way to thrive under these conditions. And, again, this would have never been possible if the music he made wasn’t good. Chuck D, a respected member of the Hip Hop generation, fully recognized the power of Muddy’s music. Speaking of the greatly criticized album, Electric Mud, Chuck D says that the electric element was not driving the music. In other words, Muddy brought the Blues to the band, not the other way around. It was Muddy’s Blues-filled vocals, Chuck D declared, that made the album a significant addition to Blues History.

The documentary ends with Muddy’s death in Illinois on April 30, 1983. Still, this documentary does everything and more to make the life of Muddy Waters a Blues testament well worth seeing. I highly recommend this documentary to novices and hard core fans of the Blues and the legendary Muddy Waters.  

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Muddy Waters


A Bio Chronology

Muddy Waters (14 April 1915-30 April 1983), born McKinley A. Morganfield, was a sharecropping Mississippi bluesman, who became the premier bluesman and bandleader among Chicago numerous blues singers and wailers. He was The Man among many blues artists who strove to become immortals. He had staying power and outlasted the lot of his generation in years and drawing power and influence. B.B. King may have indeed been a 'king," but surely Muddy was the Emperor, the King of Kings.

1915 (14 April) -- Born in a small enclave in Issaquena County, Mississippi known as Jug's Corner, the nearest town on the map a small place called Rolling Fork that was on the train tracks. His mother died when he was about two years old


1918 -- His grandmother moved north to the Stovall Plantation outside of Clarksdale before Muddy was three years old. He stayed there, for the most part, until he was thirty years old. The area, near the Mississippi River, was wet, and his grandmother nicknamed him because of the mud puddles in which he played.


1920 -- Muddy started playing harmonica, an old accordion, and a jew's harp.


1930 -- Bought his first guitar. Later,  the Son Sims Four, enlisted him as a vocalist. Muddy saw and was inspired by the playing of Son House whose style he learned. Still later Muddy bought a 1934 V8 Ford.


1941 -- Meets John Work III ( Fisk U.) and Alan Lomax  (Library of Congress), who were looking for someone in the style of Robert Johnson, and records in his house for the Library of Congress --"Can't Be Satisfied" and "Feel Like Going Home." 


1942 (July) -- The Fisk-Library of Congress return and records Muddy for several more sides for them, some alone and some with the Son Sims group.


1943 (summer) --  Goes to Chicago, after a fight with the plantation overseer. Muddy's uncle, who preceded him to Chicago, gave him an electric guitar soon after he arrived. Incorporates thumbpicks into his style to further increase the volume. Band he assembled established the    electric blues sound.


1944 -- Playing house parties his reputation grows quickly and begins to meet established musicians like Big Bill Broonzy, Memphis Slim, and Tampa Red. 


1946 -- Cuts "Mean Red Spider," for J. Mayo Williams, an African-American independent producer and three tracks for Columbia, and remained unreleased for decades. 


1948 -- His next session was for Aristocrat Records, owned in part by Leonard Chess, and records "Can't Be Satisfied" and "Feel Like Going Home," release as a single 78 rpm with a new urban feeling --with the electric guitar and without the piano. The single sold out its first weekend and Muddy Waters had his first taste of stardom. As early as 1946, Muddy had met Jimmy Rogers (guitarist) and Little Walter (harmonica player). The trio developed the urban blues sound and became popular in the clubs, calling themselves the Headhunters. They enlisted Baby Face Leroy Foster (drums).


1949 -- Muddy returned south triumphant, with their own show on KFFA; for many in the Delta, it was the first time they had heard or saw an electric guitar. Builds his reputation with songs like  "Train Fare Home" and "Screamin' and Cryin'." 


1950 -- Records with Chess "Rollin' Stone," a song about power, rootless and ruthless independence. The Rolling Stones chose their name from this recording. Muddy's sound was one of exuberant celebration, sexual conquest, and victory over depression.


1951 -- Band round out with Elgin Evans replacing Foster on drums, and by the addition of Otis Spann on piano. With Otis Spann on board, the modern blues band format and sound was fully settled.


1953 -- The whole band records on Chess.


1954  -- Records "I'm Ready." 


1955 -- Chuck Berry arrives in Chicago and Muddy advises him to record with Chess.  The "Maybellene" release, Chuck Berry's success, and the new rock and roll sound, diminishes the popularity of the blues. 


1956 -- Records "Just To Be With You."


