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The Blues

Chess PlayingWillie DixonPopular Music (genre)Muddy WatersMusic IndustryBuddy Guy

After this day, Chicago blues--and by extension the popular music of the last half of the 20th Century--would never be the same. McKinley Morganfield, a.k.a. Muddy Waters, already was famous as the singer and guitarist most responsible for bringing the acoustic Delta Blues of his native Mississippi into the modern electrified era, after arriving in Chicago in 1943. And with artists such as Waters leading the way, Chicago already had become the city most closely identified with the electric blues in the postwar era, a reign that would continue through the 1950s and 1960s with such giants as Howlin' Wolf, Otis Rush, Junior Wells and Magic Sam.

But on Jan. 7, the music of Waters and Chicago ascended to a new level when the singer welcomed into his inner circle Willie Dixon, the bass player, arranger and songwriter who was emerging as the secret weapon of Chess Records, the famed blues label at 2120 S. Michigan Ave. Dixon's songs would become indelibly associated with Waters, with their mixture of menace and mirth, swaggering sexuality and ribald playfulness.Dixon showed up at Chess to play string bass in Waters' soon-to-be legendary band, which included pianist Otis Spann, guitarist Jimmy Rogers and harmonica player Little Walter. Together they would record "Hoochie Coochie Man," which would become Waters' biggest hit to date.

No song defined Waters like "Hoochie Coochie Man." With its immortal lines, "I got a black cat bone/I got a mojo too/I got the John the Conqueroo/I'm gonna mess with you," Waters fused the ancient hoodoo mythology of the South with the electricity, both figurative and literal, of the North. "Hoochie Coochie Man" was like a siren call to countless aspiring musicians who would one day translate it into their own version of the blues, from the Rolling Stones to the Allman Brothers.

In the early 1970s, grass-roots labels such as Bruce Iglauer's Alligator Records, which provided a platform for the robust blues belter Koko Taylor, brought new life to the local scene. By the 1990s, Chess alumnus Buddy Guy was winning Grammy awards and running his Legends nightclub on the South Side, where rock artists such as Eric Clapton made pilgrimages. Guy said he owed his late-blooming success to the endorsement of rockers such as Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan. But Guy also knew that if the blues had a baby named rock 'n' roll, the Hoochie Coochie Man likely was the daddy.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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