Without Muddy Waters, there’s no Rolling Stones, it’s as simple as that. Whole generations have grown up with pictures of Mick Jagger and Keith Richards plastered upon their bedroom walls. For The Glimmer Twins, it was Waters who they grew up wanting to be.
The duo bonded over a mutual love of the Delta blues scene, and these records changed their lives. When they finally got to share the stage with Waters, it was, of course, a moment that they have savoured. Out of everything The Stones have achieved through their glittering career, performing with the blues legend is up there with anything else they’ve done.
Famously, the band’s name derives from a track by Waters, which happened in an accidental yet poetic manner. When BBC radio had booked them for a live session in 1962, Brian Jones was on the phone with Jazz News to inform them about the news and 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, it’s impossible to imagine them called anything else.
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 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 playing the same venues as Waters was heaven, life had something else even more delectable to throw in his way in 1981. Just a year before Waters had to retire from performing due to ill health, and two years before 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.
This performance of ‘Mannish Boy’ sees The Rolling Stones revert to being fanboys. It’s a delight to see the sheer joy emblazoned on the band’s faces as they make this lifelong ambition become a reality. Richards later remembered the extraordinary evening, stating: “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.”
Seeing The Rolling Stones cram themselves onto the tiny Chequerboard Lounge stage and circling Waters is a sight to behold. Jagger’s zealous performance raises a smile from his idol, who proceeds to match his energy levels. Despite his age and ill health, Waters was still on irresistibly electric form.