In 1941 and 1942, Alan Lomax recorded Muddy Waters under the name Morganfield McKinley. After recording with Lomax, Muddy Waters received a check and a copy of the recordings. Though he had already lived in and left Chicago, Muddy took his solidified proof of musicianship as a sign that he belonged back in the city. So in 1943, Muddy Waters returned to Chicago.
In Chicago, his sound developed more dramatically in production than in style of play. Once signed signed to Aristocrat, which became Chess Records, Muddy Waters developed the definite blues lineup and sound. We now call this style Chicago Blues.
One of the earliest examples of Chicago Blues is the song “Rollin’ Stone,” which provides great insight for the cultural combination that Muddy Waters encompassed. “Rollin’ Stone” is also known as “Catfish Blues” because it derives from an eponymous southern folk song by the same name. Early recordings of “Catfish Blues” offer an acoustically-based song that stays on the I chords throughout the verse and moves to the IV and V during the instrumentals breaks. Muddy Waters approaches the song entirely the same way, except he plays it with an electric guitar.
“Rollin’ Stone” is an example of a very bare bones Chicago Blues song. The style is generally hallmarked with a lineup of electric guitar, harmonica, piano, bass and drums. The harmonica, vocals and electric guitar usually receive the most prominent spots in this rhythmic, riff-based genre. With songs like “Hoochie Coochie Man” and “I Can’t Be Satisfied,” Muddy Waters burst on to the national scene with the help of Little Walter, the rest of his band and Willie Dixon at the helm, writing the songs. Once you’ve heard the Chicago blues, it truly stays with you forever.