10 Essential Muddy Waters Songs

Muddy Waters Songs

Photo: Public Domain via Creative Commons

Well if one wants to talk about artists who were inspirational to rock and roll, you can park your car right here. The story of classic rock has passed through many points. One point that it had definitely cut through and refueled, recharged and ignited, was the point of origin of the guitar and pen of Mr. McKinley Morganfield, also known as Muddy Waters. Our 10 Essential Muddy Waters songs list takes a look at ten significant Muddy Waters songs that served as an inspiration for thousands of future rock and rollers. Muddy Waters songs and performances were studied by countless artists who came of age in the 1960s. The Rolling Stones were particularly fond of Muddy Waters even naming their band after the Muddy Waters song “Rollin’ Stone.” All the early Rolling Stones records were considered blues records and the art form has maintained a presence in their music throughout The Rolling Stones career.

Many of Muddy Waters songs were re-imagined (or stolen depending on your pint of view)by rock bands and turned into major classic rock hits. Led Zeppelin took the famous Muddy Waters song “You Need Love,” which was also written by Willie Dixon and came up with “Whole Lotta Love.” The song that basically put Led Zeppelin on the map. AC/DC did the same thing with “You Shook Me All Night Long,” taken form the Muddy Waters song “You Shook Me.” These bands didn’t even bother changing the names of the songs that much because they were so clearly taken from the original Muddy Waters recordings. More on that later.

The guitar players that Muddy Waters inspired were endless. Legends such as Keith Richards, Jeff Beck, Jimi Hendrix, Jimmy Page and possibly above all, Johnny Winter. Edgar Winter’s older brother Johnny Winter was heavily influenced by Muddy Waters. In the 1970s, Johnny Winter would go on to produce a series of Muddy Waters albums that would stand up to some of the best recordings Muddy Waters ever released.

Muddy Waters was born in the early part of the 20th century in the State of Mississippi. His birth date is not exactly known but it’s supposedly around 1915. He landed the name Muddy from his grandmother who used to watch him play in the muddy waters of Mississippi. As with many legendary musicians who came form the South, Muddy Waters first developed his love for music from the church. Overtime, Muddy Waters became well known for his talents playing locally. His first break came when Alan Lomax who was known for his field recordings of folk music recorded Muddy Waters performing in 1941. Eventually, Muddy Waters would move to Chicago where he would be signed by Aristocrat Records. The record label would later change its name to Chess Records. It would become one of the most important blues labels in history.

Muddy Waters would record for Chess Records from 1943 to 1975 when the label went out of business. Throughout the 1940s and 1950s, Muddy Waters would release mostly singles on the Chess Label. In 1960, Muddy Waters released his first full-length album for Chess Records. Muddy Waters would release ten studio albums for Chess Records. After the label went out of business, Muddy Waters signed with Blu Sky Records which was a specialty label connected to Columbia Records. It was the home of the Winter Family. Johnny Winter, Edgar Winter, Rick Derringer and Dan Hartman who had all played together were signed to the label. Johnny Winter would produce the Muddy Waters albums introducing the man to an entirely new audience. These were great rock and roll blues albums. The last of the three albums entitled King Bee was released in 1981. It would stand as Muddy Waters’ final studio album as the blues legend passed away two years later in 1983.

Muddy Waters’ musical legacy runs far deeper than just the thirteen studio albums he released between 1960 and 1981. There are countless live albums and compilations that have been released filled with the singles he put out during the 40s and 50s. There are also many recordings he played on as a sideman. His impact on music burns so deep that his name invokes a style of music known as the Muddy Waters Blues. There no’s greater compliment than that.

# 10 – Rollin’ Stone

That rock magazine you have been reading most of your life called Rolling Stone and of course, the band The Rolling Stones were both named after this legendary Muddy Waters song. It was a variation of the traditional Catfish Blues fishing themes that were sung in the South. Muddy Waters’ song “Rollin’ Stone,” was released as a single by Chess Records in 1950. We figured this was a great way to open up our top 10 Muddy Waters songs list.

# 9 – Country Blues

As with any essential song list, it’s important to go back to the song that started it all. Muddy Waters “Country Blues,” was the song that Alan Lomax recorded of Muddy Waters playing in 1941. It was released on a 78 rpm record along with the song “I Be’s Troubled. This is the first known Muddy Waters recording. Its historical impact is significant.

# 8 – I’m a King Bee

Since this is an essential list and we just covered Muddy Waters’ first single release, it seems appropriate to take a look at his last. Muddy Waters final album was released in 1981 entitled King Bee. While there were no singles released from the record, the album’s opening track was outstanding. It also featured the great Jerry Portnoy on the harp on the track. The legendary Pinetop Perking also played piano on the record along with Willie Lee “Big Eyes” Smith on drums,  Johnny Winter and Bob Margolin on guitars, and Calvin Jones on bass. How many times can you say legend?

