The movie “Cadillac Records” chronicles the lives of legendary blues greats Muddy Waters, Little Walter, Howling Wolf and Ms. Etta James. As a sharecropper who rose to fame in the early 50’s, Muddy Waters was discovered by Leonard Chess. Chess capitalized on the talent of African Americans during that era. He founded Chess Records. With the music of Waters, Walter, Wolf and James among many others, Chess became rich while sharing the profits meagerly but making legends of the names of those who lined his pocket.
With exceptional performances by Jeffrey Wright as Muddy Waters, Columbus Short as Little Walter, Eamonn Walker as Howling Wolf, Beyonce Knowles as Ms. Etta James, Gabrielle Union as Geneva and Adrien Brody as Leonard Chess the movie was a hit.
The movie is an entertaining analysis of the rise from sharecropper to famous recording artist of Muddy Water, his relationship with Leonard Chess and love and tragic relationship with Little Walter. In addition, the movie gives viewers a brief synopsis of the relationship Chess shared with Ms. Etta James and growth of Chuck Berry along with Howlin Wolf.
In addition to the talented artists of the early fifties and sixties, “Cadillac Records” shares brief interludes disclosing how Caucasian artists rose to stardom off the music of Black blues artist and how some gave back. Details of Minnesota Fats fathering Ms. Etta James, but refusing to accept the fact are disclosed.
There was always an undertone of anger displayed in Ms. James’ music which made it so heart wrenching but meaningful to listen to. The soul of her music could always be felt to the point it would sometimes bring you to tears. Howling Wolf and the extraordinary singing sensation Ms Etta James had extraordinary careers which peaked during the era and still capture the soul of the Blues.
Muddy Waters came from Mississippi while Leonard Chess was from across the water later migrating to Chicago. Little Walter was discovered by Muddy a few years after settling in Chicago.
As the story goes, Muddy Waters was born and raised in a little slave shack in one of the most racially segregated states in the nation: Mississippi. He grew up on a plantation. While sharecropping, Muddy would sing in the fields of Mississippi. His singing caught the eye of a gentleman who worked for the Library of congress. To keep history of our country and those who worked to develop it, the Library sent an agent to record Muddy Water as he sang.
He only realized the impact of his singing and his talent after listening to a recorded version of his voice. Muddy then knew there was something else for him in life other than the field. He set off on a trip to find himself. He found his lifelong partner, Geneva, while playing his guitar on the city streets of Chicago.
Geneva was the driving force and strength behind Muddy. Muddy was a ladies man. Women tended to throw themselves at him. He did not resist, but he always returned home to Geneva. Geneva was his strength and his firm foundation. She kept him and his life moving in the right direction.
Shortly after beginning to sing in Chicago, Muddy met Little Walter. Their partnership grew as Muddy played the guitar and Walter the harmonica. Walter could perform miracles with his harmonica and Chess grew the team of Muddy ad Walter. Later, Howlin Wolf was introduced to Chess Records. The animosity between Waters and Wolf was obvious from the beginning. The movie demonstrates it a couple of times when Waters and Wolf clash very smoothly as they meet but later with strong words exchanged.
A meeting is planned by an acquaintance of Chess to introduce him to a recently discovered singing sensation. He is introduced to Etta James who from the beginning strikes him. He seems charmed by her. From the beginning there is interest which grows into love as later when Chess dies, it is discovered he has had the house she resides in placed in her name.
Later, Walter is attacked and dies from his injuries. He finally confronts chess stating it was by his introduction to Chess that Walter was killed. From there, the movie gives brief info on the life of the other greats after Chess passes.
“Cadillac Records” is one for the lovers of musical history during the 50’s and 60’s. The great takeaways here are: Minnesota Fats is said to have fathered Ms. Etta James, The Beatles credit their start to Muddy Waters and Chuck Berry was said to live out of his Cadillac refusing to spend his money anywhere he was treated as a lower class citizen.
Released: December 5, 2008
Adrien Brody: Leonard Chess
Beyoncé Knowles: Ms. Etta James
Jeffrey Wright: Muddy Waters
Columbus Short: Little Walter
Eamonn Walker: Howlin Wolf
Gabrielle Union: Geneva