I was born and raised in Ypsilanti, MI by middle-class parents. I was the second of five children, two boys and three girls. My father worked at Ford Motor Company and retired after 41 years in 1980. My mother was a housewife who took in sewing to make extra money. When the kids got older, she had various jobs outside the home. I was an athlete throughout my school years. I played baseball, football, basketball, and tennis. Musically, as a teenager living near Detroit, we loved the Motown sound. But then, while everyone else discovered the Beatles in 1964, I discovered the Stones, and like so many of my generation, saw the names of the authors of the songs on those first couple albums: Elias McDaniel, Chuck Berry (who we already knew and loved), McKinley Morganfield.
So began my journey into African-American music. I haunted the Bop Shop, a small, black-owned record store in downtown Ypsilanti. There on the display shelves were Muddy Waters, Jimmy Smith, Cannonball Adderley, Jimmy Reed, and Bobby Bland. The first blues album I bought was by Jimmy Reed. The first jazz record I bought was Midnight Blue by Kenny Burrell. But the big breakthrough was buying The Best of Muddy Waters. From the first strains of "Hoochie Coochie Man," that amazing voice and Little Walter's unbelievable harp just blew me away. Never have I had a more transcendent experience. Then came "Hoodoo Man" by Junior Wells and the Butterfield Blues Band. And then came Adderley, and Trane, and Rollins, and Davis, and most especially, my favorite -- Charles Mingus, the master of disaster.
I went to college at Central Michigan University, amazing everyone who passed my room who heard Trane and Pharoah Sanders, or Sonny Boy and the Yardbirds, or saw the Lightnin' Hopkins album cover tacked on my door. I spent summers and vacations working at Ford or taking temporary jobs with Manpower, Inc., to make enough money to continue college. And I traveled to New York City, Florida, Texas, Colorado, and California. I remember seeing Buddy Guy at the Canterbury House in Ann Arbor in 1966. He had A.C. Reed in the band, and his guitar playing was a revelation. I've never heard him play that good live or on record since. I went to the 1969 Ann Arbor Blues Festival. I remember Wolf, Big Mama Thornton, B.B., Muddy, and Magic Sam. But most of all, for sheer beauty and emotion, I remember Son House and his National Steel and his Mississippi string tie. He closed the show to a thunderous ovation, and seemed truly amazed and humbled by all the adulation he received.
I finished school in 1973 at Eastern Michigan University. I've had the privilege to see Mingus, Rollins, Miles, Jaki Byard, and Rahsaan Roland Kirk live. I never got to see Monk or Trane. After years of traveling, working, and listening to music, I met my wife at the Old Town Bar in Ann Arbor in 1980. She was the afternoon bartender. We were married in 1981 and immediately started a family. I have three children. In 1983, I started work as a procedure writer at the Fermi 2 nuclear power plant for Detroit Edison. I have been there ever since. We presently live in Monroe, MI. ~ Jim Coffin
Desert Island List
The Best of Muddy Waters