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Music journalist and film maker Robert Gordon

He's written a new biography of blues legend Muddy Waters who is credited with inventing electric blues and creating the template for the rock and roll band. The book is Can't Be Statisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters. (Little, Brown). Gordon also produced and directed an accompanying documentary of the same name which will be shown as part of the PBS American Masters series next year. Gordon's other books are It Came From Memphis, and The King on the Road. He also produced the Al Green box set, Anthology.


Other segments from the episode on October 3, 2002

Fresh Air with Terry Gross, October 3, 2002: Interview with Paul Feig; Interview with Robert Gordon.


TIME 12:00 Noon-1:00 PM AUDIENCE N/A

Interview: Paul Feig discusses his new memoir "Kick Me" and his
TV series "Freaks and Geeks"

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

The short-lived but hilarious TV series "Freaks and Geeks" chronicled all the
embarrassing things in the lives of unpopular kids in a Michigan high school
in the early '80s. Fans of the show may suspect that its creator, Paul Feig,
was kind of nerdy himself when he was growing up. His new memoir confirms
those suspicions. It's called "Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence." In
addition to creating "Freaks and Geeks," and writing many of the episodes,
Feig co-created last season's sitcom "Undeclared," about college freshmen. He
has acted in such TV series as "The Drew Carey Show," "Ellen," "Sabrina, the
Teenage Witch," and "It's Garry Shandling's Show," and he acted in the films
"That Thing You Do!" and "Zombie High."

Let's start with a reading from the beginning of Paul Feig's new memoir, "Kick

Mr. PAUL FEIG (Author, "Kick Me"): `There is no God. I mean, there can't
be. Think about it. If there were, then things in life would have to be
fair. There would be no suffering. There would be no war. There would be no
poverty. And none of us would be born with last names that could make us the
brunt of adolescent jokes for the entirety of our school careers. In a truly
just universe, no child's last name would be Cox(ph), Butz(ph) or Siemen(ph).
No teen-ager would come from a family named the Hardins(ph) or the Balls. A
young Richard Shaft(ph) wouldn't have to come home from school crying each
day. An underendowed Lisa Titwell(ph) wouldn't beg her parents to let her
finish her education at an all-girls school. And an adolescent Paul Feig
wouldn't have had to endure hearing the letters E and I consistently taken out
of his last name and replaced with the letter A. But alas, I did.'

GROSS: That's Paul Feig reading the opening of his new memoir, "Kick Me."
Now as you point out just a little further down into your book, that, you know,
a lot of kids didn't even know what the word `fag' meant, so even though you
were being called Paul Fag, a lot of kids had no clue what that was supposed
to mean. I know when I was growing up, people used the words fag, fruit,
fairy, and it always meant that a boy was a little effeminate. Beyond that,
if it had any meaning, I don't think we knew about it.

Mr. FEIG: No, I don't think they really did. I always think it must be
something they heard from their fathers or from their older brothers, and it
sounded like an insult, and people reacted like it was an insult, so it just
got hurled around. In my neighborhood, insults were used so oddly. For some
reason, my father bought me this backpack for my books when I was in, like,
second grade, and I would ride my bike to school, and there was these mean
kids who, when I would ride by with that backpack, they would call me the
N-word for some reason. It didn't even make sense, because I knew what that
word meant. And it was like, `Because I have a backpack?' And then if you
wore white socks you were a Pollack. So there was some sort of school logic
that nobody gave me the handbook on to figure out, so I...

GROSS: So what did you do, the whole `Sticks and stones' thing, or would you,
like, insult the person back?

Mr. FEIG: No, I was never tough enough to insult them back. I would either
try to make a joke and get them to laugh, and if that didn't work I would just
hightail it out of there, basically, to my nerdier friends who were in the
same boat, and we would just do dialogue from Warner Bros. cartoons and be
glad that we had no athletic ability and no desire to beat up other kids, like
everyone around me seemed to have.

GROSS: Now your memoir of adolescence really got me thinking about some
things that I haven't thought about in a while, like you say you'd always
liked girls since you were five. What does it mean to have a crush on a girl
when you're five or six, when you're in first or second grade?

Mr. FEIG: It's odd, because you don't get the support of your peer group. I
thought it was normal, because I was just attracted to girls, and I would, you
know, sort of tell that to one of my friends and they'd give me this strange
look like, `Eww, you like her? Why do you like her?' And then the word
`cooties' generally would come into play, which I don't know where the whole
concept of cooties came from, but if somebody could have patented it, they
would have made millions of dollars off of it.

