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Can't Be Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters 1st Edition

45 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0316328494
ISBN-10: 0316328499
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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Muddy Waters's wailing slide guitar, stuttering rhythm and boisterous, sex-drenched lyrics (see "Hoochie Coochie Man" and "I Got My Mojo Working") inspired a generation of bluesmen and rock-and-rollers including a modish band of Brits who copped their name from his classic tune "Rollin' Stone." In this engaging biography, Gordon ("It Came from Memphis") mines some new territory, but the real punch comes from his telling, which reads as if he were on the front porch with friends, passing a half-pint of whiskey. Describing Waters's (n‚ McKinley Morganfield) birthplace in Issaquena, Miss., he writes that it was "where farmhands partied on weekends because they'd survived another week, because the land didn't swallow them, the river didn't drink them, the boss man didn't kill them...." In the early 1940s, Muddy fled to Chicago, cut several big hits for the budding Chess record label and became an international star. The author points out, however, that Muddy never left behind an ingrained obedience from his sharecropper days. Over the years, he would allow his bosses to tamper with his style often with embarrassing results and with his fair take of the profits. And as Gordon notes, success never did satisfy his other main passion. "He went through several wives, and always had women on the side, and women on the other side too." After all, Muddy wasn't just talkin' blues he was the blues.
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

After arriving in Chicago from Mississippi in 1943, Muddy Waters (born McKinley Morganfield) became the first successful blues man to play electric guitar while performing in the style of his heroes Robert Johnson and Son House. Gordon (It Came from Memphis) treats Muddy with the same dignity that he seemed to exude in real life. The story opens with Alan Lomax's "discovery" of Waters during one of his famous field recording expeditions for the Library of Congress. Not long after, Waters reached legendary status as the premier artist on Chicago's Chess Records. Lean times then struck in the 1950s and 1960s as rock'n'roll pushed aside the blues, but in the 1970s Eric Clapton and the Rolling Stones (named after one of Muddy's songs) turned on a whole generation of white youth to their musical idol. Gordon reveals Muddy's family life to be almost as rocky: he left several illegitimate children in his wake. Rather than judge his subject, however, Gordon lets the music do the talking. With vivid prose ("The rhythm evokes the banging of a tattered suitcase being pulled down a bumpy road"), he shows that Muddy didn't have to put on an act; he was the Hootchie Coochie Man, and he did have his mojo working. Likely to become the leading biography of this legendary artist, the book is recommended for all popular, blues, and ethnomusicology collections. Also available, though unseen by the reviewer, is Sandra B. Tooze's Muddy Waters: The Mojo Man. Lloyd Jansen, Stockton-San Joaquin Cty. P.L., CA
Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Little, Brown; 1 edition (June 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0316328499
  • ISBN-13: 978-0316328494
  • Product Dimensions: 6.3 x 1.3 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (45 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #510,672 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

