Roger Stolle, a blues-loving promoter, tourism director and owner of Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art shop in Clarksdale, Mississippi. Photo: Credit: Mark Konkol / Chicago Patch
“Driving south on Blues Highway from Memphis, it’s difficult not to remember that the miles of cotton fields once were harvested by enslaved people and their descendants, many who made the Great Migration to Chicago.
“In 1943, the King of Chicago Blues — the late McKinley Morganfield, better known as ‘Muddy Waters’ — made that trek north from the Mississippi Delta. He got a job at a Chicago paper mill, bought his first electric guitar, plugged it into an amplifier and, you know, changed popular music forever.
“On a recent afternoon, I stopped to read the sign marking where Waters lived in a wooden shack on the Stovall Plantation outside Clarksdale that was his primary residence until he moved to Chicago. I thought about the battle to designate Waters’ home in Chicago’s Kenwood neighborhood as a historic landmark. And how little effort beyond an annual music festival that Chicago leaders have made to keep the history of the blues alive in our town. And to think, our town isn’t the sweet home of a museum preserving the legacy of Chicago Blues.
“While visiting Clarksdale, locals told me I’m not alone in my befuddlement over the brazen lack of respect for the electrified version of Delta Blues birthed in Chicago on Muddy Waters’ guitar — and ripped off by Led Zeppelin and borrowed by the Rolling Stones and too many other rocker bands to count.
“‘The thing about Chicago, it’s insane to me …. Yeah, we had the first blues museum in the world in Clarksdale. That makes sense. But the second one should have been in Chicago, ’cause that’s where all the musicians from here went,’ said Roger Stolle, a blues-loving promoter, tourism guru, author, producer and owner of the Cat Head Delta Blues and Folk Art shop in Clarksdale, where I found him.
“‘The first place of significance up there is so underpromoted it’s ridiculous, the Blues Heaven Foundation at 2120 S. Michigan Avenue, the Chess Records building where all that music was recorded,’ Stolle said. ‘It’s the most important thing musically in Chicago. It should be like Sun Studios [where Elvis recorded in Memphis] they pack ’em in there, it’s a great tour. Chess Records should be just like that. Every blues artist recorded there in the ’50s and ’60s. But it’s not. Crazy, just crazy.’
“It took years, a good amount of bullying — and, most recently, a $50,000 grant from the National Trust for Historic Preservation — to convince Chicago decision-makers to designate as a city landmark Waters’ first home at 4339 S. Lake Park Drive in Kenwood, which had gone into foreclosure and onto the city’s demolition list, marked with a red ‘X’ as a structure not worth saving.
“Now, Cooper — Waters’ great-great-granddaughter — is raising cash with plans to turn the house into a MOJO [Muddy Waters Official Jam Outfit] Museum with an educational studio in the basement where Waters jammed with his legendary contemporaries including Chuck Berry, Otis Span and Howlin’ Wolf.
“Saving Muddy Waters’ house in Kenwood, well, it’s a start, said Brooks.” (Konkol, Chicago Patch, 6/15/21)
It’s ‘Insane’ Chicago Isn’t The Sweet Home Of A Blues Museum: Saving Muddy Waters’ house from the wrecking ball is a necessary tribute, but Chicago still lacks a proper blues shrine, Mark Konkol, Chicago Patch, 6/15/21