But you really felt alone in a weird way, because if you wanted to hang out
with girls, it was looked at that you were being a sissy or you were a girl or
something, and so they never really caught on to it. Of course then, in later
years, they surged past me very quickly, figured it out and then actually
figured what the next step was, as opposed to myself, who just became best
friend to every girl I knew--the safe friend.

GROSS: Now you describe your earliest feelings of sexual arousal--and this
was in gym when you were climbing the ropes, and you kind of accidentally got
turned on by it. And I'm really interested in hearing you talk about that
feeling of confusion and discovery, realizing that something quite sensational
was happening to you. Was there impulse to, like, talk about it at the next
show and tell in class, or to keep it a big secret or to run and tell your
mother and father, `You'll never guess what happened to me today'?

Mr. FEIG: Well, first of all, that was a very sexy rope, I just have to say.

GROSS: That's right.

Mr. FEIG: No, I knew something was happening that was probably a private
thing, but on top of it, I had thought I sort of discovered something, you
know, because I never talked about that sort of thing with anybody around me.
And this was back--you know, this was in the late '60s when--I was going to
say, I guess there wasn't a lot of sexual talk on television, although it was
the sexual revolution, but still it wasn't in the shows I was watching, there
wasn't a lot of talk of orgasms on "Bewitched" or "Gilligan's Island" or any
of those things, so I missed out on that. But I was so happy that I had found
something that seemed to be pleasure-giving that you didn't have to buy or pay
for, other than at that moment, I thought you had to climb ropes in gym class,
which I didn't enjoy doing and wasn't particularly good at, but sure put my
nose to the grindstone to try to get up that rope after that first time. It's
odd. I don't know, my poor wife, she goes, `Boy, you were very honest in this

And to me there's few moments in your life where you have such an amazing
discovery. I mean, there's times when, you know, you find a great restaurant
you like or you find a great book or you discover a movie you've never seen,
but to come across something that is so intense and life-changing as, for
lack of a more discreet term, having your first orgasm, I just found it to be
a profound experience, and once--it was almost disappointing once I found out
that everybody experienced this, not particularly in gym class, but just as a
species in general.

GROSS: Was there a moment that you could put your finger on where you learned
that you're supposed to feel that, you know, a lot of people were going to try
to instill in you a sense of embarrassment and shame about this feeling?

Mr. FEIG: Yeah. Oh, you know what it was? My father owned this store, and
he just worked constantly, but we'd always take a week off, and it was this
big thing for us to go on a vacation like to the Caribbean. He loved that.
We lived in Michigan, and we wanted to go somewhere warm. So we were in the
Caribbean, and we first got there, we turned on a radio show, and there was
this--I think we were in Jamaica or something--interview show, and it was this
religious show talking about masturbation, and it was all these things about
how when you masturbate you lose, like, a day off your life. And all these
strange things about how it was going to kill you. And I remember my father
looking over to my mother and giving her this look and she turned off the

And it was very confusing for me, because I thought, `Even if they know I'm
doing this, and I'm shortening my life and they just don't want to--you know,
they want to get rid of me,' or it was something that was not true and needed
to be, you know, shut off. But it was very odd because I think after that I
really carried this thing with me of, `Oh, my God, maybe it's right. Maybe
every time you do this event you're shortening your life. It's worse than
cigarettes.' Because I heard cigarettes, you know, knock like a minute or
something, each one, but this was a whole day. So there was a lot of tense
moments as a young man kind of bargaining away my life, going, `OK, well, if
I'm 80 I probably won't need that day because it'll be a Sunday, so if I die
on a Saturday, that's all right.' And then, of course, very quickly,
bargained myself down to being about 30 years old, I think, so there you go.

GROSS: Paul Feig is my guest. He created the TV series "Freaks and Geeks."
Now he has a new memoir of adolescence called "Kick Me."

When you created the characters for "Freaks and Geeks," what traits from
yourself did you give to the main characters?

Mr. FEIG: I actually think there's a bit of me in each character. What you
tend to do is--the way I like to work is kind of break up my personality a bit
and sprinkle it around in all these different characters.

GROSS: Well, let's look at the two main characters, the sister and the

Mr. FEIG: Yeah.

GROSS: Why don't you describe each of them and tell us which of those traits
came directly from your life, or from people that you knew.

Mr. FEIG: Well, to be honest, I always describe it as Sam Weir was me back
then, and Lindsay Weir is me today. Because I always feel--and people will
always back this up--that teen-age girls mature much quicker than teen-age
boys, to the point of, I feel, that teen-age girls are probably at about the
same emotional maturity level as guys in their 30s, because it takes us so
much longer to catch up to you guys.