# 7 – Got My Mojo Working

Muddy Waters’ recording of the song “Got My Mojo Working,” was one of the most important turning points in rock and roll history. The song’s driving uptempo blues groove was very much ground breaking at the time. Where a lot of rock and roll was derived from swing rhythms, “Got My Mojo Working,” was basically kicking out the swing and putting the pedal to the floor in a straight ahead feel that was rather unique for the period. The song was released as a single by Chess Records in 1956.

# 6 – The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll

It’s kind of fun to jump back and forth in time on this list because it defines how incredibly timeless this music is. “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2” was released on what was called Muddy Waters’ comeback album Hard Again in 1977. The song “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named It Rock and Roll, Pt. 2” opened up side two of the record. It was written by Muddy Waters and Walter Brown “Brownie” McGhee.

# 5 – Rollin’ And Tumblin’

The classic song “Rollin and Tumblin'” is one of the most covered blues songs in classic rock history. The song was written by Hambone Willie Newbern. The song stands as one of the oldest blues songs known to be widely covered as it dates all the way back to 1929. Muddy Waters recorded the song twice for two different labels in 1950. After recording the song on the Parkway label, Muddy Waters recorded a new version for Chess Records which was released as a single. It was Chess Records’ version that gave the song new life and became the one that inspired countless bands to follow in Muddy Waters’ footsteps.

“Rolling and Tumblin'” has been covered by bands and artists such as Canned Heat, Cream, Fleetwood Mac, Eric Clapton, Gov’t Mule, The Grateful Dead, Jeff Beck, Bob Dylan, and many others.

# 4 – Trouble No More

Many classic rock fans know this one rather well from the great Allman Brothers Band version released on their debut album which also became a staple of Allman Brothers Band concerts throughout their entire career. Their live version of the song released on the album Eat A Peach stands as one of the best live performances of the band of all time. Muddy Waters originally wrote the song in the 1950s. Muddy Waters’ original recorded version which was released as a single was a top 10 hit on the Billboard R&B Charts in 1955.

# 3 – You Need Love

It’s a wonder how many Led Zeppelin fans were blown away by the fact that “Whole Lotta Love,” was taken from this great Muddy Waters song penned by Willie Dixon entitled  “You Need Love.” Now we are big Led Zeppelin fans here at classic rock. We firmly believe that what Led Zeppelin did with so many old blues songs was incredibly original and brilliant. Still, credit does need to be shared, which Led Zeppelin initially did not do on record. That was straightened out eventually as there was a lot of money in dispute as far as royalties which eventually went to Willie Dixon. But blues interpretations and copyright issues are a subject for discussion elsewhere.

Led Zeppelin has always argued that the riff to “Whole Lotta Love,” was their own; specifically Jimmy Page’s riff. Robert Plant stated he only borrowed “the lyrics,” from Willie Dixon’s song. Nonetheless, in 1985, a judge ordered Led Zeppelin to credit Willie Dixon’s songwriting credit to Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” which meant essentially “show me the money”

Muddy Waters original recording of “You Need Love,” was released in 1963 as a single on Chess Records. The song would be recorded by the Small Faces which also inspired the Led Zeppelin version and Robert Plant’s vocal performance on the tune. In the end, is Led Zeppelin’s “Whole Lotta Love,” a copy of “You Need Love?” Not really. Jimmy Page’s guitar riff is an iconic original piece of music. The song’s arrangement and production are completely original and oh-so legendary. However, one can’t dispute the lyrics are the same in parts and for that, Led Zeppelin paid the price. But none of this would have happened if it weren’t for Muddy Waters’ awesome rendition in 1963.

# 2 – Mannish Boy

Muddy Waters “Mannish Boy,” is one of Muddy’s most famous songs. It is probably his most performed song right up there with “Hoochie Coochie Man.” The song “Mannish Boy,” has been recorded multiple times by Muddy Waters. The blues legend first released the song as a single in 1955 as a response to Bo Diddley’s I’m A Man single. Bo Diddley’s song was arguably inspired by Muddy Waters’ “Hoochie Coochie Man.” When Muddy Waters heard what Bo Diddley had written with “I’m A Man,” which was clearly a variation of “Hoochie Coochie Man,” he responded very quickly with “Mannish Boy.” Is your head spinning yet? The version below is from his 1977 album Hard Again.

# 1 – Hoochie Coochie Man

We close out our ten Essential Muddy Waters songs with the classic Muddy Waters song “Hoochie Coochie Man.” Like many of Muddy Waters’ biggest hits, the song was written by Willie Dixon. It was released by Muddy Waters as a Chess single in 1954. The song hit number three on the Billboard R&B charts in 1954 making it the most successful charting song of Muddy Water’s career.

“Hoochie Coochie Man.” has been recorded by countless artists including famous acts such as The Allman Brothers Band, Eric Clapton, and Jimi Hendrix.

Updated May 21, 2023

10 Essential Muddy Waters Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2023

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