Legendary Urban Bluesmen

Muddy Waters

Muddy Waters

A new resurgence of blues power arrived in Chicago in 1943 with the appearance of McKinley Morganfield, also known as Muddy Waters. Waters was an authentic delta bluesman, learning from Son House, one of the first blues artists in the tradition of Charley Patton.

When traveling folklorist Alan Lomax came to Mississippi to record Son House and Robert Johnson for the Library of Congress in 1941 (the news of Johnson’s death hadn’t reached Washington, D.C.), he also recorded a 26 year old sharecropper who had doubts about his skills. Lomax’s recordings of the young artist convinced Morganfield to leave the cotton plantations of Mississippi for Chicago.

By 1948, Morganfield had made major changes in his life: he changed his name to Muddy Waters, took up the electric guitar, and signed a recording contract with fledgling independent record label, Chess Records. His first single “I Can’t Be Satisfied” sold out the few hundred copies in one day, a remarkable feat for an unknown artist with an indie label.


Urban Blues – Electric Guitar with Backup

Chess Records agreed to allow Muddy Waters to record his entire band in the next sessions, and the Chicago blues sound was born. In addition to Waters’ electric guitar was a standup string bass, piano, drums, rhythm guitar and amplified harmonica. The raw, sexual tension of delta bluesmen, Charley Patton and Robert Johnson was reborn in the Chicago blues sound of Muddy Waters, his rival Howlin’ Wolf, and Elmore James.

During the decade of the 1950’s, no blues artist had the success of Waters. An endless stream of songs, including “Got My Mojo Workin’,” “I’m Your Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Just Want to Make Love to You” provided standards for blues artists from Memphis to England. One of the major British bands even named their group after a Muddy Waters’ song –“Rollin’ Stone.”

A different type of blues sound came from the slide guitar of Elmore James. James was one more in a long line of Mississippi delta bluesmen who traveled north to Chicago in the early 50’s. If Muddy Waters was directly influenced by Son House and Charley Patton, Elmore James was guided by the sound of Robert Johnson, whom he met at age 19 in the final year of Johnson’s life.

James’ first hit recording was a Johnson song, “Dust My Broom,” which he had presented in a more aggressive, amplified way. The unique bottleneck slide guitar sound of Elmore James became a key characteristic of his recordings and became an influence on early rock guitarists like Keith Richards (from the Rolling Stones), Eric Clapton and Jimi Hendrix. James’ power “wah-wah-wah-wah” electric slide guitar was the first step in the path of lead guitar experimentation which eventually exploded into the fuzz tone and distortion of Jeff Beck of the Yardbirds and Jimmy Page of Led Zeppelin.

Chicago or Memphis blues were based on the rural blues sound of the Mississippi delta, but were given power amplification and a driving, raucous beat provided by non-traditional blues instruments such as trumpets, pianos and drums. The AAB rhyming scheme and strict 12 bar blues formula of rural blues was bent and eventually broken.

The second wave of blues popularity was rarely noticed in America outside the black blues community.

The slide guitar style of Elmore James’ “Dust My Broom”

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Study Units

An Overview

Ch. 1: Understanding Pitch

Ch. 2: Understanding Musical Pulse

Ch. 3: Understanding Volume

Ch. 4: Understanding Tone

Ch. 5: Understanding Melody

Ch. 6: Understanding Harmony

Ch. 7: Understanding Rhythm

Ch. 8: Understanding Bass

Ch. 9: Understanding Countermelody

Ch. 10: Understanding Structure

Ch. 11: Understanding Instrumentation

Ch. 12: Understanding Tempo

An Overview

Ch. 1: 19th Century: Pre-Foster

Ch. 2: Folk Music by the People

Ch. 3: Popular Music in its Infancy

Ch. 4: Stephen Foster – “Father of American Popular Music”

Ch. 5: The Importance of Stephen Foster

Ch. 6: Scott Joplin – “King of Ragtime”

Ch. 7: The Player Piano – Automated Music

Ch. 8: John Philip Sousa – “The March King”

Ch. 9: John Philip Sousa – Recording Artist and Activist

An Overview

Ch. 1: John Lomax – Recording American Roots Music

Ch. 2: Woody Guthrie – “Father of Modern American Folk Music”

Ch. 3: Leadbelly & Pete Seeger: End of the First Wave

Ch. 4: The Kingston Trio – Beginning of the Second Wave

Ch. 5: Joan Baez – “First Lady of Folk Music”

Ch. 6: Peter, Paul & Mary – Balancing the Message

Ch. 7: Robert Zimmerman – The Beginning of an American Icon

Ch. 8: Dylan in New York City

Ch. 9: Dylan after Newport

Ch. 10: The Importance of Dylan

Ch. 11: Folk Music in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: The Roots of Country

