McKinley “Muddy Waters” Morganfield left Stovalls plantation outside Clarksdale for Chicago in 1943, drawn by the wartime boom in factory jobs. By the late 1940s his electrified rural delta style brought him success as a blues musician with hits such as “I Cant Be Satisfied” (1948). Having signed to Chess records, Waters’ started to enjoy the commercial success that his music allowed him. The audience responded, Marshall Chess recalled to R&B historian Arnold Shaw that “Waters hit the local crowds like Elvis Presley hit the rock n roll scene. .. On Saturday they’d line up ten deep”.(1)
Working in the fields of Mississippi Delta, Water’s was brought up surrounded by the “field hollers” that provided blues with its distinctive vocal textures. Amongst these were also a number of musicians who were able to begin to break free from the confines of working the fields. Arguably the most notable being that of Robert Johnson who created a body of work which summed up the Delta culture and sound. At first this received little attention outside of Delta but it did influence other blues musicians in the area such as Muddy Waters and this is evident in his early acoustic recordings such as “Country Blues”. Johnson’s recordings also inspired Alan Lomax to visit Delta on behalf of the Library of Congress in search of similar artists. After recording some early acoustic tracks with Lomax, Water’s was able to hear himself back and he later recalled that the experience of hearing himself on these records convinced him he could be a serious professional.(2)
Following this Water’s moved to Chicago where in the noisy and raucous clubs and nightspots, his country style had to change. The rural and acoustic sound of Delta was transformed into the edgy confident and adventurous shout of the black working class in the cities. In this regard Water’s music was powerfully representative of the changes in black life and American society during WW II.(3) Where T-Bone Walker used his electric sustain to mimic jazz horn lines, Water’s used it to strip his playing down to essentials, filling the space between notes.(4) In the late 1940’s this style is evident in recordings such as “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (1948). As popular as this style was, Waters managed to convince Chess records to record the with the band he’d been working with in live venues. This included Little Walter on harmonica and others on drums, string bass, electric rhythm guitar and piano which made up the “core” of the band. They recorded tracks together such as “Louisiana Blues” (1951) which demonstrates the evolution of Water’s style which had come along way from Alan Lomax’s recordings in 1941. The “core band” that Water’s created not only was successful but became the model for the modern rock band.(5)
By the early 1950’s, Water’s mix of electricity and rural roots was being exploited by a generation of southern players such as Lightnin’ Hopkins in Housten; Elmore James in Jackson and Sonny Boy Williamson in...