BluEsoterica *** Jim O'Neal

In celebration of Muddy Waters' birthday

In celebration of Muddy Waters' birthday, April 4, 1913 (or 1915 as he claimed in his later years), I'm sharing a few documents and photos.

Here's his Social Security application from 1944 in Chicago:

In 1932 Muddy married Mabel Berry, whose brother Charles was a blues guitarist on the Stovall plantation. Both Muddy and Berry recorded for John W. Work III and Alan Lomax during the 1941-42 Library of Congress/Fisk University study. Muddy recalled that Robert Nighthawk played for his wedding reception. Here's the marriage record from the Coahoma County courthouse:


Muddy recorded a tune called Evan's [sic] Shuffle for Chess in Chicago in 1950. It was named in honor of popular WGES disc jockey, club owner and record dealer Sam Evans, we have read, but the name had another connotation at the time. Here is a flyer from 1950 for a coin-operated shuffle bowling game manufactured by H.C. Evans & Co. of Chicago:


Did you know that Muddy wrote album liner notes? I don’t know how much of this he actually said or wrote, but presumably he gave approval for it to be printed on the back of a 1967 album by the Sky Saxon Blues Band, which actually included some members of Muddy's band on the session, including Luther "Georgia Boy" Johnson, George "Harmonica" Smith and Mac Arnold. Saxon had enjoyed some garage band success with The Seeds but not much came of his Blues Band, despite the hype on the back by Muddy and Joe X. Price (who equates Saxon's talent to Muddy's).


Amy van Singel and I interviewed Muddy for Living Blues magazine and Amy’s radio show, Atomic Mama’s Wang-Dang-Doodle Blues Show. See the Muddy Waters chapter in our book, The Voice of the Blues. After one of our visits with Muddy, we received this photo and letter from his manager, Scott Cameron:


When I lived in Clarksdale, I often took visitors to see the house where Muddy once lived on the Stovall plantation. In 1996 the House of Blues chain leased the house, disassembled it, moved it and reassembled it, and took it on tour. Eventually the house came back home and now occupies a wing of the Delta Blues Museum. On May 7, 1996, when a crew arrived at Stovall to disassemble and remove the house, I staged a symbolic protest. 


Later that year when the House of Blues was opening its Chicago branch, they contracted me to send them 50 pounds of dirt from Muddy’s yard at Stovall. I only invoiced them for 25, which was all I could fit into a Rubbermaid container. Anyone know where that sacred soil is now?

April 5, 2020: Scott Dirks from Chicago replies:

You mention sending a container of dirt from around Muddy's cabin to the people at the House Of Blues in Chicago, and asked if anyone knows where the dirt is now.

I played a private party (along with Jimmie Lee Robinson, SP Leary, and Mojo Mark) at the H.O.B. the night before they opened. The guy behind the whole H.O.B. concept, Isaac Tigrett, addressed the crowd at one point that evening and said he'd had this Delta dirt brought up to Chicago, and scattered it underneath the stages during construction for added 'mojo' or words to that effect.
-- Scott Dirks

Thanks, Scott, that's good to know. I and Isaac Tigrett were invited to talk to a "Blues as History and Literature" seminar for college teachers taught by Bill Ferris through a National Endowment for the Humanities grant at Ole Miss in 1987. Tigrett spoke about what a great concept he had for the House of Blues and told everyone in attendance (including Bill and me): "I will do more for the blues than everyone in this room put together." He also said he was the one who spray painted the "Clapton Is God" graffiti on a wall in London.
-- Jim

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