Muddy Waters - Guitar Heroes A-Z

Born in Jug’s Corner, Mississippi, in 1915, Muddy Waters (1915-1983, born McKinley Morganfield) was, to say the least, an important historical link between the acoustic and electric blues movements. It would be more accurate to say he almost single-handedly led the charge to bridge the two styles. He played acoustic in the Mississippi Delta. Then, in 1945, he headed north to Chicago, where he soon became the leader of the city’s South Side electric blues movement. A large and imposing man, Waters dominated the stage, the scene, and the entire city in all things blues. He had talented contemporaries and rivals such as Howlin’ Wolf and Sonny Boy Williamson II, but no single person is more associated with the Chicago sound than Muddy.

With a style that included percussive, stinging single-note Delta riffs and an aggressive bone-chilling slide technique, a big raspy singing voice, and a commanding stage presence, Waters had everything going for him. He went on to enjoy a long and prolific career both on stage and in the studio. He played a Telecaster (often capoed) on which Fender amp knobs were installed in place of the stock ones, and he wore a metal slide on his fretting-hand pinky.

Waters had two hit songs, “Mannish Boy” and “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man,” that used a variation of the traditional blues technique of call-and-response (a musical practice with roots in the field hollers and work camp songs of the Delta). They both became blues anthems and the basis for numerous other songs (such as George Thorogood’s “Bad to the Bone”). The example shown here incorporates both the “Mannish” and “Hoochie” licks, and you can see how the open spaces created by these stop-time riffs welcome wailing vocal solos or blasting instrumental licks. Just don’t get the two licks confused, because each is typically played in rhythmic unison with the rest of the band!