Author Essays, Interviews, and Excerpts, Books for the News, Chicago, Music

Art Shay on Muddy Waters (including a previously unpublished photograph)

Muddy Waters and his wife Geneva in Chicago, 1951. Image copyright and courtesy of: Art Shay.

Thanks to Paul Berlanga of the Steven Daiter Gallery.


From our editorial director Alan Thomas:

The 100th birthday of the great bluesman Muddy Waters arrives next April, but a recent encounter with an extraordinary (and previously unpublished) photograph of Waters prompts us to start the celebration early. It was made in Chicago in 1951 by photographer Art Shay, who himself celebrated a birthday this past spring—his 90th. Shay is a favorite of ours; his prodigious body of work includes the most memorable images we have of Nelson Algren’s Chicago. He shared his recollections of this photograph for us:

“The editor of the New Yorker ended his review of the new Keith Richards book Life with a plangent line from Richards asserting he could never be as good as Muddy Waters or as black. I met the generally acknowledged Father of Rock and his wife Geneva in 1951. Time magazine had sent me to the south side club in which he was performing. I arrived early as usual and there he was, strumming his guitar and cuddling his woman in the hallway. Slivers of dying winter light came down across the pair from some blessed window giving me barely enough natural light. He strummed a greeting using my name letter by letter. Billy Corgan noticed the first print of Muddy in the trunk of my car and bought it to hang in his studio next to vintage prints of some other music giants like the Beatles, Billie Holliday, and Ella Fitzgerald.”

For more on Muddy Waters, check out our books on issues surrounding blues culture, including:

I Feel So Good: The Life and Times of Big Bill Broonzy by Bob Riesman

Urban Blues by Charles Keil

Blue Chicago: The Search for Authenticity in Urban Blues Clubs by David Grazian

Seems like Murder Here: Southern Violence and the Blues Tradition by Adam Gussow

And, relatedly:

A Power Stronger than Itself: The AACM and American Experimental Music by George Lewis