The remarkable life of a blues icon
It's a long way from Stovall, Mississippi, to the South Side of Chicago. Yet once Muddy Waters had his fill of sharecropping and made the trek north in 1943, he would embark on a legendary career that established him as a pre-eminent American bluesman. Veteran music writer and Memphis resident Robert Gordon has written a well-documented, anecdote-filled biography of Waters (born McKinley Morganfield) in Can't Be Satisfied, a book that also functions as a mini-history of American blues, focusing on Waters contemporaries such as Howlin' Wolf, Willie Dixon and Big Bill Broonzy, as well as the important recording work accomplished at Chicago's Chess Studios. Waters first came to the attention of folklorist Alan Lomax, who made some vital yet primitive recordings of his distinctive slide-guitar stylings in 1941. When Waters finally left his hardscrabble Mississippi Delta roots behind, he became an icon of the blues world, with all the attendant adulation and personal ups and downs that status entails. Gordon's compellingly written narrative captures Waters' amazing life on the road, the incredible cast of generally unknown but gifted sidemen who surrounded him, including pianist Otis Spann, harmonica player Little Walter and guitarist Jimmy Rogers, as well as the local color of life in the Windy City, where the blues was revered but remained almost a cultish pursuit until British rockers like The Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton brought international attention to it in the 1960s. In many ways, modern-day gangsta-rappers have nothing on Waters, who often held court over a music culture characterized by cash money, guns, booze, a welter of wives and lovers, and often-illegitimate offspring. Yet while many of his contemporaries were left by the wayside imprisoned, victimized by drugs or just plain tired of the life Waters persevered, continuing to sing and play almost to his death in 1983 at the age of 70. The blues were around way before I was born, Waters once said. They'll always be around. Long as people hurt, they'll be around. Gordon's book captures this truth in riveting fashion, providing a portrait of a man who was certainly no saint but was, without question, an essential and vastly influential artist. The book's extensive footnotes offer a treasure trove of interesting facts and fascinating stories about the American blues scene. The volume also includes a brief but poignant foreword by Keith Richards and 16 pages of black-and-white photos.