Chicago Blues Legend Muddy Waters' Landmark Home Endangered

It's Chicago's original House of Blues. Named one of 2013’s 10 most endangered historic places, the home has been under threat of foreclosure and cited for blight and neglect. Family members are in a fight to preserve the property.

Photo by: Michael Halsbad In Chicago for a three-day stint as part of a tour, the Rolling Stones' Mick Jagger (far left), Keith Richards, Ronnie Wood and Ian Stewart (not pictured) sit in with Muddy Waters at Buddy Guy's Checkerboard Lounge in 1981. The performance has been reissued as a DVD. Waters, ranked no. 17 of the top 100 greatest guitarists of all time by Rolling Stone magazine, died April 30, 1983, age 70.

He was "the cat every man wanted to be, and every woman wanted to love," says Willie Dixon (Cedric the Entertainer) in the 2008 biopic Cadillac Records, a chronicle of the rise of Chicago label Chess Records. At the center is Muddy Waters, played by Jeffrey Wright in an impeccable performance as the Hoochie Coochie man himself, a former Mississippi sharecropper who electrified the blues and put the Delta in rock music. The Rolling Stones named their band after one of his songs, and just about every prominent rock band covered Waters: Eric Clapton, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Dylan, the Allman Brothers, and Led Zeppelin, who made Whole Lotta Love into an anthem of the '70s. 

All the fame and recognition — a 1994 U.S. postal stamp; part of Cass Avenue in Westmont, Ill., (the suburb Waters lived the last decade before he died) named Honorary Muddy Waters Way — all this couldn't keep the 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. home on the South Side out of trouble. The boarded-up home has been a drug hangout, overflowing with litter and noise, a hazard according to the city. "What's happening is a tragedy," said Jay B. Ross, Waters' last attorney. "He's a national treasure."

Photo via Landmarks Illinois Muddy Waters' 4339 S. Lake Park Ave. home, a historic landmark where the Chess Records giant lived. It's now on Landmarks Illinois' most endangered list.

Larry Thompson, founder of the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame, said there are plans to convert the home into a museum, similar to Madame Tussauds wax museum in London, where replicas of Waters, Howlin' Wolf and harmonica man Little Walter Jacobs could be viewed on display with guitars, sheet music and other artifacts. 

But that's costly. "We're planning a benefit to raise the money and awareness," said Steven McKinley, Waters' great-grandson, who's heading a mission to raise $500,000 to preserve and repurpose the home. The current owner, McKinley's mother Amelia Cooper, couldn't be reached for comment.

It's not over. This Saturday at the Checkerboard Lounge, a Battle of the Bands Tribute to Muddy Waters will crank it up to honor the man inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1987, and keep the funds rolling in. Once owned by Buddy Guy, Water's musician-in-arms and a legend in his own right, the club is embedded in Chicago's blues culture. It's an apt location.  

The Battle of the Bands Tribute to Muddy Waters, on Saturday, Sept. 21, 7 p.m. at the Checkerboard Lounge, 5201 S. Harper Ct., in Hyde Park. For more information, call (773) 684-1472.

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