But for Sam it was just this kid who really just is trying to get through the
day with his friends and the things he likes. And he's not athletic, and he
feels a bit intimidated by the tougher kids in school and the more popular
kids, but he has a crush on the most beautiful girl in the school, the head
cheerleader, which I did, too. I asked this girl to go to the homecoming
dance the day of the homecoming dance, thinking, for some reason, she would be
available and was completely relieved when she wasn't, but at least I gave it
a try.

And then for Lindsay it's just the character that questions things more. I
was really into just kind of not accepting things as they were, as a lot of
teen-agers are, but I always found that teen-age girls were a little less
likely to accept things as they were, at least the ones I knew back then. And
I just love the idea of an adolescent questioning things, questioning
everything; questioning their religion, questioning what they're being taught,
questioning popularity. And so for her to go over and hang with the freaks,
or the burnouts, was something that I was doing back then, just because I
found them to be more honest and more real.

GROSS: My guest is Paul Feig. Here's a scene form his TV series "Freaks and
Geeks." The main characters, Sam and Lindsay, are sitting around the dinner
table with their mother and father. Sam is worried because his gym teacher
just announced a new rule that everyone has to shower after class.

(Soundbite of "Freaks and Geeks")

JOHN FRANCIS DALEY: (As Sam Weir) I don't want to get naked in front of
other guys.

Mr. JOE FLAHERTY (As Harold Weir): Well, who does? Do you know how many men
have seen me naked in my lifetime? A lot. Do you think I'm comfortable with
it? No, but I live with it.

DALEY: I just don't want them to tease me.

Ms. BECKY ANN BACKER (As Jean Weir): Oh, who would tease you?

Mr. FLAHERTY: All right, look, here's what you do. You tell them you're
proud of your body. That'll show them.

Ms. BAKER: Sam, you have a beautiful body, doesn't he, Harold?

Mr. FLAHERTY: Yes, I just said he had a beautiful body.

Ms. BAKER: Those other boys are probably just jealous. Lindsay, tell your
brother what a beautiful body he has.

LINDA CARDELLINI: (As Lindsay Weir) Mom.


Mr. FLAHERTY: Lindsay.


Mr. FLAHERTY: Your mother asked you to tell your brother that he has a
beautiful body.

CARDELLINI: That is so stupid.

Mr. FLAHERTY: Lindsay, tell him.

CARDELLINI: It's not going to help him.

Ms. BAKER: Lindsay, just say the words. It'll make him feel better.

CARDELLINI: Sam, you have a beautiful body. You're an Adonis, a slab of
beef. If I wasn't your sister, oh, my God.

Mr. FLAHERTY: Lindsay, can it.

Ms. BAKER: See, sweetheart.

GROSS: We'll talk more with Paul Feig after a break. This is FRESH AIR.

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest is Paul Feig, the creator of the TV series, "Freaks and
Geeks." He has a new memoir called "Kick Me: Adventures in Adolescence."

Were there any pressures on you when you were doing "Freaks and Geeks" to
smooth out the rough edges of any of the characters?

Mr. FEIG: Oh, yeah. The head of the network at that time, I remember, had a
lunch with Judd Apatow, the exec producer, and basically said, `Can't these
kids ever win? Can't they ever have a victory?' Like it drove him crazy that
we had one episode where Sam Weir finally goes on a date with the head
cheerleader, and when they're at the restaurant, the head football player
walks in and she basically confides in Sam that she's in love with him and
ends up by saying, `I love talking to you. You're just like my sister.' And
it just drove him crazy. He was like, `He's on a date with a cheerleader, and
she talks about another guy. Can't he have a successful victory?' And it's
like, no, he can't, because A, then what's the series, and B, that's not how
life works out. You know, if I went out with the cheerleader, head
cheerleader, and she said she loved me, well, then my whole life would have
been different, and it wouldn't have occurred, because those kind of things,
in my world, never occurred.

GROSS: I want to mention that you told me right before we started taping that
your father died a couple of days ago. And, first of all, I want to say how
sorry I am about that. And second of all, I think it must be--you're very
affectionate toward your parents in the book, even though, I mean, you're
making fun of the whole experience of adolescence, which includes, you know,
having some laughs at how--some laughs at your relationship with your
parents. But you obviously are very affectionate about them in the book...

Mr. FEIG: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and I think it must be a strange time to be having your book
published and to be talking about all this, having just lost your father.

Mr. FEIG: Yeah, it is odd. I mean, I would have--I mean, he's been sick with
Parkinson's for a while, but he was getting--he was not doing badly, so it was
still quite a surprise. But I just--I really wished he could have at least
made it to the book coming out, because his picture's on the front of it. And
I kept saying to him, `You know, you're going to be'--not famous, but I said,
`You're going to be in bookstores all over the country, your picture, so, you
know, you got to get ready,' and we'd joke about that.

