My grandmother didn’t buy hardly anything but church songs, but I got hold of some records with my little nickels, and borrowed some, listened to them very, very carefully. Texas Alexander and Barbecue Bob and Blind Lemon Jefferson and Blind Blake — they was my thing to listen to. And to get down to the heavy thing, you go into Son House, Charlie Patton. Roosevelt Sykes been playing at ‘Forty-Four Blues’ on the piano, I thought that’s the best I ever heard. And then here come Little Brother Montgomery with ‘Vicksburg Blues,’ and I say, ‘Goodgodamighty, these cats going wild.’ ”
At that time,” Muddy said, “seem like everybody could play some kind of instrument and there were so many fellers playing in the jukes ’round Clarksdale I can’t remember them all. But the best we had to my ideas was Sonny House. He used to have a neck of a bottle over his little finger, touch the strings with that and make them sing. That’s where I got the idea from.”
“Saturday night is your big night. Everybody used to fry up fish and have one hell of a time. Find me playing till sunrise for fifty cents and a sandwich. And be glad of it. And they really liked the low-down blues.” At their first gig, Muddy and Bohaner were given a dollar and half a pint of moonshine between them; they each got their own fish sandwich.
Gordon, Robert. Can’t Be Satisfied
“Every country has its own music,” Muddy Waters said, getting to the heart of authenticity, “and I got the Delta sound. There’s so many musicians, they can sing and play the guitar so good, but they can’t get that sound to save their life. They didn’t learn that way. That’s the problem. They learned another way, and they just can’t get it.”
Junior Wells credited Muddy Waters with his success. “Muddy showed me how to carry myself around people and to remember that didn’t nobody owe me nothin’ and knowin’ not to get the big head or anything like that,” Wells told Living Blues. “He told me it could take sometime years to get a thing to go for yourself and then sometime you could get it quicker than that and then lose the same thing overnight. He’d say, ‘Always remember, whatever you do, do not disrespect the public.’
Muddy Waters: “I first ran into Willie Dixon in about 1947, when he was working for the Big Three Trio — ‘Early In The Morning’ was a great big record going for him then,”
“‘Hoochie Coochie Man’, he brought that to me. I was in the dressing room. I learned it in over a minute and went back on the stage and sung it. The house went crazy…I knew it was a big thing for me then. Willie’s songs fit me but not his bass. He played nice bass but not Muddy Waters style. Ernest Crawford, Big Crawford, he was on ‘I Can’t Be Satisfied’ back then — HE had that Muddy Waters sound.”
Bonnie Raitt: “I can’t pick a favourite,” “It would be like picking your favourite kid. John Lee and Muddy, those two were as happy a version of a bluesman as you’ll ever meet. Muddy was just fantastic and dignified, very smart, a great sense of humour, really good to his band. Beloved for a reason, y’know? You can just see from the footage of him on stage what a great guy he was. I remember a lot of laughing. He drank champagne and he loved being on the road. We toured for many years, until he passed away.
Muddy’s blues sounded simple, but it was so deeply rooted in the traditions of the Mississippi Delta that other singers and guitarists found it almost impossible to imitate it convincingly. “My blues looks so simple, so easy to do, but it’s not,” Mr. Waters said in a 1978 interview. “They say my blues is the hardest blues in the world to play.”
“In a 1971 interview, Paul Butterfield allowed that when Muddy Waters first invited him onto the bandstand, he wasn’t yet a master of much, “But everybody there was saying, ‘Yeah, go ahead man, out of sight!’ They were humoring me, but that was okay because if they had said, ‘Please, man, come on, stop,’ I might never have gone on.” In a joint interview with Waters and Butterfield that Downbeat featured as a cover story in 1969, Muddy remembered of his young charge, “He wasn’t too good when I first noticed him, but he got good…And you always had this particular thing, this something that everybody don’t have, this thing you’re born with, this touch. ‘Cause you used to sing this little song and have the joint going pretty good. As soon as you’d walk in, I’d say ‘You’re on next, man.”
“I play in mostly standard tuning,” said Muddy, “because it’s tough if you’re waiting in between songs to tune to G or A. And I’m too lazy to carry two or three guitars around like Johnny Winter.” Muddy favored strings made by Gibson. “I got a heavy hand,” he said. “A lot of guys want to squeeze and bend their strings up, like B. B., so they have the strings real low. My strings are heavy, like a .012 or a .013 for the first one [the skinniest one, nearest his toes] up to .056 for the last [the one nearest his face]. I don’t need to worry about bending, because I can slide so high up there.” One of his tricks was to replace the wound third string with a plain .o22-gauge. Muddy used a short slide on his pinky finger because he never needed to cover more than three strings — usually just one. Winter explained, “Sometimes I play a whole chord [covering all six strings], so the size of the slide makes a difference.” As crucial as a guitar is to defining a player’s sound, Muddy put the emphasis on the amplifier: “I think on any guitar, if I could make a note on it, you could still know it’s Muddy,” he said.
As crucial as a guitar is to defining a player’s sound, Muddy Waters put the emphasis on the amplifier: “I think on any guitar, if I could make a note on it, you could still know it’s Muddy,” he said. “But I really can’t do nothing with other people’s guitars. A lot of the sound is the amp. I’d rather always use my own amplifier. It’s the Fender with the four ten-inch speakers, the Super. Even if I forgot my own guitar and had to borrow one, I could make the sound come out of that amplifier. I don’t like the Twin — different sound. I like some of Johnny’s amps. They’re Music Mans and them little guys is tough.” (Wheeler, “Waters–Winter”) Bob Margolin said, “Muddy ran his amps with all the knobs set on nine and no reverb or tremolo, controlling his volume from the guitar.” “Muddy loved that real trebly Telecaster sound,” said Johnny, “and he got a great sound out of his treble pickup. Sometimes during a verse, maybe just going into the turnaround, he will switch the toggle from the bass or middle position to full treble and just let ’em have it. Muddy would tune his guitar to an E chord and put his capo wherever it needed to go.
“You can’t exaggerate how distinctive Muddy’s playing is,” Johnny continued. “In my band, if I stop playing, the main feeling keeps on going, but when Muddy stops, the whole feeling can change.” (Wheeler, “Waters–Winter.”) “When I play on the stage with my band,” Muddy confirmed, “I have to get in there with my guitar and try to bring the sound down to me. But no sooner than I quit playing, it goes back to another, different sound. My blues looks so simple, so easy to do, but it’s not. They say my blues is the hardest blues in the world to play.”
from Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters