Having read both B.B. King’s autobiography and Muddy Water’s biography I thought it was interesting how different these two were. Both used their sizable musical skills to lift themselves up and out of poverty. For Bluesmen (or blacks for that matter) coming up out of the Delta, was a monumental task. White artists work hard to achieve a level of notoriety, but right out of the gate there are many more doors open to the white artist, especially if they are truly talented. For Muddy and B.B. talent was in their blood, and it was evident at a very young age for both. It is the path they took that separates their journeys. B.B. realized early on that being a showman was going to get you further in an entertainment industry ripe with racism. Muddy started a Blues revolution on the South Side of Chicago, mainly by the support of black neighborhoods, and a pair of Jewish brothers who had the vision to see that “race” records would be profitable. It would take Muddy longer to reach white audiences, then it would B.B., but one thing for certain, modern Blues would not be alive without the contributions of these two giants.
B.B. King was a road warrior. It was dependable money, and I’m sure all of that traveling the country provided a certain level of security, as grueling as it was. Your band and crew quickly become your family, and you took care of them. B.B. said to his band mates, “You all have more talent than me. You play better than me. But, I’m the bandleader.” Nuff’ said. Muddy on the other hand was more at home in the local clubs of south Chicago. It wasn’t that he didn’t put in the miles, he did. In the beginning he made his money in the neighborhood clubs and bars… but the big money was recording and producing for Chess Records. The formula was simple, the Chess Brothers took care of Muddy’s needs, and Muddy gave them hit after hit. The Chess Records was not completely fair to their artists, as Muddy (and others) would come to find out. Living on the edge, for these Blues artists, was the order of the day. That meant having someone there, to pull them back from the edge, when it became necessary. For Leonard and Phil Chess, it was the cost of doing business.
Over the years B.B. and Muddy’s paths would cross on occasion. I believe they had mutual respect for one another. As their personas grew (along with their notoriety) they became distinctly different in style. Muddy a little more grittier, working class. B.B. was always the showman, requiring precision and stage presence from his band and crew. Both shared a common love for the opposite sex and left a trail of off-spring all over America. They each did their best to take care of those families, but being a family in the traditional sense wasn’t in their make-up. Muddy’s house was a sanctuary for all sorts of family and band members, run by his much beloved Geneva. B.B.’s house had four wheels, and was mostly reserved for the band. At one point, in Atlanta, B.B. was playing at a prison. He would later find out that his daughter was in the audience.
One thing they both, had in common. Both benefited from the resurgence of the Blues in the 1960’s, strangely enough that came courtesy of the British invasion. The Stones, Eric Burden, the Beatles, Van Morrison and many others. It must have been disconcerting for these guys to see throngs of middle class college kids in those audiences. Not sure they (the audience) knew what they were getting, could have brought on a monster case of stage fright. But this new audience was paying attention to what was happening in the U.K., and Europe. It wouldn’t take long for Muddy, B.B. and many others to settle in their new found audience who had the disposable income, and was more than willing to part with it for their new love Blues and Hard Rock. Muddy wrote a song, “The Blues Had a Baby and They Named it Rock and Roll”. I think that about sums it up.