Muddy Waters was more or less the progenitor of Chicago blues, starting his career in 1941. He is not only known for his contributions to the blues, but also for his contributions to rock and roll. He helped legendary guitarist Chuck Berry to get his start, and he was one of the first musicians to ever make use of amplification. His electric guitar style was also a major influence on other guitarists such as Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix, and his song “Rollin’ Stone” later became the namesake of rock band the Rolling Stones. Waters even opened for ZZ Top in 1981, two years prior to his death.
Before Muddy Waters became one of the first musicians of the 1950s to become known for using an amplifier, he was an acoustic guitarist from Mississippi. He used a bottleneck slide, playing the melodic notes of his music on the upper strings of his guitar while he managed the bass line with his thumbs. His style was compared to that of the legendary Robert Johnson, but his nuanced style of guitar playing took on a new element when he began playing in Chicago. He started playing with a band, at first with nothing more than a harpist and a bass player. He also began to electrify his sound.
For as long as his career lasted, Muddy Waters had a relatively short list of albums. He released The Best of Muddy Waters in 1958, although he had already released a number of singles by then, such as “Rollin’ Stone,” “Walkin’ Blues,” “Hoochie Coochie Man,” “Baby Please Don’t Go,” “I Just Want to Make Love to You” and “Got My Mojo Working.” He started to release true studio albums in 1964, with Folk Singer. He then released Super Blues and Electric Mud in 1967 and 1968, although some of his best-known albums are Hard Again and I’m Ready, released in 1977 and 1978. The last studio album of his career was King Bee, released in 1981.
One of the most notable aspects of the influence that Muddy Waters had on the music scene was that his music was actually deceptively simplistic. He often operated on just three chords, but he managed to make them sound deep and unique when compared to the music being put out by other recording artists of his time. He had a depth of vocal quality that suited his blues style well, and he always worked with quality backing musicians to ensure that his songs had the full accompaniment that they deserved. Like many great musicians, he almost never worked alone.
Muddy Waters had an influence that could be said to extend to just about anyone who has ever been impacted by Chicago blues. His electric guitar and amplification, as well as his backbeats, helped the transition from blues to rock and roll that would occur in the decades following his initial arrival on the music scene, although he himself primarily kept to playing blues music. The genre has never been the same since he took control of it.
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