Muddy Waters, “Country Blues” (Library of Congress sessions, 1941)
An incredible sea-change occurs during the first of several short interviews that Alan Lomax conducts with McKinley Morganfield, better known as Muddy Waters, while Lomax was recording Waters for the Library of Congress. On the first performance of the recordings, historic in itself as the first time Waters’ voice and guitar were set to tape, Waters plays a basic country blues number, an original, based on Robert Young’s “Walking Blues,” titled, simply enough, “Country Blues.” The song is another entry in the long-line of blues based around the “Walking Blues” template, and Waters claims to have learned his version from Son House. This information precipitates a sparkling moment in the following interview in which Lomax, who seems not to have heard of House before, quizzes Waters on the merit of House. This moment is particularly stirring in light of the fact that Lomax recorded Son House on this same journey, perhaps spurred by Waters’ recommendation.
Muddy Waters and Alan Lomax, “Interview 1” (Library of Congress sessions, 1941)
The significant moment that I began the article talking about is impossible to pinpoint; the only hint that such a moment ever occurs is in the vast gulf that separates “Country Blues” and the second performance, “I Be’s Troubled.” Prior to the first interview, Waters comes across as a competent, but unremarkable blues musician in the pre-war, country blues vein. With the opening bars of “I Be’s Troubled” Waters emerges fully-formed as the confident, Chicago electric blues pioneer that would revolutionize the blues in the late 1940s.
Muddy Waters, “I Be’s Troubled” (Library of Congress sessions, 1941)
Anyone familiar with Waters’ work for Chess in the late ’40s and 50s, will instantly recognize “I Be’s Troubled” as the root of “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” and what’s most important about “I Be’s Troubled” is how incredibly close it is to “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” which was recorded six years later in December 1947 for the Chess predecessor Aristocrat Records. This similarity is indicative of how early in his career Waters had begun to form the style of playing and vocal delivery that would make him famous. That “I Can’t Be Satisfied” was one of the first four tracks recorded by Waters for Aristocrat is also telling, as it shows how close the track lay to his vision of himself as a performer, suggesting that Waters arrived in Chicago with a well-formed conception of what would become his signature sound.
Muddy Waters, “I Can’t Be Satisfied” (Aristocrat, 1948)
In the interview that follows “I Be’s Troubled,” Lomax’s first few questions are an attempt to pin down the inspiration for the song, to which Waters proudly replies, “I made that up my own self.”