But it is sad. I mean, I really--I loved my parents. So many artists and
especially people who do comedy are very down on their parents or had bad
childhoods or say they did and are really at odds with their parents. And I
just didn't have that experience. My parents were very supportive of me. My
mom just loved the idea that I was leaning towards doing something creative.
And my father, who owned this Army surplus store, desperately wanted me to
take it over, but I was an only child also. And he saw the writing on the
wall, and he was more--it was more important to him the ethic of `You must be
happy in your work' than it was `You have to do this, because, you know, it's
the family business or you can't let this go away.' And so I really--I feel
that's the greatest thing both my parents gave me is an acceptance and a real
love of life and a love of doing what you love to do.

GROSS: You mention that your father is on the cover of your book and you wish
that he'd been alive to see it in bookstores. This is a great picture. I
mean, if anybody ever challenges you and says, `Were you really a geek in high
school?' all you have to do is show them the cover of this book and, you

Mr. FEIG: Exactly.

GROSS: What other proof would anybody require? Can I ask you to describe
this photograph?

Mr. FEIG: Yeah. This photo--the reason I put it on the cover of the book is
this is a photo that would sit, seriously, in our house for years and not one
person ever looked at this and didn't laugh. Because first of all, it's three
conflicting hairstyles. My father was completely bald. My mother had hair
the size of a watermelon. And I had this sort of mock John Denver meets--I
don't know--some other hair disaster; John Denver meets "That Girl," I guess.
And we're all posed very nicely in a nice studio setting, me with my spicy new
jean jacket on that I'm sure I thought made me extra cool, until I walked out
of the studio and probably was immediately beaten up in it.

But what I love about this picture is it just shows how clueless one can be,
'cause it's just--we just look happy. And I look like, `Hey, everything's
great.' And, you know, clearly, things were not great outside of the house.
I had great friends, but, you know, it was--there's that movie "Welcome to the
Dollhouse," which is so funny, because it starts with a portion on this family
portrait and everyone looks so happy. And, to me, that just kills me,
because, you know, there's the two worlds you live in. And if you come from a
nice household, there's the happy, womblike environment that you're in there,
and then you're just immediately every day spit out into the real world, and
you kind of--at night you reset. Like, you know, when you wake up in the
morning and you kind of wake and you forget the problems of the past day for
a little bit and you feel like it's a reset button. And the minute you walk
out of the house and you get to the bus stop or you get to work or whatever
and it just starts wearing you down every day. But that's why I love
pictures like this is this is like the reset button was hit and everyone's
happy for the moment.

GROSS: How do you think the adult Paul Feig is influenced by the adolescent
Paul Feig? I mean, you're pretty successful now. You've had a TV series,
you're directing a movie that you're editing now, you know, you've got a new
book. You know, you've done OK for yourself so far. In your book about
adolescence, you describe being afraid of everything, even Ronald McDonald and
"Robin and the 7 Hoods" scares you in the movies. I mean, are you still as
afraid and self-conscious and inhibited as you were as an adolescent?

Mr. FEIG: No, I'm not. I've actually kind of swung the other way, where
there's not--this sounds so cavalier, but there's not a lot that scares me
now. And what I find is I don't have patience for adults who get scared of
things, because I worked through it. It was odd. I mean, I was literally
afraid of everything when I was a kid, from thunder to dogs to anything. And
at some point I just realized I wasn't able to do anything. And I think it
was right around when I was about halfway through high school I just said to
myself, `You can't go on this way. It's ridiculous. You're going to cut
yourself out of so much life.' And there was so much stuff that I wanted to

I always got really inspired by things I would see. Like if I saw a movie, I
wanted to be a movie actor and I wanted to direct a movie. If I saw a TV
show, I wanted to have a TV show. If I read a book, I wanted to be an author.
If I saw a play, I wanted to be Will Shakespeare. The good thing about all
that was it made me do a lot of things and it forced me to have to break out
of who I was, because the only way you could do those things--you couldn't
just really sit in your room and do those outside of writing, but you had to
get out and experience things.

And so I've really come full circle on it. But that said, you know, it's
really hard to divorce yourself from who you were. And I'd hate to forget
that, because I love those feelings of that, and I love trying to remember
what that intensity of being in love with somebody when you were a teen-ager,
that crush where it's just--you feel like there's a wrench in your chest. I
just--to me, it's such pure emotion and it's really beautiful. And even
though it was tough back then, to lose that--you know, there is a sense of
loss about having your emotions dulled a bit.

