Muddy Waters

Songwriter, Guitarist, & Singer

“There was a time when I had the blues ‐ I mean I really had it bad. I couldn't pay my light bill and I couldn't pay my rent and I really had the blues. But today I can pay my rent and I can pay the light bill and I still got the blues. So I must been born with ’em… That's my religion ‐ the blues is my religion.”

American singer and guitarist Muddy Waters may have been born in Mississippi, but he defined Chicago blues with songs like “I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man.”

Early Life

Muddy Waters was born McKinley Morganfield on April 4, 1915, in Issaquena County, Mississippi, a rural town on the Mississippi River. He was given the moniker “Muddy Waters” because he played in the swampy puddles of the Mississippi River as a boy. His father, Ollie Morganfield, was a farmer and a blues guitar player who separated from the family shortly after Waters was born. When Waters was just 3 years old, his mother, Bertha Jones, died, and he was subsequently sent to Clarksdale to live with his maternal grandmother, Delia Jones.

Muddy Waters

Waters began to play the harmonica around the age of 5, and became quite good. He received his first guitar at age 17, and taught himself to play by listening to recordings of Mississippi blues legends such as Charley Patton. Although Waters spent countless hours working as a sharecropper at a cotton plantation, he found time to entertain folks around town with his music.

In 1941, he joined the Silas Green Tent Show and began to travel. As he began to gain recognition, his ambition grew. Then, after Alan Lomax and John Work, archivists/researchers for the Library of Congress Field Recording project caught wind of Waters's unique style, they sought him out to make a recording. The songs “Can't Be Satisfied” and “Feel Like Going Home,” were among his first recorded.

Chicago and Mainstream Success

In 1943, Muddy Waters finally picked up and headed to Chicago, Illinois, where music was shaping a generation. The following year, his uncle gave him an electric guitar. It was with this guitar that he was able to develop the legendary style that transformed the rustic blues of the Mississippi with the urban vibe of the big city.

Working at a paper mill by day, Waters was sweeping the blues scene by night. By 1946, he had grown so popular that he had begun making recordings for big record companies such as RCA, Colombia and Aristocrat. (He landed a deal with Aristocrat with help of fellow Delta man Sunnyland Smith.) But his recordings with Aristocrat received little recognition.

It wasn't until 1950, when Aristocrat became Chess Records, that Waters's career really began to take off. With hits like “I'm Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and “Got My Mojo Working,” his sensual lyrics peaked interest in the young crowds of the city. “Rollin’ Stone,” one of his singles, became so popular that it went on to influence the name of the major music magazine as well as one of the most famous rock bands to date.

Later Career

By 1951, Muddy Waters had established a full band with Otis Spann on piano, Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on second guitar and Elgin Evans on drums. The band's recordings were increasingly popular in New Orleans, Chicago and the Delta region in the United States, but it wasn't until 1958, when the group brought their electric blues sound to England, that Muddy Waters became an international star.

After the English tour, Waters's fan base expanded and began to catch the attention of the rock n’ roll community. His performance at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival was a particularly pivotal point in his career, as it caught the attention of a new fan base. Waters was able to adapt to the changing times, and his electric blues sound fit in well with the “love generation.”

Muddy Waters

Waters continued to record with rock musicians throughout the 1960s and ‘70s, and won his first Grammy Award in 1971 for the album They Call me Muddy Waters. After his 30-year run with Chess Records, he went his separate way in 1975, suing the record company for royalties after his final release with them: Muddy Waters Woodstock Album. Waters signed on with Blue Sky Label after the split. He then captivated audiences with his appearance in The Band's farewell performance, known as “The Last Waltz,” an exceptionally star-studded affair that was released as a film by Martin Scorsese in 1978.

Death and Legacy

By the end of his lifetime, Muddy Waters had garnered six Grammys as well as countless other honors. He died after suffering a heart attack on April 30, 1983, in Downers Grove, Illinois.

Since his death, Waters's contribution to the music world has continued to gain recognition. In 1987, Waters was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Five years later, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences awarded the musician a Lifetime Achievement Grammy Award. Additionally, some of the most recognizable names in music have named Muddy Waters as their single-greatest influence, including Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Jeff Beck and Johnny Winter.

Quick Facts

Birth Date:
May 26, 1926

Death Date:
September 21, 1991

  • He started playing the harmonica when he was five and began performing music on the streets as a teenager.
  • In 1946, Waters recorded some songs for Columbia Records. Soon after this, he started recording for Aristocrat Records. He also played guitar on the cuts “Little Anna Mae” and “Gypsy Woman”. He sang for the tracks “I Feel Like Going Home” and “I Can't Be Satisfied” which became huge hits.
  • Waters released the single “Juke” with Little Walter Jacobs. This was followed by the release of the singles “Sugar Sweet”, “Trouble No More”, “Don't Go No Farther”, “Got My Mojo Working” and “Forty Days and Forty Nights”.
  • Waters then recorded his last LP on Chess Records in 1975. The album titled The Muddy Waters Woodstock Album featured Pinetop Perkins, Bob Margolin, Paul Butterfield, Garth Hudson, and Levon Helm.
  • In 1969, Muddy Waters recorded the album titled Fathers and Sons that included performances by his longtime fans Paul Butterfield and Michael Bloomfield who had wanted to work with Waters from a long time. This album was the most successful work of Waters’ music career.
  • In 1980, he was inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame. Then in 1987, he was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.
  • Muddy Waters
  • Muddy Waters
  • Muddy Waters


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Last Updated

January 2021

Original Published Date

January 2021

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