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Muddy Waters


CAN'T BE SATISFIED: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters
• Robert Gordon  (Little, Brown & Co.)

Last month we reviewed It Came From Memphis, the first book by this same Memphis author. As illuminating as that was, this volume clearly marks the evolution of one of our most important music historians. Gordon spent five years researching and writing this landmark biography of one of the premier bluesmen in history. It's one of the books of the blues bible.

In college I knew a guy from Chicago who had a lot of the Muddy Waters music available at the time (early 70s) and I always found his music absolutely mesmerizing in its power, its raw sexuality, and almost otherwordly atmosphere. (It was certainly other than the world from whence I'd come.) The howl of Little Walter's chromatic harmonica playing in minor keys is to this day one of the spookiest things I've ever heard. Muddy's vocals and slide work continue to be widely emulated today. The Rolling Stones got their name from a song of his. (By the way, have you seen The Last Waltz lately? Muddy's version of "Mannish Boy" may be the high point of the whole affair.)

Gordon goes back to the places and the people that shaped or were shaped by the life of McKinley Morganfield. An illiterate farmhand on the Stovall Plantation in Rolling Fork, MS, he taught himself to play the harmonica and guitar and was mentored or influenced by giants of the blues like Son House, Robert Nighthawk, Robert Johnson, the Mississippi Sheiks, and many, many others. He was a consummate, relentless, and indefatigable womanizer, and that was nothing less than a driving force in his life.

After the field trips of the legendary Alan Lomax and John Work (whose nearly forgotten role is brought to greater light by the author) to the Stovall Plantation and surrounding area in 1942, Muddy and others began to glimpse a possible future in Kansas City or Chicago, and the drive to succeed and make a better life for themselves and their families brought many or most of the musicians of the Delta to the city. Muddy was one of the first artists to electrify the blues, which allowed it to drive the juke joints and bars of the South and then the West sides of Chicago. This gripping account of how that visceral, spine-tingling phenomenon eventually reached the entire world was very enlightening, and a rockin good time. More than recommended.  • FG

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