An upbeat if limited biography of the great blues singer and guitarist.
Born McKinley A. Morganfield in 1913, he was raised on the Stovall plantation near Clarksdale, Mississippi, by a grandmother who nicknamed him Muddy. Music journalist and documentary filmmaker Gordon (It Came From Memphis, not reviewed) impresses with his portrait of Muddy's early years, seeming equally knowledgeable about Delta geography, sharecropping finances, and early bottleneck slides. Muddy picked cotton, trapped furs, and helped bootleggers by day while learning the blues at night from Son House and Robert Johnson. The text focuses on music, covering Muddy’s first marriage in one paragraph but devoting a complete chapter to his famous 1941 Fisk University/Library of Congress “folklore” recording. After Muddy moves to Chicago in 1943, this focus causes confusion; so many people play in his band (a showcase for talented members who often left to become headliners) or live in his large, friendly home that his personal life becomes a disconcerting blur. Playing street corners, house parties, and clubs like the Zanzibar, Muddy became a top blues man and attracted the finest musicians. His band was best as a quintet of two guitars, harmonica, drum, and piano, and it was most productive from 1947 to 1955, when the hits “Mannish Boy,” “Rolling Stone,” and “Hoochie Coochie Man” were recorded by the Chess brothers, Polish-Jewish immigrants who had expanded from nightclubs into the music business. The blues took a commercial hit from the rise of rock ’n’ roll in the mid-’50s, but popularity in Europe and at the Newport Jazz Festival (beginning in 1960) kept Muddy working, and he gradually became a revered elder statesman. In the ’70s, he played Carnegie Hall and the Carter White House, touring with Eric Clapton before cancer took his life in 1983.
Excellent on the music, sketchy on the life. (16 pages b&w photos, not seen)