GROSS: Well, I want to thank you so much for talking with us.

Mr. FEIG: Oh, thank you, Terry. It's been really a pleasure.

GROSS: And I'm sorry, again, about your father.

Mr. FEIG: Well, thanks. Thank you. I appreciate that.

GROSS: Paul Feig is the author of the new memoir "Kick Me: Adventures in
Adolescence." He created the TV series "Freaks and Geeks." You can see the
reruns on the cable channel ABC Family. I'm Terry Gross and this is FRESH

Here's another scene from "Freaks and Geeks" in gym class.

(Soundbite of "Freaks and Geeks")

Unidentified Gym Teacher: All right. Simmer down, petunias. Let's go. We
got a busy week ahead of us. It's time to start training for the president's
physical fitness test.

(Soundbite of moans)

Unidentified Student #1: Jimmy Carter's a wimp!

Unidentified Gym Teacher: Hey, can it, White.

Now, we're going to start on upper-body strength, a little rope climbing.

Unidentified Student #2: Yeah, that's going to help us get into a good

Unidentified Gym Teacher: All right, fellas, let's--oh, one more thing. New
district policy: Everybody must take a shower after class starting today.
And, hey, look, I'm going to be checking for wet hair, so don't think you can
pull a fast one.

Unidentified Student #3: We're allowed to shower with this? 'Cause he's a

(Soundbite of laughter)


(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MUDDY WATERS: (Singing) Well, I'm a hoochie coochie man, everybody knows,

GROSS: Coming up, the life and times of Muddy Waters. We talk with Robert
Gordon about his new book "Can't Be Satisfied," a biography of the singer and
guitarist who electrified the delta blues.

(Soundbite of music)

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Interview: Robert Gordon discusses the life and musical career of
Muddy Waters

This is FRESH AIR. I'm Terry Gross.

My guest, Robert Gordon, is the author of a new biography of blues guitarist
and singer Muddy Waters, the musician who electrified the Delta blues. Muddy
Waters grew up on a plantation on the Mississippi Delta and moved to Chicago
as a young man. He not only took the blues in a new direction, he influenced
rock 'n' roll. Gordon writes, `His song "Rolling Stone" inspired a band name
and a magazine. When Bob Dylan went from acoustic folk music to rock 'n'
roll, he hired white musicians who'd learned from Muddy in Chicago.' Songs
that Muddy wrote or made famous have become mainstream hits when performed by
Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, Eric Clapton and plenty of others.

Robert Gordon is also the author of "It Came from Memphis" and "The King on
the Road." He directed the blues documentary "All Day and All Night." His
new documentary on Muddy Waters will be shown on PBS stations in June. Here's
Muddy Waters, recorded in 1950.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. MUDDY WATERS: (Singing) Well, you know, you leave home in the mornin',
you don't come back. You don't come back until night. You won't cook me no
food, and you're still sad. You treat me right, but, hey, you gonna need,
you gonna need my help, I said. Well, you know I won't have to worry. I have
everything, little girl, coming my way. No, I ain't going to worry about it
no more, man. All right, little walkin'.

GROSS: Robert Gordon, welcome to FRESH AIR. Let's start with just summing up
Muddy Waters' musical importance. Would you do that for us?

Mr. GORDON: OK. I think his great musical contribution is sort of juicing
the blues and creating the foundation for rock 'n' roll. He started in the
Delta in the South on an acoustic guitar, and in the '40s, went to Chicago,
where an acoustic guitar couldn't be heard in the clubs and adapted the Delta
blues style and the feeling of the Delta blues and put it first to an electric
guitar and then into a full band. And when they started doing that faster in
the '60s, they called it rock 'n' roll.

GROSS: You've put together some tracks that are well-known and some that are
obscure. So let's listen to what is I think a pretty obscure Muddy Waters
recording. This is from 1941, before he started plugging in...

Mr. GORDON: Right.

GROSS: ...and it's a well-known song of his, "I Can't Be Satisfied." What
should we be listening for in this 1941 recording?

Mr. GORDON: Well, this is the first time he's going to hear himself back,
which is an interesting thing to think about. He gets the validation from
hearing this that he can do it. And what I think you hear in these early
recordings in his type of blues, you can hear the work, you can hear sort
of--there's like blues like Robert Johnson, where you hear kind of the field
hand playing hooky. He's not at work. In Muddy, I think you hear the work.
And so you can just kind of--I think this evokes the feel very clearly.

GROSS: So here's Muddy Waters, recorded in 1941, recorded by Alan Lomax.

