From the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival, 8/3/03
CLARKSDALE - "Muddy made blues what it is today," biographer Robert Gordon, author of Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters, said before Clarksdale’s hometown tribute to the former Stovall Plantation tractor driver who became an international music celebrity.
Speaking from his home in Memphis before his appearance at the Delta Blues Museum and the Sunflower River Blues and Gospel Festival Friday, Gordon was asked to assess the bluesman’s status in music history.
"Modern blues evolved from Muddy taking the acoustic rural sound of the south and changing it through technology," he continued.
Gordon says one of the biggest surprises he discovered researching his book was the tremendous impact Muddy Waters had on the British invasion.
Waters went over there (England) with the electric guitar, and the establishment was disappointed because they wanted the acoustic sound, Gordon said.
"That’s when the establishment became the old guard; the kids thought he was really cool and went out and bought electric guitars and amplifiers," he continued.
"The blues we enjoy today is in large part a result of his personal band," Gordon said.
Encouraging members of his band to step up front and play, Muddy let people like Bob Margolin, James Cotton, and Willie Smith shine, says the Memphis writer.
Gordon says he was a big fan Muddy Waters fan before his writing project began.
"I thought the book would take two years and it wound up taking six. I needed to get an education in Chicago blues and Chicago history, and I needed to knock on a lot of doors for interviews," he explained.
The door knocking led to his interviewing a few "dead people," he said.
"I was visiting Willie Smith who mentioned he was playing a gig a little later in the week with Jimmy Lee Morris, Muddy’s bass player from the 1960s," says Gordon.
Morris had been reported dead in at least one publication. "I went over, talked to him, and he was a fantastic guy with great memories," he continued.
Gordon said he was acutely aware he needed to interview Muddy’s contemporaries fast.
"I knew I had a mandate to get as much information as possible about the early days; I spent a lot of time talking to old guys who knew him at Stovall and Rolling Fork (his birthplace).
"We got them together and they talked about blues clubs and juke joints, which added a lot of flavor of the place and time," said Gordon. "They said Muddy bought a used car."
Gordon said his contemporaries confirmed his belief that Muddy Waters was interested in technology and driven to become a "known person."
"He had that drive; he was a hustler; he sold whiskey, sold rides to the store for a quarter; being driven ran through his whole life," he continued.
Gordon says he hopes his talk at the museum will spark questions and discussions from the audience. Both the festival, which continues through Saturday, and the museum program are free.
Performing during Saturday night’s tribute to Waters will be Bob Margolin and other former members of the bluesman’s band.
Mae Smith, Delta Blues Museum Interpretation Specialist, is program coordinator
The program is being funding in part by the Mississippi Arts Commission and the Coahoma County Tourism Commission