Sweet Home Chicago: Muddy Waters, Leonard Chess, Buddy Guy and Louis Armstrong

I was in a meeting earlier this week, and someone started to talk about the house that Muddy Waters lived in, at 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. My interest was piqued: wouldn’t it be cool to do a walking tour of sites related to the growth of the blues in Chicago? People occasionally talk about the Chess Records building at 2120 S, Michigan, but there’s clearly so much more to be explored.

According to a recent article in the Sun Times http://bit.ly/18Crgu8, Tim Samuelson, the City of Chicago Cultural Historian, considers Muddy Waters’ the most historically significant house in Chicago. He lived there from 1954 until 1973.

“It is a great treasure now even as a ruin,” Samuelson said. “But as a treasure that people can get an idea of what it looked like during the heyday of the blues. It is a vital story. If you think of it in terms of life lessons and achievements, then it makes it all worthwhile. If it’s just about a great musician, that doesn’t mean anything. But if you put it as part of a story you can connect it to real people. That’s why having a house is so important.” There’s a nice picture of the house here: http://bit.ly/19jQhrz and another (sadder) one here: http://bit.ly/179s1Zl

According to the Sun-Times, in 1954 Waters moved away from the rural two-guitar-and-harmonica format to intense urban blues that reflected the life in his neighborhood. Chess Records issued his “Hoochie Coochie Man” album in 1954, which set a standard for blues across the world. Later in 1954 he recorded “I’m Ready” with a rock ’n’ roll attitude.

Besides co-owning Chess Records, Leonard Chess invested in property in the neighborhood. At one point Chess operated the 708 Club, originally a liquor store (that still stands) southwest of the Waters house at 708 E. 47th St. Waters later performed at the 708 Club under another owner, and in 1957 the club was where Buddy Guy made his Chicago debut. I haven’t had a chance to research it yet, but Louis Armstrong lived at 421 E. 44th Street… and that would be fun to see, too. It’s just a little over a mile from Muddy Waters’ house.

I’m going to be preoccupied about Chicago’s role in music history for a long time… are there other Chicago musicians I should be thinking about?

P.S.  For more information on the Muddy Waters house, see here

2 thoughts on “Sweet Home Chicago: Muddy Waters, Leonard Chess, Buddy Guy and Louis Armstrong

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