Born McKinley Morganfield in Issequena County, Mississippi, Muddy Waters went on to become one of the most influential musicians of the 20th century. By bringing the Delta blues to Chicago, he helped create a new, urban electric blues sound that would later inspire a bevy of English admirers to form bands like The Rolling Stones, Cream and Led Zeppelin. Unlike many of the blues pioneers, Muddy Waters lived long enough to enjoy the late '60s blues revival and to meet many of the artists his music inspired.
Muddy Waters (Wikimedia Commons/Greg Goode)
“My hero?” Keith Richards told Gibson.com. “It’s got to be Muddy Waters. Because I know him as an all-round gent and his music is sublime.”
Today, on the 29th anniversary of his death, we take a look at four Muddy Waters songs honored by The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as among the 500 Songs That Shaped Rock and Roll.
Rollin’ Stone The title alone pretty much shows how influential the tune was – Mick Jagger and Keith Richards knew a good band name when they saw it (indeed, the first time Keith and Mick ever met, Jagger showed Richards his copy of a Muddy Waters album), Bob Dylan recognized a potent lyric, Jann Wenner a good magazine title. “Rollin’ Stone” was not only the first song Waters released on Chess, but one of the first songs he learned to play on the guitar. Lyrically it borrows from a tradition of ‘catfish’ blues songs he would have heard growing up in the Delta and although the record never charted, it earned enough to allow Waters to quit his day job. The song has since been recorded by Jimi Hendrix, Johnny Winter and Jeff Beck.
Hoochie Coochie Man This song was actually written by Willie Dixon, but it was the 1954 Muddy Waters recording that made it famous. The song rose to #8 on the R&B charts. The song has strong Chicago roots, as the “Hoochie Coochie” was a sexually provocative dance that became all the rage at the Chicago World’s Fair in 1893. By the time Waters sang it, the term had come to mean something else but since censors weren’t exactly sure what, they couldn’t stand in its way. Rolling Stone magazine listed the tune in its 500 Greatest Songs of All Time and it's been recorded by a huge number of artists, including Chuck Berry, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, Buddy Guy, The Allman Brothers Band, The New York Dolls, Supertramp, B.B. King, Eric Clapton and Motorhead. Oh, and Steven Seagal, too, lest we forget.
Mannish Boy Like many blues songs, the origins of this tune are somewhat convoluted. It was written as an answer song to Bo Diddley’s “I’m a Man,” which was itself inspired by Waters’ recording of the Willie Dixon tune mentioned above. Credits for the song are thus spilt between Waters, Bo Diddley and songwriter Mel London, who also penned tunes for Howlin’ Wolf, Elmore James and Junior Wells. Released in June 1955, the song reached #5 on the R&B singles chart, where it spent six weeks. It was also the only Muddy Waters tune to appear on the UK Singles Chart. The song has since been covered by the likes of Queen, Roger Daltry and Hank Williams, Jr. It has also become somewhat of a film soundtrack staple, being featured in Risky Business, The Long Kiss Goodnight, Better Off Dead, Goodfellas, Shakes the Clown, Foolproof, Daddy Day Care and a host of others.
Got My Mojo Working The song was written by Preston Foster and first performed by Ann Cole, but it’s Muddy Waters’ 1957 version that has stood the test of time. Waters' attempts to copyright the song were met with litigation not only by Preston Foster, but Ruth Strachborneo, who’d written a song called “Mojo Workout.” In the end the lawyers settled out of court. Waters’ version of the song has been performed by artists as disparate as jazz drummer Art Blakey, rock icon Elvis Presley, and British Invasion rockers The Zombies.
Originally published April 2011