49. Muddy Waters
Muddy was there at the beginning, in the Delta, actually sitting at the feet of Charley Patton and Son House. He was a kid when those guys were in their prime. Then he electrified it. There was a physicality in the way he played the guitar – percussive, like a drum. When he plays slide, it's not on the high strings. It's lower, guttural, and it sounds like he's about to rip the strings off.
I was already a Muddy fan – the Muddy of Chess Records – when I heard his Library of Congress recordings, captured by Alan Lomax in 1941 and 1942. They caught Muddy so young, when he was a complete unknown, maybe self-conscious and shy, listening back to his voice for the first time. There is something vulnerable about it, but also fully formed. For slide players in the Delta, it was a call-and-response thing with themselves. The slide would take the other voice, like a female voice in a choir. Muddy carried it right on through to Chicago.
There are "Muddy licks" – riffs he would play over turnarounds that were unique to him. You can hear some Muddy licks in Hendrix's playing. Later on, as Muddy got older, he played guitar less and less. But when he did jump in, you knew it. He had Buddy Guy and Jimmy Rogers in his bands. But when you played with Muddy, you didn't play what he did, because that shit was covered. By Derek Trucks
Key Tracks: "Rollin' Stone," "Mannish Boy"