The earliest known photograph of Muddy Waters is with his first true love; the first recording he ever made. It would be a beautiful and lasting relationship, Muddy and blues records. He would of course become one of the most influential musicians ever to strike a chord.
Hollywood is late in telling the Muddy Waters story with the release this weekend of "Cadillac Records", but music writers have been telling his story for decades. Still, it took a long time for a proper biography to emerge.
"Muddy Waters usually told people that he was born in Rolling Fork, Mississippi," begins Robert Gordon's 2002 biography of Muddy called "Can't Be Satisfied".
Rolling Fork is where the train stopped, where Muddy's family would get their mail and do their shopping. Rolling Fork was on the map. But Muddy's actual birthplace is to the west and north of there, in the next county over -- Issaquena, pronounced "Essaquena," the initial "e" the only thing soft in this hard land."
On Wednesday, December 3rd at 10:30 a.m., Rolling Fork once again will be called the birthplace of Muddy Waters, this time by the state of Mississippi with another historic marker along the growing blues trail. Waters already has a marker in his name in Clarksdale, six miles from where he grew up at the Stovall Plantation, where he lived and worked and learned to play the delta blues by watching and listening to his idol Son House.
Later, Gordon writes inaccuracies in Muddy's life story were not uncommon, sometimes with Muddy acting as the innacurate source:
"Although his parents never married, the child was given his father's last name: McKinley A. Morganfield. In years to come, after he moved to Chicago, Muddy usually told people he was born in 1915, oddly shaving only two years off his age (if his goal was to appear younger for the entertainment field). He thus became a man born in a year he wasn't born in, from a town where he wasn't born, carrying a name he wasn't born with."
That nickname, Muddy Waters, was given to him by his grandmother, Della Grant. And that is the name that today the world remembers him by. Whether the world remembers that he actually was born a county away from Rolling Fork, at a bend in the road next to the Cottonwood Plantation in an area known as Jug's Corner is of little consequence. Robert Johnson, after all, lays claim to three burial sites. Giving Muddy two birth sites is the least the blues world can do.
Click to hear Robert Gordon October 3, 2002 interview on NPR.
Click to hear Muddy's "Mannish Boy"