Friday, May 25, 2018

Music From The Morganfields

Mud and Big Bill, with brother Joe Morganfield (Photo - Lynn Orman Weiss)
During the last year or so, two members of one of the First Families of the Blues have issued new releases that show that the blues is doing just fine continuing into the next generations.  There have been other blues families that have carried on the tradition over the years (Carey Bell and family, Raful Neal and family, James and Lucky Peterson, Luther and Bernard Allison, Tabby Thomas and Chris Thomas King, etc.......) and all have enjoyed a healthy measure of success, but it's been a really cool thing to see Big Bill Morganfield and Mud Morganfield, the descendants of Muddy Waters, find the spotlight as well, because though they had a huge pair of shoes to fill, they've repeatedly proved that they are more than up to the task.

Big Bill Morganfield had little contact with his famous father as a child.  He was born in 1956 in Chicago, but was raised in Georgia by his grandmother.   Growing up, he did listen to Muddy Waters records, but also the standard popular fare of the day.....R&B, soul, etc....  He also earned degrees at Tuskegee University and Auburn University and became a teacher.  Though he always dabbled in music, Morganfield began to seriously pursue it after his father passed away in 1983.  He bought a guitar a few years after his father died, and spent the next six years learning to play by studying his father's music as well as many of the old masters.

By the mid 90's, he had his own band, The Stone Cold Blues Band, and began to attract attention, but his career really took off after his first release on Blind Pig Records, Rising Son, hit the streets in 1999.  It featured several of his father's former band members, including Pinetop Perkins, Paul Oscher, and Willie "Big Eyes" Smith.  Morganfield sounded a lot like his father as a vocalist and showed some pretty impressive skills on guitar, particularly slide.  The best thing about it was that while he did cover some of his dad's tunes (and some other classics as well), he brought several great songs of his own to the table.  I wasn't sure what to expect when I first heard it...these were the days before songs were blasted all over the internet like they are today....but I have to say that I was really blown away by his talent and the fact that he was the son of Muddy Waters played very little into that.

Since then, Big Bill has released several very good albums, including last year's Bloodstains On The Wall, which to these ears, is his best release yet.  Like on his previous releases, he offers up some choice cover tunes from a wide variety of sources......Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, Lonesome Sundown, the title track from Alabama blues artist Frank "Honeyboy" Patt, Jimmy Reed, and Jimmy McCracklin, and his own songs are as strong as the covers.  He even ventures into more modern sounds with one track, blending his voice and guitar with hip and electronica......even if that's not your bag, it's pretty cool that he's venturing into what must be unfamiliar territory music-wise.

Bloodstains On The Wall was released about this time last year, during my extended leave of absence from blogging, but it really stood out to me.  It's nice to hear the traces of Muddy Waters in Morganfield's voice and his guitar.....who wouldn't want to hear that.....but it's also great to see him branching out from that sound and developing his own distinctive sound.

Like his brother, Larry "Mud" Morganfield never really got to know his father.  He was born in 1954 in Chicago and was raised by his mother and her seven brothers.  Though his father, busy with touring and traveling, did occasionally visit him (giving him a drum set when he was a kid) and despite being around music most of his life, like his brother, he never seriously pursued it until his father passed away, even though he played drums and later moved to bass guitar.  He actually made a living driving a truck, but a recurring dream about his dad performing on stage encouraged him to give the blues a shot.

His vocals strongly resemble his father's in their tone and phrasing, but again like his brother, Mud grew up listening not only to his father's music, but also the popular music of the time, particularly R&B, soul, and Motown, and his live sets featured a mix of those styles.  His first album release came much later in 2008 on the Gypsy Woman/Pops Daisy label, but he also released a live disc that year with the Dirty Aces.  In 2012, after signing with Severn Records, he released Son of the Seventh Son.  A powerful set, Morganfield wrote most of the songs, but covered one of his father's tunes, a chilling read of "You Can't Lose What You Never Had" that sounds for all the world like his father singing it back in the day.

Though I've never heard his early recordings, I did review Son of the Seventh Son for Blues Bytes and the vocal resemblance was just amazing to me.  Morganfield's next release, For Pops:  A Tribute To Muddy Waters, was, as the title would indicate, a loving tribute to his dad.  Morganfield covered fourteen of his father's most beloved tunes, backed by the incredible harmonica legend Kim Wilson.  Severn Records president David Earl reported that he was inundated with phone calls and emails after Morganfield's debut release, demanding that he and Wilson (also with Severn) join forces.

More recently, Morganfield released They Call Me Mud, also on Severn Records. It's a bit of a change from his previous efforts in that while he does cover a few of his father's tunes in that magnificent voice, and also offers a few originals that touch on that traditional Chicago-from-the-Delta quality, there's a definite soul/R&B feel to about half of the album, sometimes combining funk and even a touch of jazz to the soul/R&B tunes.  On these tunes, Morganfield doesn't sound as much like his father, but he still sounds great, and there's even one song that he sings with his daughter, Lashunda Williams.

Like his brother, Mud Morganfield manages to carry on the proud musical traditions of his father, but he also shows that he is more than capable of branching out to other styles with relative ease.


I think Muddy Waters would be extremely proud of his sons doing their part to keep the blues alive.  If you haven't had the chance to check out either of these fine artists, I highly recommend you give their music a spin.

No comments: