Muddy Waters is often called “the Father of the Chicago Blues”. Check out Muddy’s top 4 harmonica riffs:
From “Delta Blues” to “Chicago Blues”
Originally from Mississippi, Muddy Waters moved to Chicago in 1946 in order to make records. When asked how his music changed when he moved to Chicago, he said:
It’s still the Mississippi blues. It’s called the city blues, but it’s still the same thing. Only thing I learned was a little tricks…a little slicker, a little smarter, but it’s still the same thing.
So “Chicago Blues” could accurately be described simply as electrified Mississippi delta blues.
For Muddy Waters, life in Mississippi was hard: “I wasn’t no slave, but I wasn’t free.” At age 8 he started working on a plantation picking cotton.
Do you know what Muddy Waters’ first instrument was?
Muddy Waters played Harmonica for 10 years (ages 7-17) before switching to guitar.
Maybe that’s why he always hired the best harmonica players for his bands.
So many of the best blues harmonica players have either gotten their start in his band, or played with him at some point in their careers. It’s a literal who’s who:
👍 Jerry Portnoy
And that’s just to name a FEW! It’s impossible to overstate the impact that these harmonica players have had on the role of the harmonica in blues music in the 20th century. Let’s check out the riffs that have inspired a generation of harmonica players!
#4 Rollin’ & Tumblin
A Delta blues standard, first recorded by Hambone Willie Newbern in 1929, followed by the great Robert Johnson in 1936, it was Muddy Waters electric versions of the song, first recorded in 1950 that would go on to inspire Rock groups like Cream to cover it.
Played on a C harmonica in 2nd position, check out Cream’s bass player Jack Bruce playing a mean version in 2005 at Royal Albert Hall.
-2 -3’ -2 -2” -2 -3’ -2
#3 Baby Please Don’t Go
Another old Delta blues song, originally popularized by Big Joe Williams in 1935, The Muddy Waters electric versions first recorded in 1953, are the ones that inspired covers from Van Morrison, AC/DC, Aerosmith and countless others.
Played on an A harmonica in 2nd position, check out this footage of James Cotton playing with Muddy and the Rolling Stones at the Checkerboard Lounge in 1973.
-2 -3’ -2 -3’ -2 -2
-2 -3’ -2 -3’ -2 -2”
-4 -4’ -3’ -2 -2” -2
-2” -1 -2” -1 1
-2 -34’ -34’ -2 -2” -1 -1
-3 -45 Trill -4′ -45 Trill -5 -5 -5
#2 Hoochie Coochie Man
This classic riff has become a staple in blues and rock music. Written by Willie Dixon and first recorded by Muddy Waters in 1954, this song has been played in two different positions on the harmonica over the years.
Hoochie Coochie Man has often been played in 1st position. In this clip, for example, it’s played on a G harmonica in 1st position by the great Chicago blues harmonica legend Jerry Portnoy:
-2’ -2 -3’ 3 -3’ 4
This provides great practice on getting that tricky -3’ bend in tune.
And then Hoochie Coochie Man has also been played many times in 2nd Position, like James Cotton does here on a C harmonica, in a clip from the same 1973 concert with Muddy Waters and the Rolling Stones at the Checkerboard Lounge.
-1 -2” -1 -2” -2
This provides great practice on getting the -2” bend.
#1 Mannish Boy
Here’s how this all went down:
In 1954 Willie Dixon wrote “Hoochie Coochie Man” which inspired Bo Diddley
In 1955 Bo Diddley wrote and recorded “I’m a Man”, one of his first hits
In 1955, after that, Bo Diddley and Muddy Waters co-wrote “Mannish Boy” with Mel London, as an answer song to “I’m a Man”
While the lyrics aren’t lacking in sexual innuendo, there was also a clearly understood social and political message at the time. In the South, prior to the Civil Rights movement, an African–American man would not be referred to as a “man” but instead as “boy.” You can hear Muddy’s assertion of manhood in the face of this racism: “I’m a maannnn.”
In this clip of Muddy Waters doing it in 1978 with the great James Cotton, it is played on a D harmonica in 2nd position, key of A.
-12 14 3 -3′ -2
If you’re a total beginner, here are easier tabs
-12 34 23 -23 -12
I go over this very slowly in my Beginner to Boss course.
If you’re intermediate or advanced, check out Joe Filisko’s Mannish Blues Study Song.
Of course you can’t do ANY of these licks properly if you don’t know how to bend, and that’s what I teach in this video right here. So if you can already isolate single notes, come join the thousands who’ve gotten their first bend with me, and then come back and slay these riffs.
Thanks for joining me to check out Muddy Waters best blues harmonica riffs. Keep on playing the harmonica, and making the world a better place.