Ch. 2: Bristol Beginnings

Ch. 3: The Grand Ole Opry

Ch. 4: Cowboys and the Movies

Ch. 5: Western Swing

Ch. 6: Bluegrass: Hillbilly on Caffeine

Ch. 7: Honky-tonk: Merging Two into One

Ch. 8: The Nashville Sound: Country-Pop

Ch. 9: Rockabilly – Country meets R&B

Ch. 10: Country Feminists Find Their Voice

Ch. 11: The Bakersfield Sound

Ch. 12: Austin “Outlaw” Country

Ch. 13: Neo-Traditionalists at the end of the 20th Century

Ch. 14: Mainstreaming Country in the ‘90s

Ch. 15: Redesigning Country in the 21st Century

An Overview

Ch. 1: What is Jazz?

Ch. 2: Before It Was Jazz

Ch. 3: Jazz is Born!

Ch. 4: Early Jazz Musicians

Ch. 5: Louis Armstrong

Ch. 6: Chicago and Harlem – Hub of 1920s Jazz

Ch. 7: Big Band – Jazz Swing!

Ch. 8: Big Band Musicians and Singers

Ch. 9: Jump Blues and Bop

Ch. 10: Cool Jazz

Ch. 11: Hard Bop

Ch. 12: Free Jazz – Breaking the Rules

Ch. 13: Fusion – The Jazz-Rock-Funk Experience

Ch. 14: Third Stream and World Jazz

Ch. 15: New Age & Smooth Jazz

Ch. 16: Summary – Jazz Lives!

An Overview

Ch. 1: Blues – The Granddaddy of American Popular Music

Ch. 2: Where Did the Blues Come From?

Ch. 3: What Are the Blues?

Ch. 4: How to Build the Blues

Ch. 5: Classic Blues – The Early Years

Ch. 6: Delta Blues – Authentic Beginnings

Ch. 7: Blues in the City – Migration and Power

Ch. 8: Blues in Britain – Redefining the Masters

Ch. 9: Contemporary Blues – Maturity and Respect

Ch. 10: The Relevancy of the Blues Today

Ch. 1: Timelines, Cultures & Technology

Ch. 2: Pre-Rock Influences

Ch. 3: Rock is Born!

Ch. 4: Rock is Named

Ch. 5: Doo-Wop

Ch. 6: Independent Record Labels

Ch. 7: Technology Shapes Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 8: The Plan to Mainstream Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Payola – Rock ‘n’ Roll’s First Scandal

Ch. 1: Crafting Sound in the Studio/Producers and Hit Songs

Ch. 2: West Coast Sound: Beach, Surf, and Teens

Ch. 3: The British Invasion: Two Prongs – Pop & Blues

Ch. 4: Motown and the Development of a Black Pop-Rock Sound

Ch. 5: Soul Music: Gospel and R&B in the Deep South

Ch. 6: The Sounds of Bubble Gum Pop-Rock

Ch. 7: The Arrival of Folk-Rock

Ch. 8: Psychedelic Rock ‘n’ Roll

Ch. 9: Early Guitar Gods of Rock

Ch. 10: Rock Festivals: The Rise and Fall of Music, Peace, and Love

Ch. 11: Anti-Woodstock and Shock Rock Movements

Ch. 1: Technological Breakthroughs

Ch. 2: Electronic Dance Music

Ch. 3: Hip-Hop & Rap – An Introduction

Ch. 4: The Beginnings of Rap

Ch. 5: Old School Rap – Up From the Streets

Ch. 6: Rap’s Golden Age

Ch. 7: East Coast – Political Rap

Ch. 8: West Coast – Gangsta Rap

Ch. 9: The Fragmentation of Rap – Pop, Party & More

Ch. 10: Further Fragmentation – Different Directions

Ch. 11: The Importance of Rap

Ch. 1: Musical Stage Productions in America before the 1800s

Ch. 2: Minstrel Shows and Melodramas

Ch. 3: Stage Presentations in the Late 19th Century

Ch. 4: Early 20th Century: Revues and Operettas

Ch. 5: The Arrival of the Modern American Musical

Ch. 6: Great Partnerships in Book-Musicals

Ch. 7: Musical Theatre Composers in the mid-Century

Ch. 8: Fresh Voices on the Stage in the 1960s

Ch. 9: Two Dominant Forces at the End of the Century

Ch. 10: New Voices at the End of the Century

Ch. 11: New Voices, New Sounds in the New Century

Ch. 12: Musical Theatre Glossary

Ch. 13: Is it “Theatre” or “Theater”?

Study Units also have “Playdecks” – containing hundreds of chronologically organized audio examples of music in the study units, and “Study Qs” for unit chapters.

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