There are certain questions that hover beneath the surface of everyone’s psyche. The daily questions of, “what am I eating today?” and “where will I sleep tonight?”, ride high alongside deeper philosophical queries such as, “who am I?”, “why is there pain in the world?” and “what is my purpose?”. Going even deeper than that, in fact so deep that most people fail to realize it is a valid question, is the eternal quandary, “WHAT IS A ‘HOOCHIE COOCHIE MAN’?” It’s true; if you are versed in the American idiom of blues, you have asked yourself this question, and if not, I’m prepared to give you an answer anyways. To be sure, Muddy Waters is THE Hoochie Coochie man, and Willie Dixon will attest to that.
Muddy Waters brought electric blues into being. He took the delta blues and plugged them into a beat up, dirty amplifier, blasting them high above the din and fog in Chicago’s South Side night clubs. He put Chess Records on the map, and alongside session player/composer Willie Dixon, Leonard Chess, Little Walter and a whole cast of musicians, Chicago put its own stamp on swampy blues. In 1954, he released “(I’m Your) Hoochie Coochie Man”, which became his biggest hit. It reached #8 on Billboard’s Black Singles chart, staying for 13 weeks. Over the course of his career, he made up to 30 different recordings of it, each one a little different. When he was asked over to England in the late 50s, his ramped up blues performances were toned down to fit the “folk singer” mold they had placed him in. His subsequent appearances at the 1960 Newport Jazz Festival proved that his audiences were becoming increasingly more white; he was crossing over.
Chicago World’s Fair, in 1893. A then popular dance, the Hoochie Coochie was seen as a vulgar display of sexuality to be outlawed. It was danced by women, therefore, a “hoochie coochie man” was either someone who watched, or organized said women, like a pimp of sorts. In either scenario, the man is seen as a very sexual being, displaying his power over women. You don’t have to listen for very long to realize that Muddy Waters was a sexual human being who enjoyed being both subject and spectator. The structure of the song is built around a stop-time verse, followed by a refrain chorus. It is a sensual dance around a pit of fire. The stomping rhythm carries an attitude that can’t be stopped, paired with Muddy’s cutting guitar riffs and Little Walters wailing electric harmonica, each is a voice screaming at the top of its lungs. There’s never a fight for control, because each piece involved knows that Muddy’s voice is in charge. This is one of the many songs written for Chess artists by its house songwriter, Willie Dixon. Not only did he play almost every, if not every, bass line in the Chess catalog, but he is responsible for much of the blues sound we think of today.
There you have it; the answer to one of life’s most carnal questions. Next week, I’ll solve the problem of poverty.