Your Complete Guide to the Chicago Blues Scene
Blues is in Big Bill Morganfield’s blood
Interview with a true son of the blues
By Linda Cain
Big Bill Morganfield came to the blues later in life. The son of late legend Muddy Waters (a.k.a McKinley Morganfield), Bill’s initial career path included college and teaching rather than music. But once he made the decision to become a blues artist, there was no stopping him.
Bill was born in Chicago and raised by his grandmother in Southern Florida and didn’t have much contact with his famous father. Bill earned a B.A. in English with a French minor from Tuskegee University and went on to earn a B.A. in Communications from Auburn University. After college, he worked as a teacher, but when his legendary father passed away in 1983, Bill made a decision to honor the legacy of Muddy Waters and the blues genre by becoming a blues artist himself. Already in his Forties, he studied blues music in all its forms and learned to play guitar. It took him six years, but Bill pursued his goal with a passion and worked hard to live up to the expectations for the son of a blues legend. Bill was determined to find his own style rather than imitate his father; by doing so, he succeeded in earning fans’ and critics’ praise.
Bill’s debut CD, Rising Son, was recorded in Chicago and released in 1999 on the Blind Pig label to critical acclaim. The CD included some of Muddy’s former bandmates including Bob Margolin (who produced) along with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Pinetop Perkins and Paul Oscher. The debut album helped him win the W.C. Handy Award for Best New Blues Artist. His 2001 sophomore Blind Pig release, Ramblin’ Mind, was produced by Dick Shurman and featured a guest appearance by Taj Mahal. Blues in the Blood, his 2003 CD on the label, was co-produced by Jimmy Vivino and Brian Bisesi (another member of Muddy’s band).
In 2009, the singer/songwriter and guitarist started his own indie label, Black Shuck Records, and released Born Lover, with co-producer Bob Margolin. Big Bill’s current Black Shuck CD, Blues With A Mood, has been topping the charts and earning rave reviews.
Today, Big Bill Morganfield is an internationally known touring artist who will bring his show to the Chicago area for Shedfest in Highland Park, on July 20, 2013. Sharing the stage with Big Bill will be Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater and the Chicago Blues Reunion featuring: Harvey Mandel, Corky Siegel, Barry Goldberg, Nick Gravenites, Sam Lay and Marcella Detroit (a.k.a. Marcy Levy).
Chicago Blues Reunion – 6 p.m.
Big Bill Morganfield – 8 p.m.
Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater – 9:30 p.m.
The fest is located at 1480 Old Deerfield Rd (near Skokie Hwy.), Highland Park, IL. For info, visit: http://www.theshedfest.com/
The Highland Park festival runs two days and features a variety of music acts and food booths. The event is a fundraiser for Rebecca’s Dream, an organization dedicated to raising awareness for teen depression, bi-polar disorder and suicide prevention.
Big Bill was kind enough to take time from his busy schedule to do an interview with Chicago Blues Guide.
Q – Congratulations on being inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame recently. The ceremony was held at Buddy Guy’s Legends on April 28, 2013 and we were there to witness both you and your half-brother Mud Morganfield accept your awards. You and Mud performed together for a couple Muddy Waters songs, which was a very special moment.
Was this the first time you and Mud performed together?
Thank you. Larry (Mud) and I performed at Westmont Blues Festival several years ago. That was the first time. We also played Chicago Blues Festival with Pinetop Perkins and Willie “Big Eyes” Smith a couple of years before they passed.
Q – Do you have any plans to perform again with Mud? Or plans to perhaps record together?
There are no plans in the immediate future.
Q - You don’t perform in Chicago very often. But when you do come to town, is there anything special that you like to do here? Do you have family members in Chicago?
I have family there in Chicago. I always love seeing my younger brother Joe Morganfield when I come to Chicago. I love it when Buddy is in town because I get a chance to say hi. He is one of my musical heroes and I love to just see him.
Q – Your new CD, “Blues With A Mood,” received a rave review from Chicago Blues Guide and other publications. You recorded it down in Nashville, the country music capitol of the world. But these days Nashville’s studios seem to be attracting a number of blues artists with greats like Buddy Guy and Lonnie Brooks making records down there.
What prompted you to head to Tennessee to make “Blues With A Mood”?
Well, it’s a long story but it basically had to do with me needing a great studio to record the new disc. The studio I had reserved in Charleston called my engineer and said that I was being kicked out because a more famous guy needed the studio to finish a project. You would think that my 50% deposit was good enough to lock things in but it wasn’t. In looking back, they did me a great favor.
Q - How does working in Nashville with their studio players differ from recording with Chicago musicians and working here?
Nashville has a large pool of studio musicians which really makes it a great place to record in. I was able to get Jim Horn to play on the new record. Jim is the most recorded sax player in the history of the music industry. He recorded with Ike and Tina Turner, Michael Jackson, Lionel Richie and a host of other famous entertainers.
Q – I’m sure European audiences love your new CD, too. Do you have plans to tour overseas?
I’m scheduled to perform Feb. 13 to March 2 of 2014 in East and Middle Germany and March 21st to April 5th in South Germany, Switzerland and Austria.
Q – The closing track on Blues With A Mood is called “Son of The Blues.” It is a very personal, autobiographical, powerful and soul-baring song that deals with your childhood issues. You sing about your decision to change your life and follow your destiny to become a blues artist with great conviction.
Is songwriting good therapy for you?
Definitely, writing songs help me with issues that affect my life.
Q - You have said that your father’s passing away in 1983 is what led you to make the decision to learn to play the blues. Was it a gradual process, where you went back and forth, thinking should I or shouldn’t I take the chance? Or did it hit you like a lightning bolt and there was no turning back?
I would say that it hit rather strongly at first and actually got stronger as time passed.
Q - How old were you when you first met Muddy?
I was too young to remember the first time I met my father.
Q – Did you have the opportunity to meet any of Muddy’s contemporaries or see them perform while they were still alive? Legends like Howlin’ Wolf, Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, or John Lee Hooker?
I saw several of my dad’s contemporaries before they passed…Johnnie Johnson, Willie Smith, Robert Jr. Lockwood, Pinetop, Hubert, Bobby Bland, Koko, Ruth Brown and many others.
Q – You are an educated man with two degrees, one in Communications and the other in English with a minor in French. Were you in college in the 1970s? What kind of music were you listening to back then?
Yes. I was in college from 1975 to 1979 and listened to everything except blues.
Q – Do you have a dream gig or a dream collaboration that you’d like to perform some day?
Buddy Guy and B.B. King.