Monday, July 21, 2008

Muddy Waters

The Second City takes top billing this weekend, as the staff here at will be hitting up the great city of Chicago for my buddy Foley's stag. It promises to be one of those legendary, debauchery-filled weekends with a game plan that includes blues bars and bleacher seats, and a roll-call of attendees that reads like a murderer's row of noteworthy dotcomrades.

To honour all that the City of Chicago has to offer, we'll be paying tribute to a different famous son (of which there are almost too many to count) everyday here on the blog.

Despite the fact that he was born McKinley Morganfield in Issaquena County, Mississippi, nobody better captures the Chicago electric blues sound than Muddy Waters. I've often contended that if you wanted to show someone the best that American culture had to offer and you only had a day in which to do it, you'd be best served sitting that person in the bleachers at Wrigley field for a Saturday afternoon game with a dog and a beer, and then taking them to go see Muddy Waters in a smoky blues club that night.

Not only is Muddy Waters "the father of Chicago Blues"; in so many ways, he is the blues. The Mannish Boy beat is to blues music what the Bo Diddley beat is to Rock and Roll (mainly, the heartbeat), and nobody did more to bring American Blues music to the mainstream than Muddy (with his staggering influence on British rockers, who in turn brought their brand of blues music back to the U.S.). The scope of his influence is no more obvious than in the fact that the Rolling Stones took their name from one of his songs.

There would be no Led Zeppelin without Muddy Waters. There would be no Eric Clapton without Muddy Waters. Hell, even the wedding reception air-guitar standard You Shook Me All Night Long is a title AC/DC borrowed from Muddy's You Shook Me. Muddy Waters was the first true rock star (fast cars, hot girls, slick clothes, killer pompadour), and he wasn't even playing what we conventionally refer to as rock and roll.

Long Distance Call; particularly the version found on Muddy & The Wolf; is one of the all-time infedelity epilogues ("When I picked up my receiver, the party said there's another mule kickin' in your stall"), and you should not be at all surprised if you find yourself at some point in your life sitting in my living room with a bottle of Bourbon between us and Muddy's The Real Folk Blues spinning on the turntable at 4:30 in the morning. The man and his music are easily worthy of that distinction, and then some.

Willie Dixon has famously said: "The blues is the roots; everything else is the fruits".

By no means was Muddy Waters the first blues musician; but he was certainly the best.

Postscript: It should be noted that Muddy Waters beat out the following Chicago-based musicians for the coveted distinction of headlining this entry:

- Sam Cooke (if I could have anyone's voice, dead or alive, it would be Sam Cooke's)
- Howlin' Wolfe
- Curtis Mayfield
- Bo Diddley
- Ray Manzarek
- Willie Dixon
- Benny Goodman
- Tom Morello
- Koko Taylor
- Buddy Guy
- Patti Smith
- R. Kelly
- Herbie Hancock
- Billy Corgan
- Kanye West

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