1951 - 1956 -- Muddy had fourteen songs on the national charts, including "Still A Fool," "Hoochie Coochie Man," "Just Make Love To Me," "I'm Ready," and "Mannish Boy." From the middle 1950s Waters' songwriting became almost wholly urban in character, as for example "She's Nineteen Years Old," "Walkin' Thru The Park," "You Can't Lose What You Ain't Never Had" and the anthemic "Got My Mojo Working," among others.  In the late 1950s the  national tours grew scarce for Muddy and he stayed on in Chicago.


1958 -- Muddy accepted an invitation to perform in England. The British kids were heavily influenced by Muddy's sound and style and many soon bought electric guitars and amps. Muddy returned two more times to England in the early 1960s, solidifying his role as an instigator of the British Invasion


1960  -- Performs at the Newport Jazz Festival. The budding love generation responded to his rock and rolling versions of "Got My Mojo Working" and "I Feel So Good," and Muddy had a new audience. The 1960s was marked by experimentation and manipulation, which included the  recording of Electric Mud.


1969 -- Sudden death of Leonard Chess. Records The Woodstock Album with members of the Band, produced by Band drummer Levon Helm on the new Chess (now owned by a corporation)..


1975 -- Muddy terminates the nearly thirty-year relationship with Chess.


1976 -- Records Hard Again, which won a Grammy, with blues/rock star Johnny Winter as producer. This comeback led to Muddy opening concerts for Eric Clapton and jamming with the Rolling Stones. Later, Muddy records three more albums, the next two also winning Grammy awards. Settles a lawsuit with Arc Music, his publishing company, allowing him to live his final years in financial comfort.


1983 (30 April) -- Dies quietly in his sleep in his home in suburban Westmont Illinois.


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In Chicago, a stretch of 43rd Street was renamed Muddy Waters Drive. In 1987  Muddy was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and  in 1992 was given the Record Academy's Lifetime Achievement Award


A guitar has been made from a plank off his Stovall cabin, and the cabin itself has been dismantled, sent on a tour, and then placed in the Clarksdale Blues Museum.

Many of Muddy's band  members had successful solo careers -- Jimmy Rogers and Little Walter became stars in the 1950s. Later, Otis Spann, James Cotton, Paul Oscher, Luther "Georgia Boy" "(Creepin') Snake" Johnson, Luther "Guitar Jr." Johnson, Jerry Portnoy, Bob Margolin, and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, among others, enjoyed careers of their own.


A Tribute to Muddy Waters: King of the Blues

I know for a fact that there would not be rock & roll in America ... without Muddy Waters." Truer words are seldom spoken--but it's blues musicians who turn out to pay tribute to the Master on this album, whether they're old-timers like Buddy Guy and Koko Taylor, or relative newcomers like Mem Shannon or Waters's own son, Bill Morganfield. Generally speaking, tribute albums are destined to fall short, because no matter how good a musician is, he's not going to play the song exactly like the original, nor should he try to. But as far as honoring the blues giant, A Tribute to Muddy Waters lives up to its name. Keb' Mo's take on "I Can't Be Satisfied" comes awfully close to Waters's, while Guy's "She's Nineteen Years Old" and Taylor's "Long Distance Call" are just as good as one would expect from these two Chicago greats. Shannon adapts "Gypsy Woman" to his own New Orleans style, and the late Robert Lockwood Jr. provides a laid-back, easy version of "Mean Red Spider." An important highlight is Morganfield's "Hoochie Coochie Man"; at times, the son of Muddy Waters sounds so much like his father, it's eerie. Overall it's a fitting honorarium to a man without whom the blues as we hear it today would not exist.—Genevieve Williams

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Album Reviews

King of Chicago Blues

I loved the "Proper Introduction to Muddy Waters" but this is even better. Four disks worth from the 1941 recordings through "Trouble No More" in excellent sound. Best takes, too. It's basically like the Chess anniversary set (1947-52) that came out a few years ago, only now including the great recordings from 1953-55. Discs 3 and 4 are just one masterpiece after the next, right up there with Armstrong or Monroe or name-your-greatest 20th century set. The songs you haven't heard are as good as the more typically anthologized. And it's cheap!—G. Wallace

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Electric Mud

This is the infamous "somebody-put-something-in-the-Waters" LP from 1968. A relative hit for Chess, it features the exalted bluesman bellowing over psychedelicized arrangements that owe more to Steppenwolf than Willie Dixon. Waters himself complained that the drums were too busy and the lead guitar sounded like a cat's meow. Not a bad critique.—Steven Stolder

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At Newport

This is the concert that inspired the likes of Eric Burdon, Clapton, Winwood, Jeff Beck, Keith Richards, Jimmy Page...this is a must for blues and rock n' roll collectors. The sound is live, probably Muddy's best live recording. I would like to find the video/35mm film to this. I also recommend "Hard Again" by Muddy with the help of James Cotton (who is also on this live recording) and Johnny Winter. The man is missed.—"music man"

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The Muddy Waters Story

A newly researched complete audio-biography of Muddy Waters. A deluxe 4-CD set comprising a double CD of audio-biography and two CDs of original musical rarities. Presented in a luxury collectable full-colour slipcase with two illustrated eight-page booklets.