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WATERS: (Singing) Well, I feel in my heart, like I feel today, I'm gonna
pack my suitcase and make my getaway. 'Cause I'm trouble. I'm all worried
in my mind. And I never been satisfied and I just can't keep from cryin'.
Yeah, I know my little baby, she gonna jump and shout.

GROSS: Muddy Waters, recorded in 1941. Muddy Waters was first recorded by
folklorist Alan Lomax. Lomax made that 1941 recording that we just heard of
"I Can't Be Satisfied." How did Lomax find out about Muddy Waters?

Mr. GORDON: It actually goes back to this fire in Natchez in I believe 1940
at a nightclub where there was a black society ball. And because people were
going to be trying to crash the party, they locked the doors at the club and
when the club caught on fire, there was no escaping. It was this horrible,
horrible fire. And this African-American musicologist at Fisk University, a
black school in Nashville, knew that a year after that fire, there would be a
new folklore about it, that there would be songs written. And he wanted to go
down to Natchez and record that new material. And in the course of appealing
for funds, Fisk went to the Library of Congress, and that's where Alan Lomax
got wind of the project and saw the importance of it.

It ended up that the timing was such, they couldn't get to Natchez, but they
chose Coahoma County, which is where Clarksdale is in Mississippi because it
had a very dense African-American population. And they went down there in
1941 and '42 to investigate the role of music in the culture there.

GROSS: And that's where he found Muddy Waters.

Mr. GORDON: He found Muddy Waters and "Honeyboy" Edwards and Son House and
just a whole slew of great recordings.

GROSS: You described what Muddy Waters' reaction was after Alan Lomax played
back Waters' first recording. What was his reaction?

Mr. GORDON: He hears himself, you know. He's got all these 78s in his cabin
that he's heard, and when he hears himself back, he goes, `Man, I can sing.'

GROSS: So he was pleased with what he heard?

Mr. GORDON: Yeah. He was pleased. I think he was astounded.

GROSS: My guest is Robert Gordon, the author of a new biography of Muddy
Waters called "Can't Be Satisfied." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

GROSS: My guest, Robert Gordon, is the author of the new biography, "Can't Be
Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters."

Robert Gordon, let's jump ahead seven years when he makes this song again and
records it commercially. What's the difference between the two versions?

Mr. GORDON: Essentially, what we're going to hear in this is what I call
amplified Delta blues; that is, he's now been given an electric guitar and the
gun to figure it out. He hasn't created what will soon be called Chicago
blues or urban blues or city blues, and instead here, it's the Delta style
that we just heard with a little more power. I think you can feel the kind of
tractor seat bounce in that song that we just heard and that we'll hear now.
I, you know, just imagine him in a seat, either on a tractor or behind the
plow, and I think there's the rhythm of those wheels and the furrowed field.
I think all of that is right here.

GROSS: Here's Muddy Waters in 1948, "Can't Be Satisfied."

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WATERS: (Singing) Well, I'm goin' away to leave, won't be back no more.
Goin' back down South, child, don't you want to go? Woman, I'm troubled, I be
all worried in mind. Well, baby, I just can't be satisfied, and I just can't
keep from cryin'.

Well, I feel like snappin', pistol in your face. I'm gonna let some
graveyard, Lord, be her resting place. Woman, I'm troubled, I be all worried
in mind. Well, baby, I can't never be satisfied, and I just can't keep from


Mr. GORDON: If I can, can I just talk a little more about that song?

GROSS: "Can't Be Satisfied"?

Mr. GORDON: Yeah.

GROSS: Sure.

Mr. GORDON: Because that--when he makes that recording, you know, on which
basically his career is built because "Can't Be Satisfied" comes out and it
takes off. You know, he's established. It comes out on a Friday, it sells
out over the weekend, which was very rare. And all of a sudden, he's a name,
you know, and then his career is going. That was recorded at his third
session with Leonard Chess in Chicago. And at each session, it was Muddy
Waters on guitar and a piano player. And you can hear where the guitar is
about to break into modernity, and the piano gets in the way, you know, like,
Leonard knew the old style. That was all he knew. And so when this third
session is about to be done, Muddy speaks up and says, `Hold it. Let me do
one my way.' And because, you know, the results hadn't been great so far,
Leonard says, `OK.' Muddy goes back out, no piano, you know, just him and a
bass player now. And that's when he records this sound, and that is
when--Leonard's in the studio going, `What's he saying?' You know, he can't
even get it. He can't get the sound or even understand it. And when it--and
there was a lady partner in the business at that time. Muddy always appealed
to the ladies. And she got it. She said, `No, we've got to put that out.'
And it gets, you know, leapt on right away by the Chicago people who thirsted
for that sound.

