The Legacy of Muddy Waters
Published on 30 April 2021
On this day in 1983, the world lost a true innovator. A talent whose music was so relatable, powerful and distinctive that it not only stood the test of time, but shaped and inspired rock and blues music as we know it today. We are, of course, talking about the one and only Muddy Waters.
Inspired by his local hero Robert Johnson, Muddy picked up the guitar young and was writing music from an early age. His hooks in particular were never less than unforgettable, with the Rolling Stones even taking their name from one of his tracks. We thought today there’d be no better way to honour his legacy than to look at how much great music has come from it. Check out our favourite covers below:
Etta James - I Just Want To Make Love To You
Just reading the title of this track brings Etta’s roaring, timeless vocal to mind. Penned by legendary bass player Willie Dixon, Muddy recorded the original ‘Just Make Love to Me’ way back in 1953. Its chorus was always crying out for a cover and we couldn’t count how many bands have put their own spin on it.
For us though, no one quite comes close to Etta’s performance. She laid down her track in 1961, although it was later re-released in the ‘90s after being featured in an advert for Diet Coke! We’re quite sure Muddy didn’t see that coming back when he hit the studio with it but such is music. There is no blues standard more epic than this one, sit back and enjoy one of the greatest vocal performances ever recorded.
Rolling Stones - I Can't Be Satisfied
The Stones took a huge amount of influence from the blues pioneers, particularly at the start of their career. There was such a distinctive sound to those early records and a rawness that we absolutely love. The band actually recorded their version at Chess Studios in Chicago which was Muddy’s own label so you can’t knock them for authenticity!
According to Keith Richards, when they arrived at the studio they met a man in overalls who was up a ladder repainting the ceilings. That man turned out to be Muddy himself. Although the staff at Chess flat out deny this happened, who are we to question Keef’s memory…? Well, anyway... that aside, it makes a great story and we reckon the lads did the track justice!
Led Zeppelin - You Shook Me
You Shook Me initially began as one of blues guitarist Earl Hooker’s slide jams which Muddy fell in love with and overdubbed vocals onto. Muddy was a huge fan of Hooker’s and their styles worked beautifully together, resulting in one of the most unmistakable blues tracks ever laid on wax.
Now, Led Zep have been known for getting a bit cheeky with their crediting and of course, this is no different. The Jeff Beck Group had already laid down their own version by the time Led’s first album came out 9 months later, leading to a few disagreements upon its release. John Paul Jones who played organ on Beck’s version actually went on to lend his services to Led for theirs… Despite the band claiming they hadn’t heard Beck’s cover and just happened to have similar influences! As with most of these Zeppelin stories, we’re not sure we totally believe their account of what happened, but that doesn’t stop the music from being incredible. The guitar work on this track is just exceptional with Plant’s vocals showing incredible maturity for such a young age. Truly epic stuff.
The Allman Brothers - Trouble No More
First recorded by Muddy in 1955, Trouble No More is actually a cover in itself. Water’s couldn’t get enough of Sleepy John Estes ‘Someday Baby Blues’ which was released in 1935 and had to lay down his own variation. Adapting the origins to his own Chicago Blues style, the track was picked up by the Allman Brothers who recorded their version for their self-titled debut album which dropped in 1969.
It’s fascinating how perceptions can change and it’s worth noting that at the time bands like the Stones, Zep and the Allman Brothers were picking up these songs, blues had fallen way out of fashion. Groups such as the ones we’ve mentioned, along with artists such as Hendrix and the Doors brought new life to the genre, putting these now-classic tracks right back in the public eye. It’s amazing how music works sometimes… You never know where something you write is going to end up or what impact it’s going to have years down the line!
The Jeff Healy Band - Hoochie Coochie Man
We just had to finish here… Again starting out as a WIllie Dixon track, Hoochie Coochie Man became one of Muddy’s most well known hits. In fact, this track was a major factor in Dixon being asked to become Chess Record’s go-to songwriter! You can see why, with swagger way ahead of its time and a chorus that you never forget.
There are loads of amazing covers of Hoochie Coochie and while we have to give a shout out to the New York Dolls for their effort, Jeff Healy is who we're focusing on. The blind guitarist is an all time great and his appearance in the amazing, if utterly ridiculous Patrick Swayze film Roadhouse is all the proof you need. With his guitar on his lap, Jeff absolutely rocks a bar full of jeering rednecks, all the while ducking shards of glass as bottles are thrown against the fencing in front of him. When you think of guitarists in movies, his smooth performance always tops the list and it became a firm favourite at his live shows.
We’d thoroughly recommend diving into Muddy’s catalogue and we can pretty much bet that even those unfamiliar with his music will recognise most of it. There are few artists who can claim they had such an influence and we’ve no doubt that even today, there are still going to be some young up and comers who find a new way to interpret his music. Muddy’s voice and playing style set in motion the history of blues rock and for that, he’ll forever be a hero in our eyes.