So, Who Did Muddy Waters Steal From?

Mack asks me questions like that, just to get me going.  I never, of course, ask him any questions just to watch him go off.

But this is actually an interesting question, one easily addressed, thanks to John Work III, in a book I happen to have right in front of me–Lost Delta Found.  (And may I just point out that the Holiday sale price of that book is incredibly, generously, low, and must have been decided by a person of such great character and kindness that I took her out to lunch today to Qdoba, where she had a pork burrito and mourned the fact that they were all out of chocolate brownies?)–we can answer that question.

Morganfield’s influences, by his own admission, were Son House–“His musical career began with a harmonica, but after listening to “Son” House play the guitar, there developed within him an ambition he could not restrain to play that instrument.”  (p. 118).  (That’s Work’s phrasing and it’s so delicious.  I about want to run out and develop within me an ambition I cannot restrain.)–and Robert Johnson.  The first song he learned on the guitar was “How Long Blues” and he was “in great demand among the plantation folk, both Negro and white.”  (p. 119).  The white dancers wanted to hear old reels, though they did enjoy it when he performed the “St. Louis Blues.”  Work reports, “Muddy water would like to join the church but to do so would mean abandoning his guitar–a sacrifice too dear to make now.”

6 thoughts on “So, Who Did Muddy Waters Steal From?

  1. I don’t suppose we know who, if anyone, influenced Muddy’s stage presence. Because, obviously, it wasn’t Son House. I wonder whether there are accounts of him modeling himself after (reports of) Robert Johnson onstage? Because I like to think Johnson was this intensely sexy presence, but I have my doubts.

  2. Ha, NM, I’m having such a cruddy day that the thought of speculating about Waters’ stage presence fills me with great delight! Especially if we can then speculate on Johnson’s stage presence.

    What was that documentary where Johnny Shines is talking about touring around the country with Robert Johnson? He talks there at one point about him and Johnson playing in a white club in Illinois or them playing on the side of the road to raise money to get to some place.

    The point is that, to me, after hearing Shines talk, I had an idea of Johnson’s live performances as being an interesting spectacle but more showman than sex god, just because the reception of “sex god” among the broad audience he had was bound to be problematic.

    But Morganfield is a different case. In 1940, he was in your hometown and then he was with the Silas Green Show before he came back to Coahoma County where Lomax and Work ran into him.

    That style of performing had to be pretty wide-spread among black musicians because we know that Elvis was watching men with that kind of stage presence in Memphis in the late 40s early 50s.

    But I don’t know enough about who Waters might have seen to say “Oh, so that’s where he got that!”

    Mack is always claiming to be old. Perhaps Morganfield borrowed it from him?


  3. I had an idea of Johnson’s live performances as being an interesting spectacle but more showman than sex god

    Yah, me too. I didn’t remember the Johnny Shines thing but that has to be where I got it from.

    Muddy … “sex god” is wrong. Elvis wanted to be a sex god: “look at me up here being the epitome of lust.” But Muddy Waters just was sexy. He was so self-confident about it that he could just tell you and you’d believe it.

    Sorry, I had to go fan myself for a minute. I’m sure he got the style from someone, somewhere. I just know it wasn’t from Son House, is all. Mack? Well, Mack’s old, but I’m even older. And I’m pretty sure I’m not that old.

  4. Although I haven’t marinated in this topic as much as the rest of you, I’d vote that some of his posturing probably came from someone in church somewhere. All Southern music has influence that goes back to the church hymns. And some of those black churches get awfully funky in their spirituality. I imagine they did back in the day as well.

  5. Years ago, before Summer Lights went belly-up, I went with a friend of mine not knowing who all, except the headliners, was going to be there. Imagine our delight when we saw Johnny Shines on the schedule! Despite the fact that fewer than 50 people turned up to see him at a festival that attracted tens of thousands, he put on one hell of a show. Those of us who saw it were lucky. Those of you who were there but went to see whatever cookie-cutter Music Row hat act was on the main stage, well, you got what you deserved.

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