3/6/12 - muddy waters and willie dixon

In today's excerpt - in the 1930s and 1940s, the great diaspora of poor Americans from the south to the cities of the North and West brought the blues of young, musically ferocious guitarists like B.B. King and Muddy Waters from Mississippi to cities like Memphis and Chicago. With that move came a transition from acoustic to electric guitar, and a sound that formed the muscular roots of rock and roll:

"In 1943, four years before B.B. King departed the Delta, a young singer/guitarist named McKinley Morganfield headed for Chicago after a 1941 field recording session with Alan Lomax, which resulted in a second session the following year. Like B.B. and Howlin' Wolf, Morganfield also had a nickname: Muddy Waters was the tag his grandmother had given him as a child growing up on the Stovall Plantation, just outside Clarksdale, Mississippi. Waters believed his chances of becoming a commercial recording artist were better up north than in Mississippi or even Memphis, so he joined the black movement out of the South, arriving in Chicago determined to make his blues mark.

"It didn't take long. A singer with a rough-hewn voice that belied his youth, Waters also played a mean, slashing guitar that was at once angry and arrogant. His chords and bottleneck slide-guitar riffs were direct descendants of the sounds he heard from Son House, Willie Brown, Charley Patton, Robert Johnson, and other first-generation Delta bluesmen. Yet, something in Muddy Waters's delivery was new and refreshing, something that came from the past but was now clearly lodged in the blues present—and future.

"It was one thing for Muddy Waters ... to play house-rent parties and the occa­sional club with his acoustic guitar as accompaniment. It was clearly another when Waters got hold of an electric guitar and began playing with a band. What resulted made American blues history: the true transformation of the music, from a singular, lonely rural sound to a lively urban one that filled dance floors in South Side clubs, that ripped the heart out of any blues sen­timentality that might have been wafting in the air, and that opened the door to a brand-new blues sound. In time, Muddy's blues redefined the music in contemporary terms, helping to give birth to rock & roll in the early Fifties, to inspire countless young British guitarists to play the blues in the early Sixties, to keep the blues alive in the Seventies—one of its leanest decades—and to forever change the face of American music, since no pop or roots form could escape the blues' reach for long. ...

"His recording career really got going the following year, when blues pianist Sunnyland Slim arranged for Waters to record for Leonard and Phil Chess, two Jewish immigrant brothers who had recently started a record company called Aristocrat, which later became Chess. ...

"And then there was Willie Dixon, who often played bass behind Waters. A big, round man with a warm heart and a comforting smile, Dixon also had the best ears in the blues business. Born in Vicksburg, Mississippi, Dixon came to Chicago in 1936 and pursued a career as a professional boxer before turning to music full time. ... A superb songwriter, Dixon supplied Waters with the material that became his biggest Chess hits, including the 1954 landmark number 'Hoochie Coochie Man.' "


Edited by Robert Santelli, Holly George-Warren, and Jim Brown


American Roots Music


Harry N. Abrams, Inc


Copyright 2001 GingerGroup Production Inc and Rolling Stone Press


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