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Can't Get No Grindin'

Short & sweet, fat & raw, all the elements of the Blues at it's best. This is Muddy Waters as he saw himself..a Blues legend at center stage & why not. I have this on vinyl & cd. Buy it, play it. Now ain't that a man!—R.L. Varner

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DVDs of Muddy Waters Performances

 In Concert 1971  / Classic Concerts  /  Can't Be Satisfied Live at the Chicago Blues Festival Got My Mojo Working

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Charles Edward Anderson "Chuck" Berry (born October 18, 1926) is an American guitarist, singer and songwriter, and one of the pioneers of rock and roll music. With songs such as "Maybellene" (1955), "Roll Over Beethoven" (1956), "Rock and Roll Music" (1957) and "Johnny B. Goode" (1958), Chuck Berry refined and developed rhythm and blues into the major elements that made rock and roll distinctive, with lyrics focusing on teen life and consumerism and utilizing guitar solos and showmanship that would be a major influence on subsequent rock music. . . . After his release in 1963, Berry had several more hits, including "No Particular Place to Go", "You Never Can Tell", and "Nadine", but these did not achieve the same success, or lasting impact, of his 1950s songs, and by the 1970s he was more in demand as a nostalgic live performer, playing his past hits with local backup bands of variable quality. His insistence on being paid cash led to a jail sentence in 1979—four months and community service for tax evasion. . . . 

Berry was among the first musicians to be inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame on its opening in 1986, with the comment that he "laid the groundwork for not only a rock and roll sound but a rock and roll stance." . . . The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll included three of Chuck Berry's songs: "Johnny B. Goode," "Maybellene," and "Rock and Roll Music."Wikipedia

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Salvage the Bones

A Novel by Jesmyn Ward

On one level, Salvage the Bones is a simple story about a poor black family that’s about to be trashed by one of the most deadly hurricanes in U.S. history. What makes the novel so powerful, though, is the way Ward winds private passions with that menace gathering force out in the Gulf of Mexico. Without a hint of pretension, in the simple lives of these poor people living among chickens and abandoned cars, she evokes the tenacious love and desperation of classical tragedy. The force that pushes back against Katrina’s inexorable winds is the voice of Ward’s narrator, a 14-year-old girl named Esch, the only daughter among four siblings. Precocious, passionate and sensitive, she speaks almost entirely in phrases soaked in her family’s raw land. Everything here is gritty, loamy and alive, as though the very soil were animated. Her brother’s “blood smells like wet hot earth after summer rain. . . . His scalp looks like fresh turned dirt.” Her father’s hands “are like gravel,” while her own hand “slides through his grip like a wet fish,” and a handsome boy’s “muscles jabbered like chickens.” Admittedly, Ward can push so hard on this simile-obsessed style that her paragraphs risk sounding like a compost heap, but this isn’t usually just metaphor for metaphor’s sake. She conveys something fundamental about Esch’s fluid state of mind: her figurative sense of the world in which all things correspond and connect. WashingtonPost

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Hopes and Prospects

By Noam Chomsky

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Hopes and Prospects  is essential reading for anyone who is concerned about the primary challenges still facing the human race. "This is a classic Chomsky work: a bonfire of myths and lies, sophistries and delusions. Noam Chomsky is an enduring inspiration all over the world—to millions, I suspect—for the simple reason that he is a truth-teller on an epic scale. I salute him." —John Pilger

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The White Masters of the World

From The World and Africa, 1965

By W. E. B. Du Bois

W. E. B. Du Bois’ Arraignment and Indictment of White Civilization (Fletcher)

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Ancient African Nations

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The Death of Emmett Till by Bob Dylan  The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll  Only a Pawn in Their Game

Rev. Jesse Lee Peterson Thanks America for Slavery

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update 2 May 2012




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Related files: Music and Musicians  Chick Webb Memorial Index  Fifty Influential Figures