Muddy Waters was always big. Now, he’s even bigger

10-story mural of Waters unveiled in Chicago

By Frederick H. Lowe

Chicago will unveil a 10-story mural in The Loop of Muddy Waters, the influential blues legend, on Thursday, the  day before the opening of the annual Blues Fest, which begins a three-day run June 9 in Millennium Park.

Muddy Waters mural

The mural, which is located on the side of a building at 17 N. State (State and Washington) was painted by Eduardo Kobra, a Brazilian muralist, who also has painted a mural of reggae superstar Bob Marley.

The Waters mural is part of the Columbia College Chicago and Wabash Area Corridor Big Walls public art project in the South Loop. The Muddy Waters Legacy Band, which includes two of Waters’ sons, will perform during dedication ceremony.

Waters, who was born Mckinley Morganfield, on April 4, 1913, grew up on the Stovall Plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi. He began playing the guitar and the harmonica, emulating Son House and Robert Johnson. In 1943, he moved to Chicago to become a full-time musician, early on playing house parties.

His band, whose members included Little Walter Jacobs on harmonica, Jimmy Rogers on guitar, Elgin Evans on drums and Otis Spann on piano, recorded blues classics including “Hootchie Coochie Man” and “Just Want to Make Love to You.” Some of the songs were recorded with bassist and songwriter Willie Dixon.

In 1958, Waters and his band toured England, where they had some of their greatest success and influence.

The extent to which he would not be known for many years later when British rock and roll bands, which were part of the British Invasion, toured America singing and playing songs originally written by black artists, including Waters.

Prior to the British Invasion, songs by black artists weren’t played much or if at all on white-owned radio stations in the U.S. for many reasons.

Pat O’Day, general manager of KJR Seattle, Channel 95, told me, a Seattle- area native, decades ago that his radio station didn’t play many records by black-male artists because the music scared 15 year-old white girls. O’ Day made the comment while meeting with Voice of Christian Youth, which I was a member. It wasn’t just whites who didn’t like the blues. Some blacks, especially ministers, considered blues the “Devil’s music.”

Muddy Waters

Despite, the ban, Waters influence would only grow deeper.

The Rolling Stones, which considered itself the world’s greatest Rock N Roll band, named their group after Waters 1950 song Rolling Stone. The band Cream led by Eric Clapton covered “Rolling and Tumblin” in the group’s 1966 debut album “Fresh Cream.”

Waters has been honored at other locations in Chicago and in the suburbs. The one-block section between 900 and 1000 E. 43rd Street near his former home on Chicago’s South Side is named in his honor. In Westmont, Il., where Waters lived his final years, Cass Avenue near his home has been renamed Honorary Muddy Waters Way.

Waters died of heart failure in his sleep on April 3, 1983. He was 70.

 

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