Study Guide

Hoochie Coochie Man Technique

  • Music

    Musically, "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man" is a signature template for the Chicago blues style. And there are a few elements that became key to the style and remain prominent in blues today.

    The Lineup

    The lineup on the 1954 recording consists of a strong harmonica playing lead, an electric guitar, a piano, and a simple rhythm section held down by a bass and a drum kit. This five-piece line-up would become a classic blues line-up, in part because of Muddy Waters and Chess Records.

    Stop-Time

    Stop-time is that classic blues sound where the beat and instrumentation stops on the first beat in a measure, leaving a pause before a brief build to the next downbeat and giving the impression of a complete stop in the song. 

    At the very start of "Hoochie Coochie Man," which is in 4/4 time, a snare comes in on the third beat in a measure, the guitar and harmonica hit hard on the fourth and first beat, and stop time commences, accented by Muddy's powerful singing through the pauses. We don't need to hear more than a measure to know that we're hearing the blues.

    Blue Notes

    A blue note, or a "worried note," is a classic feature of both jazz and blues in which (incredibly skilled) singers hit notes a tiny bit flat. In other words, they "bend" the tones beyond the usual 12-note scale to give a worried feel to the songs (which, like "Hoochie Coochie Man," are often in major keys). 

    Muddy Waters sings the blue notes in this song so effortlessly that it sounds decidedly casual and natural. Listen, for example, to the final note in the line "I got a black cat bone." Muddy falls flat on "bone," but instead of sounding out of tune, it sounds beautiful and distinctively blues-y. That effortless feel to the singing is actually no simple feat.

  • Calling Card

    The first time Muddy Waters played in a crowded nightclub with his guitar plugged in to an amp was a pivotal moment in American music. Even more important was the first time he recorded this sound. 

    Adapting to the loud environment of the city's bars, Muddy electrified his Deep South blues riffs and bottleneck slide guitar playing (the earliest slides were made from glass necks of bottles). His early recordings at Chess Records, all in the style of "(I'm Your) Hoochie Coochie Man," defined a whole new genre known as Chicago blues.

    "Hoochie Coochie Man," contained all the elements that came to be associated with the genre: the "use of rhythm sections and amplification; reliance on guitar and harmonica leads; and routine reference to Mississippi Delta styles of playing and singing" created a stand-out, fun music that audiences couldn't help but stop and listen to.

    Chicago blues also helped create rock and roll as we know it, and early Chicago blues is recognized these days as "the Bible of modern rock's riffs, lyrics, and attitude." The Rolling Stones took their name from a Muddy Waters song, and his fans also included the Beatles and Led Zeppelin

    But inspiring white rockers was clearly not the only important role played by Muddy Waters and songwriter Willie Dixon. The pair worked with an impressive roster of bluesmen over the years: harmonica players "Little Walter" Jacobs, "Big Walter" Horton, Junior Wells, and James Cotton; guitarists Jimmy Rogers, Pat Hare, Luther Tucker, and Earl Hooker; pianists Memphis Slim, Otis Spann, and Pinetop Perkins; and drummers Elgin Evans, Fred Below, and Francis Clay. They also influenced big names like Bo Diddley, Etta James, and Chicago blues star Buddy Guy.

    Muddy Waters is a standing centerpiece of blues history. Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones, well aware of Muddy's importance to his own career, summed up the Muddy Waters calling card better than we ever could (and it always helps to have a real famous person sum things up):

    When I eventually got to hear Muddy Waters, it all fell into place for me. He was the thing I was looking for, the thing that pulled it all in for me. When I heard him I realized the connection between all the music I'd heard. He made it all explainable. He was like a codebook. I was incredibly inspired by him as a musician. He was more than a guitar player, more than a singer, more than a writer. It was all him. He was the hoochie-coochie man. (Source)

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