28 of 32 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 9, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Such was the power of Muddy Waters, the rollin' stone from Rolling Fork, Mississippi, whose stark, raw songs transformed popular culture. Robert Gordon, who comes from Memphis, an hour or two north of where Waters grew up, has written the first extended biography that captures the elusive character of this hugely influential man. Waters' life was changed when self-aggrandising musicologist Alan Lomax drove up the dirt road, parked outside the shack in the middle of cotton fields, and asked for a guitar player he'd heard about. (Lomax leaves his black assistant out of his biography; Gordon restores his place in history.) Waters - already nearly 30, but still ploughing fields - sang some tunes for Lomax, and hearing his voice on an acetate showed him the possibilities that lay beyond the wide, wide horizon of the Delta.
Muddy Waters was illiterate, so Gordon - author of It Came From Memphis, a splendid social and musical history which manages to leave out Elvis - had to reconstruct his life story from interviews with his band members (many just before they died), the Chess family, and his children, legitimate and illegitimate. There are many of the latter; Muddy didn't go far without a "road wife": "[he] went through several wives, and always had women on the side, and women on the other side too." Gordon doesn't shy from the irresponsible, self-absorbed side of Muddy, a man who'd cheat on his wife without conscience, but support a musician in trouble just as casually. This is often a dark story, full of guns, violence, hard liquor and loose living. Success brought fame but not wealth to Muddy, thanks to his umbilical, exploitative relationship with Chess Records, a continuation of the "furnish" support he got from his cotton farmer back in the Delta.
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14 of 16 people found the following review helpful By R. Weinstock VINE VOICE on June 14, 2002
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
Mmephis writer Robert Gordon has written a gem of blues biography of the legendary Muddy Waters tracing his background in the delta through his emergence as the King of the Chicago blues scene in the fifties to the up and down fortunes of his career as musical tastes shifted and as his music reached new audiences until his death almost two decades ago. Gordon intergates materials from the interviews that Muddy did for various specialist publications (like DownBeat, Living Blues) with his own interviews and other material from Muddy's relatives, bandmembers, managers and others for a book that is one of the better recent musical biographies I have read.
Muddy and his music is brought to life. Unlike the other Muddy biography, Gordon provides some blood and flesh to Muddy as opposed to rendering him simply as some legendary icon and also brings the music to life along with some thoughtful commentary on the music.
Anyone seriously into blues will need to have this. This books sets a high standard for biographies on Little Walter and Elmore james that are scheduled to be issued in the upcoming months
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11 of 13 people found the following review helpful By Amazon Customer on August 10, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Robert Gordon has the subject of a lifetime in telling the tale of an illiterate sharecropper born McKinley Morganfield. Morganfield's story starts with him working sun to sun in the Mississippi cotton fields and playing fish fries with an acoustic box. It eventually ends with Muddy Waters fully electrified on international stages and at the White House (where, according to Calvin Jones, they didn't get paid a dime and were feted with hot dogs). In between are tales of car wrecks, knife fights, dumbheaded attempts at "updating" his rural sound, royalty ripoffs, hired musicians, fired musicians, and rehired musicians.
Waters is definitely a problematic individual - fiercely protective of those who cut the trail in front of him (ie Son House), loyal to the paternalistic systems of Stovall and Chess, yet also rampantly adulterous and unable to protect some of his children from the ravages of heroin and street life.
In the best of the oral blues tradition, Gordon has used the words of those who lived and played with Waters, including Marshall Chess, James Cotton, Willie Smith, and Jimmy Rogers, to flesh out the portrait. Their stories are the best part of the book. Everyone in the band drank heavily, everyone carried knives and guns, everybody had a pretty girl waiting on them in the next town. The reminiscences of harpist Paul Oscher are particularly amusing, while the perspective of Muddy's granddaughter Cookie reveals there were definitely two men wearing the same shoes - the decent provider and family man Morganfield and the stage persona and adulterer Muddy Waters.
In the end, Gordon succeeds, although the topic is so rich it's almost like shooting fish in a barrel..., "Can't be Satisfied" does a fine job of recreating the life and times of Muddy Waters.
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10 of 12 people found the following review helpful By The RAWSISTAZ Reviewers on May 21, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Muddy Waters is arguably the most influential guitarist of all time. He influenced many guitarists, ranging from Keith Richards to BB King to Eric Clapton. He started out with a makeshift guitar made from a box and listening to country blues greats such as Son House and the legendary Robert Johnson. A sharecropper in the Mississippi Delta, Muddy's life operated on the schedule of King Cotton until a fateful day in 1941 that changed everything. Muddy Waters (then Muddy Water) was discovered.
After establishing a name for himself in the South by way of house parties and juke joints, Muddy headed north to Chicago. Once there, Muddy worked many short-lived jobs by day and hit the clubs at night. He eventually hooked up with Leonard Chess, owner of the prominent blues label Chess Records. At the Chess studios Muddy brought his electric blues to the world with records like Hoochie Coochie Man, Rollin' and Tumblin' and I Just Wanna Make Love to You. His music was reminiscent of the country blues with his bottleneck slide while he wove an urbanely electrified flair. The Delta was always in Muddy, and he never forgot where he came from.
Robert Gordon, acclaimed blues musicologist, brings all the pieces of research about Muddy together in a fascinating chronology. The book leans more toward textbook style than to narrative due to the multitude of sources Gordon used, but his asides add an insight that few textbooks are able to render. His most prominent sources come from the oral histories of Muddy's friends, family, and associates. I recommend this book to all lovers of things Muddy and all music lovers. Every guitarist or blues connoisseur should have this book in his or her collection.
Reviewed by Candace K
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