Muddy Waters was one of the greatest Blues musicians known to man and another link in the chain of what would evolve into Rock and Roll; our Muddy Waters biography is a brief introduction into his brilliance. According to records, he was born McKinley Morganfield on April 3, 1913, but later records have his date of birth listed as April 3, 1915. While the discrepancies in Muddy’s date of birth are odd, it is usually explained as Muddy’s attempt to make himself seem younger as he got bigger in the music business. Muddy grew up in the Mississippi Delta in the small town of Rolling Fork. Having lost his mother at age three, Muddy was raised by his grandmother in Clarksdale. We don’t know much about Muddy’s day to day life as a kid, but growing up around blues men like James Cotton is what inspired a young Muddy Waters to play the blues.
Like many young men growing up in Mississippi in the 1920s and 30s, Muddy Waters didn’t spend a lot of time in school. Most of his days were spent working in the cotton fields of surrounding farms, but at night Muddy Waters was honing his skills as a musician at the backwoods bars that peppered the area. By the time he was in his early 20s, Muddy Waters was beginning to make a name for himself locally not only as a musician but as a club promoter. While most of the patrons were probably drawn by Muddy’s homemade whiskey, they stayed to hear him perform. These events gave Muddy his first taste of fame and provided a nice second income to supplement the 50 cents a day he was making in the fields.
Muddy Waters didn’t pursue a career in music full time until a chance encounter with Alan Lomax from the Library of Congress. Alan and his recording team had come to Mississippi to record blues singers in the area as part of a folk music project for the Library of Congress. When he was first approached for the project Muddy ran—as a bootlegger, Muddy Waters didn’t want anything to do with a project connected to the Feds.
Eventually, Muddy Waters contributed "I Be's Troubled", "Country Blues", and "Burr Clover Farm Blues" to the Library of Congress’ recording in 1941. It was hearing himself recorded for the first time that gave Muddy the confidence to move to Chicago to pursue music full time in 1943. While he would eventually take Chicago and the world by storm, Muddy’s first few years in the big city were rough. Chicago was still a Jazz town and it was difficult for blues men to find gigs.To help make ends meet, Muddy fell back on his bootlegging skills and began playing at house parties that he supplied with fried chicken and homemade booze. Playing these parties helped him get his name out to the masses, and supplying the parties with chicken and booze provided a nice side income.
Muddy Waters got his big break in 1946 when he signed with Chess Records. He recorded with Chess for two years before “I Can’t be Satisfied” and “I Feel Like Going Home” became huge hit in 1948. With the rise of the blues, Muddy Waters became an international sensation. His racy lyrics, rough voice and amazing slide guitar skills came to embody the heartache, pleasure and pain that defines the blues. “Hootiche Cootchie Man” and “Manish Boy” were filled with a sexual energy that titillated audiences way before Rock and Rollers like Elvis hit the scene. Muddy Waters shocked audiences in England during his 1958 tour and inspired an generation of young rockers like The Rolling Stones and Led Zeppelin to incorporate his loud, bombastic style into what would turn out to be some of the greatest rock bands known to man. But all good things must come to an end, and Muddy Waters is no exception to that rule. In 1983, Muddy Waters took his last bow when he succumbed to a heart attack and died in his sleep at home.