GROSS: Well, we've already heard that recording to which you just referred.
Let's listen to another recording that Muddy Waters makes pretty early in his
stay in Chicago. This is from 1950. And this is "Rollin' and Tumblin',"
which has since been covered many times. What do you find remarkable about
this recording?

Mr. GORDON: Well, this is recorded upon the return to Chicago. In 1950,
after he's enjoyed some success, he and Jimmy Rogers, who was his guitarist,
and Little Walter, who was the harmonica player, and Baby Face Leroy on
drums, they say, you know, `Man, we made it. Let's go home triumphant.' And
that's when they go back and do this tour in the South, and they get a program
on KFFA, where they'd heard "King Biscuit Time," you know, in their youth.
And they come back North, and Leonard Chess at Chess Records will not record
the band. He's very--you know, he's got a successful thing. He didn't like
to change. And Muddy was all about change. So the band went to this
competing recording studio and I think--and they laid down this track. And in
it, I think you can hear, you know, the excitement of their triumphant return
home and they're back in the North and, you know, the world is theirs and
they're just enjoying it. Very sexual, what we'll hear, too, which I think
is, you know, at the core of the blues. You'll hear no words, essentially
here. This is just power.

GROSS: Let's hear it, recorded in 1950, Muddy Waters.

(Soundbite of "Rollin' and Tumblin'")

GROSS: That's Muddy Waters, recorded in 1950, "Rollin' and Tumblin'." And my
guest, Robert Gordon, is the author of a new biography of Muddy Waters called
"Can't Be Satisfied."

Well, as you were explaining, Muddy Waters recorded that for a record label
that wasn't Chess because Leonard Chess of Chess records didn't like the sound
of it. But then Leonard Chess decides to record that song. What happened?

Mr. GORDON: Chess was really the power in the market at the time, and that
record came out, it didn't have Muddy's name on the label. But, you know, his
sound was all over it. It was very clear who it was. It came out under the
name of variously either Little Walter, the harmonica player, or Baby Face
Leroy, the drummer. And I love that drumming there. It's just, like, you
know, it's punk rock, sixteenth notes just constant. And so Chess says, `Hey,
you know, this is starting to take off. You come over here and do it for me.'
And they record a much cleaner version that doesn't have that same kind of
frenzy to it. And it doesn't have the band, either, but at that point, after
that, Leonard Chess begins to bring in other bandmates because the audience
response to that version of "Rollin' and Tumblin'" indicated that the audience
was ready for a band.

GROSS: I'm going to skip ahead to 1951, to a recording called "Still A Fool."
And you say that this recording really exemplifies what's going to happen with
the use of electric guitar. All right, talk a little bit about this 1951
recording and the new sound that Muddy Waters is getting in it.

Mr. GORDON: This is the beginning of urban blues. This is the beginning.
This is when the electric guitar is no longer playing amplified Delta blues.
This is a new sound. This is not a sound that they heard or could have made
in the Delta. Listen to the power in the electric guitar, the crunch of the
strings. Again, this is--I think it speaks for itself, really, but you'll
hear--I mean, from here, this is essentially the foundation of modern blues.

GROSS: Let's hear it. Muddy Waters, recorded in 1951, "Still A Fool."

(Soundbite of "Still A Fool")

Mr. WATERS: (Singing) Well, now there's two, there's two trains running.
Well, they ain't never, no, going my way. Well, now, one run at midnight and
the other one, running just 'fore day. It's running just 'fore day. It's
running just 'fore day. Oh, Lord, sure enough, they is. Oh, well.

Mm, mm. Ho, ho, ho. Somebody help me, ho, with these blues. Well, now,
she's the one I'm loving, she's the one I do hate to lose, I do hate to

GROSS: Muddy Waters, recorded in 1951. My guest, Robert Gordon, is the
author of a new biography of Muddy Waters called "Can't Be Satisfied."

Now that's a really pretty great recording. Do you think his singing changes
as his guitar playing changes?

Mr. GORDON: That's funny because right in that song, I think the--you hear
the guitar playing so entwined with the singing. And they both have
that--it's almost like a distortion, you know, that rattle, that
deep-chestedness. So I guess in a way, it does. You know, the guitar sound
essentially pulls him into this new kind of singing. Yeah, I hadn't really
thought about that. But there, I think there it is, you know. That's where
they're both entwined and they're both going. These are--this is, like, new.
And I love hearing that song. I could hear that song all day.

