Fattening Frogs For Snakes

Country Boy

For Jeff “Baby” Grand

”Don’t say I don’t love you
because I won’t never treat you right
You know I’m a country boy
I just love to stay out all night”
—Muddy Waters

”At night,”
Muddy Waters says,
”in the country,

you’d be surprised
how that music carries. The sound
be empty

out there. You could hear my guitar
way before
you get to the house,

& you could hear
the peoples
hollerin’ & screamin’.

”The peoples lived
scattered way apart,”
Muddy remembers. “Our little house

was way back
in the country. We had one house
close to us, & then the next one

would’ve been a mile. If you got sick,
you could holler
& wouldn’t nobody hear you.

We had our own horses,
mules, cows, goats, & chickens,
& I watered ’em

from the time I was a kid. Had to pump the water,
& that pump would put
blisters in my hand. Even for one cow,

you gotta pump a lotta water. She’d take two draws
out of one of those big tubs,
swallow twice,

& that’d be it. When I got big enough
to crawl around, I would play in the mud
& try to eat it. My grandma

started that Muddy thing,
& after we were up there near Clarksdale,
the kids started the Waters.

"When I was around 3 years old,
I was already beatin’ on bucket tops
& tin cans. Anything with a sound

I would try to play it. I’d take my stick
& beat on the ground
tryin’ to get a new sound

& be hummin’
my little baby song
along with it. My first instrument,

which a lady give me,
was an old squeeze box,
old accordian. I must’ve been

5. I never did learn to play
anything on it, & one of the older boys
pulled it apart. The next thing

I had in my hand
was a Jew’s harp. I learned pretty good
on that thing, & then

when I was about 7,
I started playing
with what they called the French harp

at home,
the harmonica. That’s when
they started in with the Waters,

& that was even
what my family started to call me:
’Go on, ol’ Muddy Waters.’ I didn’t

like that. It made me mad,
but that’s the way it goes
on me, you know.

”Now when I was 9,
I was getting’ a sound
out of the French harp.

When I was 13, I was very,
very good. I was playin’ it
with my friend Scott

at fish fries, picnics, & things.
I should have never
given it up! But then

when I was 17,
I put the harp down
& switched to the guitar.

”The first one I got,
I sold the last horse we had. Made about
15 dollars for him,

gave my grandmother
7 dollars & 50 cents. I kept
7.50 and paid about

2.50 for that guitar.
It was a Stella. The peoples ordered them
from Sears & Roebuck

in Chicago. I got about
3 guitars from Sears & Roebuck
before I came up this way. But it was so long

before I even made a dollar! Coming up
through my childhood life,
I tried to stay with the music,

but we didn’t get no pay for it—
50 cents, 75 cents. You couldn’t
stay there with it

if you ain’t got it
deep down
in your soul.”

Asked about church,
Muddy says: “Can’t you hear it
in my voice? I’d go every Sunday.

Plenty of people
would stay up all night
& listen to the blues

& go home,
get all ready,
& go to church. Back then

there was just 3 things
I wanted to be—
a heck of a preacher,

a heck of a ball player,
or a heck of a musician. I always felt
like I could beat plowin’ mules,

choppin’ cotton,
& drawin’ water. I did all that,
& I never did like

none of it. Sometimes
they’d want us to work Saturday,
but they’d look for me,

& I’d be gone,
playin’ in some little town
or in some juke joint.

”I had bad schooling,
went to about the 2nd
or 3rd grade,” Muddy says,

”& what I learned to do,
I was doing that
really wrong.”

About his unique
sense of time,
Muddy says: “I’m a
delay singer. I don’t sing

on the beat. I sing
behind it, & people have to
delay

to play with me. They got to
hang around,
wait,

see what’s
gonna happen
next.”

”My blues sounds so simple,”
Muddy concludes,
”so easy to do,

but it’s not. They say my blues
is the hardest blues
in the world to play.”

— New Orleans
December 12, 1995