Saturday, April 4, 2009
The hardest blues in the world to play
The first CD I ever bought was Muddy Waters Greatest Hits. It wasn’t because I was a great blues fan, (I wasn’t reading pogge back then), I had bought my first car with a CD player, and my kids said I should start buying CDs. The cheapest one I could find with the most songs on it was Muddy Waters Greatest hits. For the next six months or so I listened to Muddy Waters every day. Not a bad way to start on the blues.
Muddy Waters was born in the Mississippi Delta on April 4, 1915. When Muddy was in his teens the Delta blues was dominated by Son House then in his early thirties and Robert Johnston in his early twenties. The story goes that Son House taught Robert Johnson to play the guitar or as House said, just a couple notes. If it is true that the music gets passed down then Muddy Waters learned from both of them. He had the voice of House and the guitar styling of Johnson.
It wasn’t until age 25 that he made his first trip to Chicago, playing with the Silas Green Minstrel Show. After that short stint he returned to the Delta where he opened a juke joint, where he might have remained playing every night if not for Alan Lomax and Library of Congress. Lomax made two recording sessions with Muddy. It must of been like the American Idol for bluesmen at the time. It was the first time that Muddy heard his own voice and he thought hey I can do it.
Two years later he moved to Chicago to become a part time professional musician. It was another two years before he got first electric guitar and his first recording contract with the precursor to Chess records. Now in his thirties the Muddy Waters band along with the Howlin Wolf band dominated the Chicago blues scene of the fifties. Their bands consisted of the best blues musicians of the era and spawned many solo careers.
Although his career waned in the sixties along with every other black man that played the blues, he had somewhat of a revival in the seventies, partly kindled by his performance at and in the Last Waltz, but primarily with the help of Johnny Winter who got Waters signed by his recording company. The two toured together on and off through the seventies, with Waters working until the year before his death in 1983 at the age of 68.
Waters is considered as the Father of Chicago Blues and is ranked as the 17th greatest artist of all time by Rolling Stone and today he would be 94.
The first video is from 1966 and this one is from the seventies, the band consists of Waters on vocal/guitar, Bob Margolin on Guitar, Willie "Big Eyes" Smith on drums, Jerry Portnoy on Harmonica and Luther "guitar" Johnson on guitar.
PS: I could never understand why Muddy Waters brought his own guitar player Bob Margolin to the Last Waltz. The Band was backing up everybody that day.
However in referencing this post Waters is quoted, commenting on the use of other musicians to play his blues. In describing top British musicians in the 70s that he recorded with, he said, These boys are top musicians, they can play with me, put the book before 'em and play it, you know. But that ain't what I need to sell my people, it ain't the Muddy Waters sound. An' if you change my sound, then you gonna change the whole man.
The Muddy Waters sound is described as Delta Blues Electrified, but his use of something called microtones or in other words music which contains intervals smaller than the conventional contemporary tones (the short pause) makes his sound distinctive and is apparently very difficult to play. Or as he told Rolling Stone magazine, When I plays onstage with my band, I have to get in there with my guitar and try to bring the sound down to me. But no sooner than I quit playing, it goes back to another, different sound. My blues look so simple, so easy to do, but it's not. They say my blues is the hardest blues in the world to play.
Don't know if that is the reason, maybe Rpbbie Robertson or Bob Margolin will anonymously leave a comment. Stranger things have happened in the past.