GROSS: My guest is Robert Gordon, the author of a new biography of Muddy
Waters called "Can't Be Satisfied." We'll talk more after a break. This is

(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WATERS: Oh, no, no, no. I hear you, I hear you, man. Go!

GROSS: My guest, Robert Gordon, is the author of the new biography, "Can't Be
Satisfied: The Life and Times of Muddy Waters."

One of the things you did for the biography of Muddy Waters is find some of
his surviving friends and surviving relatives. Who were the surviving
relatives that you were able to make contact with?

Mr. GORDON: I made contact and became friends with Muddy's brothers,
half-brother in Rolling Fork, Robert Morganfield, and his granddaughter, whom
he raised, Amelia "Cookie" Cooper. And through them, really, once I met them
and gained their trust and developed a rapport, I began to get beyond the
stage and beyond the recording studio. It was easy to find bandmates, and
they were happy to talk, but getting into the family, they took me inside the
home. And Cookie, especially, the granddaughter, she was raised by Muddy and
his wife, lived with them since she was three in 1959. And I knocked on her
door. She was expecting me. She opens the door and says, essentially, `I
told you I would talk to you, so come in, but I don't really want to talk to

And I had waited about a year and a half or two years into my research to
approach her because I wanted to go in educated and armed. And once I began
to ask, you know, detailed, family-specific questions, she opened up. And she
said that Muddy, you know, was not a great man in the house, that, you know,
she talked frankly about his womanizing and about the effect that had on his
wife and in the household and on Cookie. And she laid it all on the line.
She spoke very honestly. And that gave me--her doing that was a huge
inspiration to me because it gave me--there is a dark side to Muddy Waters.
In the foreword to the book, Keith Richards writes, `There's a demon in all of
us, and certainly, there was a demon in Muddy.' And her frank and forthright
account of it allowed me to approach it similarly in the book.

GROSS: Well, there's a certainly a lot of darkness in his lyrics and a lot of
sexuality in his lyrics, so I guess in that sense, it's not surprising that
there was darkness and a lot of sexuality in his life as well. How did it
affect your sense of him as a man to hear stories of his womanizing and of
other things that he did that, I imagine, were dark or offensive to you?

Mr. GORDON: I was on this book--it took me five years to write. Because, you
know, he didn't read or write, there was no filing cabinet I was going to find
that had the box with his journal and all the answers in it, you know. So it
took going around and finding the people. And in that five years, I went
from, you know, really liking him to there was a period where I really didn't
like him.

GROSS: Did it affect your feelings about his music? Because, let's face it,
a lot of his songs are about having sex with women who you are not married

Mr. GORDON: Yeah.

GROSS: ...and may be married to other people or you may be married to another

Mr. GORDON: `She said, "Come on in now, Muddy. My husband just now left."'
That's from "Rolling Stone." In the five years, I never tired of listening to
the music, and I think what this sort of understanding of his--of his
understanding of his sexuality--what that gave me was, I think--you know, I
began to examine the lyrics deeper and kind of feel the sex in the songs

GROSS: Why don't we close with a recording of Muddy Waters singing his song
"Mannish Boy"? What's the significance of this recording?

Mr. GORDON: Well, you know, the sexuality here, again, is very clear. And
several people in Muddy's family talked about that when he would sing this
song, he brought a voice--you know, he threw his whole self into it, which I
think was part of his art. You know, there's a lot of people who sound great,
but he was able to make it work on tape time and time again. So I think what
you hear here is Muddy Waters singing, you know, `I'm a man,' and he--when I
asked Cookie, the granddaughter, once, you know, `Why do you think he did
these bad things to the home?' And she said, `Because he's a man.' And, you
know, whew, that kind of left me stunned, but, you know, in this song, I think
you'll hear it.

GROSS: Robert Gordon. His new biography of Muddy Waters is called "Can't Be
Satisfied." I'm Terry Gross.


(Soundbite of music)

Mr. WATERS: (Singing) Oh, yeah. Whoo! Everything, everything, everything
gonna be all right this morning. Oh, yeah. Whoo! Yeah! Now when I was a
young boy, at the age of five, my mother said I was gonna be the greatest man
alive. But now I'm a man, way past 21. I want you to believe me, baby, I had
lots of fun. I'm a man. I spell M, A, child, N. That represents man. Yeah!
No, B, whoo! O, child, Y! That mean mannish boy. I'm a man. Yeah! I'm a
full-grown man. I'm a man. I'm a natural born lovers man. I'm a man. Yeah!
I'm a rollin' stone.

Transcripts are created on a rush deadline, and accuracy and availability may vary. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Please be aware that the authoritative record of Fresh Air interviews and reviews are the audio recordings of each segment.

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