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Can’t Be Satisfied: The Life & Times of Muddy Waters
by Robert Gordon

320 Pages

Memphis musicologist Robert Gordon undertook the gargantuan task of recreating a legend that would belittle even the most researched and most knowledgeable. How can one simply recreate a man who single-handedly brought the world the electric blues and defined Chicago blues in the fifties? In all honesty, you really can’t. Gordon, however, realistically does put the argument to the test and has raised the bar for any biographies of blues legends to come after it.

Spending years of gleaning information from interviews, reviews, and music history and then taking on the task of gathering information from his contemporaries and family; Gordon adds a human element to the blues legend that had never hitherto been captured. Reading like a narrative textbook with citation after citation and quote after quote, the reader may be encumbered and stumble along the way as far as readability is concerned. However, Gordon does well to depict a strong motif that was a reality in the blues world, a man and musician who leads a dual life. Gordon, through the eyes of both close friend and family (illegitimate or otherwise), does well to show McKinely Morganfield the hard worker and the provider and Muddy Waters the partying adulterer. Gordon also does well to depict the master-worker Waters translated from the Stovall Plantation to the studios of Chess Records. The biography subsequently upset the Chess Family, but Gordon minces no words when it comes to Waters’ recording career.

The Notes section at the back of the book gives a very good scope of the Waters discography and recommended listening. It also provides the subsequent list of resources Gordon put to use and provides a definitive “To-Read” list for any would-be blues historian. There are also some fine pictures located in the middle of the book that shed some light on both the origins and puts the infamous name with a face.

Gordon only falls short, in what a grammar school teacher would say is the breadth of the subject. He does well in what he covers, but there are some obvious parts missing and skewed, maybe sugar-coated a little too much. Yet, giving Gordon the benefit of the doubt, the book is an extravagant introduction for those who don’t know the blues world or Muddy Waters well. By placing Waters in his place and time throughout the book, Gordon helps those who were around when he was alive to remember the place and time and the impact he had on the world of music. For those of us who didn’t have the privilege of being around when Waters was still the living myth, it opens the eyes and ears when one of his iconic songs comes on our CD player or one of his protégés strike into a cover or lifts a riff here and there. And for those who don’t know the blues at all, this would be the perfect cultural, musicological, and anthropological place to start.

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