The first time I remember hearing blues was a day in 1962 when a friend brought a Muddy
Waters album over to my apartment. The rawness and simplicity of Muddy's music captured
me. It made me want to hear more, to hear the blues performed live.
When I read the album liner notes, I
found out Muddy lived in Chicago. Several months later another friend and I took a
Greyhound bus there, and scoured newspaper ads to find out where he was playing, but
didn't see Muddy's name anywhere.
So I looked in the phone book and was
surprised to find a McKinley Morganfield listed. I was even more surprised by his genuine
friendliness when I called him. I told him my name and said we had come down from
Minneapolis to hear him and asked where he would be that night. Muddy said he was playing
at Pepper's Lounge on Chicago's South Side, and gave me the address.
A lot of young guys who wanted to be
blues players, including several who later became legends themselves, such as Paul
Butterfield and Mike Bloomfield, hung out back then in the South Side clubs where
everybody who was anybody in the blues in Chicago played. But calling most of those places
clubs was a stretch. They were mostly funky holes-in-the-wall. Musicians would set up on
the floor and play in a corner of the club or right by the door. You could hear the music
coming out of the clubs as you walked down the street.
Pepper's Lounge had a stage, but it was
nothing to write home about. Walking in you would never expect to find Muddy Waters
playing there for $8 a night.
We went to hear Muddy several times. His
music was even more dynamic live. I knew then that I wanted to play the blues. I can't
explain why, it was an undefinable thing. It just touched me somehow. It still does.
A couple of times after his gigs Muddy
invited me and my friend and some other kids hanging around the club to his apartment on
Lake Park Drive South.
We sat around his living room, listened
to the phonograph, passed bottles around and talked about music. There was always somebody
picking on a guitar, or blowing a harmonica, or tapping out rhythms on a table or chair.
One early morning after a gig a kid
picked up a guitar, intent on impressing Muddy, and ripped off a bunch of rapid-fire,
run-together, stock blues riffs. When he got done, he was quite pleased with himself and
glanced at Muddy and around the room with a "I'm really slick and aren't you
impressed" look on his face.
Muddy just sat in his chair taking it
all in. After a moment of silence, he said: "You white boys play too many
That was the best advice anybody ever
gave me on how to play the blues.
-- Sonny Boy Lee