Muddy Waters was a pioneer of the blues, an artist who would famously inspire The Rolling Stones to take his song title for the name of their group. However, it wasn’t just the name that derived from the blues god. The Stones owe a lot to Waters, and without him, then who knows whether they would have morphed into the band we know and love today.
It’s impossible to imagine the world of rock ‘n’ roll without The Rolling Stones being front and centre. However, it was the blues scene that made them dare to dream that it was possible to conquer their musical desires. In the early days of the band, The Stones firmly wore their influences on their sleeve with an accessible brand of rhythm and blues, which quickly turned into something special as Mick Jagger and Keith Richards becoming the collecting face of life in the fast lane.
The Glimmer Twins bonded over a mutual love of the Delta Blues scene, and these records changed their lives and, even on occasion, unapologetically imitating their heroes.
Their name arrived after BBC radio had booked them for a live session in 1962. Brian Jones, who was on the phone with Jazz News to inform them about the big news, realised that the group still didn’t have a name. The late guitarist, in a panic, looked around and spotted ‘Rollin’ Stone’ by Muddy Waters on the floor and decided to name his band The Rolling Stones on the spot — almost 60 years on, they are an omnipresent monolith of rock and roll.
In Keith Richards’ autobiography, Life, the guitarist detailed that first tour of the States that saw them take to the stage at the same venues that the likes of Muddy Waters cut his teeth. He wrote: “I think some of us had died and gone to heaven, because a year before we were plugging London clubs, and we’re doing all right, but actually in the next year, we’re somewhere we thought we would never be.”
If Richards thought that was going to heaven, he hadn’t seen anything yet. In 1981, a year before Waters had to retire from performing due to ill health, and two years prior to his death, The Rolling Stones managed to make their childhood dreams become an actuality when they performed at Chicago’s Chequerboard Lounge alongside their hero.
Fulfilling this lifelong ambition was one of the most outstanding achievements of Richards’ star-studded career. He noted: “You want to be a blues player, the next minute you fucking well are and you’re stuck right amongst them, and there’s Muddy Waters standing next to you. It happens so fast you really can’t register all of the impressions that are coming at you… It’s one thing to play a Muddy Waters song. It’s another thing to play with him.”
Waters could easily have been resentful to the motley crew of English men who had taken such influence from his sound, transforming it to achieve far greater commercial success. Still, admirably, he was appreciative of how they were so open about their adoration for his work which led to waves of their fans becoming converts to Waters.
The Rolling Stones became a gateway band, one which got countless people obsessed with the blues eventually sought out work from pioneers such as Waters. Without him ushering in a brave new sound that opened up endless possibilities, allowing these kids from Dartford to become rockstars, the world would look a lot more vanilla and far less illuminating.
The Stones, in turn, have influenced another generation of bands who grew up listening to Beggars Banquet on full blast, dreaming of being like Keith Richards. In the same way that The Human Riff listened to ‘Mannish Boy’ as a teenager and knew that there was only one thing that he wanted to do with his life.