The Muddy Waters connection
From the COLLECTORS’ CORNER ‘BELIEVE IT OR NOT’ Archives:
By Chris Wood
They say it’s a small world and with the ubiquitous presence of the internet, getting smaller every day! As a record collector who has made Packers memorabilia collecting an extension of that hobby, I have always found it interesting when the two areas overlapped or intersected with each other.
Initially, finding old 45 rpm records like “The Packer Polka” by The Taxi Squad Marching & Stumbling Society was a real hoot. It came out around the time of the first Super Bowl and was especially interesting because of the sound effects (funny) and the accents of the singer and the moderator/announcer (Yooperish), coming long before the accent had been well-known around here. There were other records from that time or shortly thereafter like “The Fighting Pack” by Larry Schneider, “Packer Backer” from The Millionaires and the “Go! You Packers Go!” instrumental anthem, which had been recorded by The Bernard Green Orchestra on a Capitol Records LP in 1960. It was the soundtrack for many a radio and TV commercial back in the sixties about numerous products, services and whatever being marketed in the Green Bay area or elsewhere around the state.
After the ‘70s made it painfully clear that winning was no longer a birthright in Packerland, songs like “Where Are You Now, Vince Lombardi?” by George House and The Tailgators appeared on the Packers scene via the ‘45 record format. Of particular note was hearing a portion of Vince Lombardi giving one of his best-known speeches near the end of the song.
We hear him saying:
“All of the rings and all of the money, and all the color and all of the display, they linger only in the memory; but the spirit, the will to win and the will to excel, these are the things that endure… and these are the qualities, of course, that are so much more important than any of the events that occasion them.”
In the mid-’80s, the U.P’s Bill Etten and the Heritage Band released “We Go Green Bay,” which quickly became a fan favorite of the Packers faithful everywhere!
However, the most interesting time of all was when the two areas both intersected and overlapped back in the late ‘90s. I happened to be in a used record store in Milwaukee early one morning shortly after it had opened. As an “irregular” who showed up there about once a month, I noticed a group of old 78s atop one of the regular bins of the rock and country LPs that were all over the store.
The individual records were in the large, old hardcover book “albums” that held five disks of either 10 or 12 inches each. The albums had come from The Library of Congress Division of Music Recording Laboratory in 1942 and ‘43, according to the printed information on the covers.
These were original recordings of songs primarily being sung by Afro-American street musicians and state prison chain gang members, according to the labels on each record.
I knew of their existence from having read about them, but had never seen any before. When I asked the proprietor what he was selling them for, he said he hadn’t decided yet because they had just come in. He was going to take them to a record show the following week to see what the interest level there would be.
I had to get back on the road for an appointment two hours away. I kept thinking about how I had recognized the name of one of the performers as I glanced through the individual record labels, but couldn’t quite remember who it was or where he was from. I was pretty sure it was someone who later became a well-known bluesman, but I couldn’t place who it was. I had “shopper’s remorse” all the way to my appointment for not having made some kind of an offer.
Coming back, I decided to stop by the store, hoping the records hadn’t somehow disappeared.
If they hadn’t, I had decided I would make an offer. I arrived about 15 minutes before closing and sure enough, they were still there! I asked the owner what he’d be willing to accept for the group of them as a package deal if somebody walked in and was prepared to purchase the lot of them right now! When he quoted me a hefty sum, I accepted it on the spot and, uncharacteristically, didn’t even attempt to negotiate. I knew I would probably never have this opportunity again, so it was either do it or forget it! Fortunately, I had a credit card with me and although there would be an upcharge because “cash is king,” at least I could use it to pay for the transaction. An added benefit came from knowing the bill wouldn’t arrive at home for another two weeks, thus affording me time to come up with a good explanation for my wife about why we had made this substantial “investment” in some old 78 records.
When I got home that evening, I looked up the name that had rung a bell: it was McKinley Morganfield, “nicknamed Muddy Waters,” according to the liner notes sheets! I hadn’t had the time to look at them because of my pending appointment. This was the first recording he had ever made, in a sense having just been discovered by a very well-known gentleman from the Library of Congress, namely Alan Lomax.
Waters went on to have a prolific career as a recording artist over the next several decades primarily on the Chess label, until his death in 1983. He had been born in Issaquena County, Miss., on April 4, 1913 (or 1915, disputed), just a few miles from the birthplace of the iconic Robert Johnson. He was also renowned as a performer throughout his lifetime and considered by many to be “The Father of the modern Chicago (Electric) Blues.”
With great interest in finding out more about the records, I called The Library of Congress soon thereafter and explained my purpose. I was put in touch with Judith Gray, who was the head of of reference at the American Folklife Center.
After introducing myself and explaining what I was looking for, she provided me with some information and said she would send me some more. When I gave her my address, we discovered we were both from Wisconsin and had a common bond as Packers fans!
When I mentioned that I had made a couple of cassette tapes with some of the many Packers songs that had been released in the 1996 season as we won our way to the Super Bowl and were continuing to be released during the ‘97 season, she asked if I would loan them to her. I said I would be happy to make her copies to keep for her very own, for which she thanked me. I duped them and sent them off a couple days later.
After celebrating the Super Bowl victory the previous year, we were continuing to celebrate the winning ways of that year’s team in a big way! The Packers were still playing great football and looking more and more like a “two-in-a-row” Super Bowl team.
I didn’t hear back from her until months later, when I received a very nice card on New Year’s Eve. She said she was enjoying the songs and was going to place them as a collection in the Folk Archive in the Library of Congress.
“We are, after all, in the business of documenting ways in which people identify themselves as members of various groups,” she explained, “and if Packer fans don’t constitute a group, I don’t know who is.”
She also said the music “is just a wonderful way of documenting human inventiveness and playfulness. Part of me is immensely amused by it, but I’m fascinated by it as well,” she continued.
“It’s a wonderful way of exploring how people identify and how those expressions come out in music. I’ve never heard anything like this at all – so many different kinds of songs,” she added.
“I don’t know that other fans have gone to this length.”
With a little help from the Muddy Waters connection that had been in place for over 60 years, tunes about the Packers had made “the hit parade at the Library of Congress,” as one local newspaper noted at the time.
Ever so slowly, things were changing and, finally, Packers music and the people who compose it were getting some long overdue respect!