If you go about an hour and a half south of Memphis, you will happen upon a town called Clarksdale, Mississippi. There is a museum there, the Delta Blues Museum, and for anyone who has loved the blues, this is one of the most popular stopping places on their journey down what is known as The Blues Trail, for inside the museum is the remains of the cabin where McKinley Morganfield lived on the Stovall Plantation. It is where Alan Lomax recorded him on his porch in 1941. It is where this simple man began his journey to becoming the legendary Muddy Waters.
It’s been about a hundred years since Waters was born and to celebrate his life, Severn Records president David Earl had the bright idea to get Waters’ eldest son Mud Morganfield to record some of his father’s music with harp player, and Fabulous Thunderbird, Kim Wilson. Add in piano player Barrelhouse Chuck, guitarists Billy Flynn and Rusty Zinn, bass player Steve Gomes and drummer Robb Stupka, and what they recorded in only a few days is For Pops. A delectable collection of songs that Waters wrote and/or recorded are done immaculate justice by these men. From the lonesome cry that Wilson puts on “Still A Fool” and “Just To Be With You” to the boogie woogie spin of “Blow Wind Blow” and “Gone To Main Street,” Morganfield has given a fresh bark to these classics.
Speaking with Morganfield on a summer afternoon recently, his voice full with happiness for his life and the music he is now creating as an artist with a legend’s blood running through his veins, he is thrilled to see his father’s music still being played. Morganfield is following in those footsteps as he travels the world singing his roots and adding in some of his own music as well. With two studio albums under his belt, the first only coming in 2008 when he was fifty-four years old, Morganfield feels he still has plenty of music left in him to play. But For Pops is something that is close to his heart and Glide had a chance to chat with him about the blues and his father’s music.
You and Kim Wilson sound so well together on this record. How do you think For Pops turned out?
It’s fantastic and my family loved it. It’s a great gift from a son to his dad. I’m really pleased with it, grateful for it, you know.
When did the idea come about to do a record like this?
The idea came from Severn Records president David Earl. I think he was thinking along the terms of it being Muddy’s 100th birthday next year. I think he was thinking along those terms and I’m on his label and Kim Wilson’s on that label and he just brainstormed that it would be a good idea to kind of salute my father with this tribute album. And the rest is history.
Did you pick out all of the songs yourself?
No, that was actually a combination of all of us. “The Life I Love,” I liked that. I liked “Trouble No More.” I really enjoyed doing “Still A Fool.” Some people call it “Two Trains Running,” which is an old, old song of my dad’s he done years ago. I tell you, Leslie, I’m just thrilled, tickled pink, doing it. I think we did an excellent job paying tribute to my father and to celebrate his birthdate.
Was there one particular song that you felt had to be on here above any of the other songs?
Well, in my live shows, I split my shows with my father’s stuff and my stuff. I mean, how blessed am I, as his son, to be able to live in any parts of anything that my parents have done on this earth. I am just totally blown away and I enjoy it too. But “Trouble No More,” “I Live The Life I Love,” “Gone To Main Street,” and I have to tell you, I amazed myself with the “Just To Be With You” song. Believe it or not, I sung that song off of a paper (laughs). This is Muddy Waters’ stuff and every time my father would do a show, his songs would always be different. You never ever would hear Pop do a song the same way. So I had to sit that song up on my music sheet table and sing from that, from those lyrics, and I was just so amazed of the great job I had done as far as vocals on that particular cut. That song is so great, it is so gut-wrenching.
When I’m up on stage I don’t hear what you guys hear. I can only tell you I feel my father’s presence whenever I perform his stuff. I can see him just looking down saying, “That’s my boy. You got it now, that’s it” and just keeping a thumb up. But that song, “Just To Be With You,” I think it was just magic. I don’t know, I hate to even speculate that maybe Pop was in the studio with me, cause like I said, I read that song from a paper of lyrics and the band started up and Kim and that fantastic band, they started up and it came out that way. Fantastic. It’s a great song.
There’re other ones I like. “Trouble No More,” I think that is so jumpy, so shuffly. And there’s some slow ones that I like, like “She Moves Me” and “I Want To Be Loved.” There’s some slow ones on there but you know these songs were great for that era of songs, where people who were hurting from a broken up love affair. Mom used to play that song all the time by Dad and they would cheer up and cry and have another shot of JD (laughs). But I like those upbeat tempo songs. Of course, I’m only Muddy’s son and I come from a different era and I love to see people enjoy their self and dance. When I hit those kinds of songs, I hit them strong and hope people who may be out and not just only crying into their drinks but up and dancing the night away.
My grandmother would always say they didn’t have much money back then.
I just think time was more simpler then. Things were more simple then. A loaf of bread was like twenty-five cents. I was only a kid but it might not have been simpler for my parents, but to me, life was so simple. Now you have to plan going to grocery shop, you have to plan your way going to the bank, cause there’s so many crazy people out here, Leslie, that you have to almost say, “I’m coming in” or “Look out.” Time was just so much simpler and it’s strange that you would mention that cause I was just talking to some friends of mine last night about that and we were talking about the old Perry Mason shows and the old Bonanza shows. I hope I’m not taking you back too far (laughs) but those were great times for me. Those were times when my grandmother was in the house and the family was in the house and we were close-knit and we were told, you know, what not to do. I just sometimes miss that.
Was there always music in your house?
Oh sure. I think I came here tapping on my mother’s stomach. I mean, seriously, as long as I can remember, Pop was just such a strong man; probably like his dad and his dad and his dad and on and on. As far as I can remember, I must have been three or four years old, I came here tapping on stuff, music just swinging through my soul. Do you know how many times I got scolded for just knocking on stuff with my hands and beating on stuff? It was just the music flowing through me.
So it was it inevitable that you would do this.
Well, I tell you, it’s always been my lifelong dream and it always has been a part of me. I drove big rigs for a number of years and there was always music in there. Music has always been a part of my life. But as you know, life happens sometimes, you have to pay your dues, so to speak, and I can tell you I paid a lot of dues in Chicago Westside. I came up in a rural area, what we call ghetto. After the assassination of Martin Luther King, it got even worse. I have to be honest, those were pretty hard times but it’s the reason I got some blues today. So I’ll probably have the blues till the day I die.
Did Muddy ever talk to you about his youth growing up in Mississippi?
Oh yeah, I heard all those stories and he was a southern boy and he had that southerness in him up until the day he died. I’ll share something with you a lot of people didn’t know. My father loved fried bologna (laughs). He used to go to the deli in Chicago and then Westmont, his last home he lived in, and he would go to the deli and he would buy bologna and he would love the bologna cooked almost burnt (laughs). He would come in at four o’clock in the morning sometimes and that’s what he’d want. He would get some of my kinfolks to fry him some bologna. He loved that fried bologna.
Did you inherit that?
You know, actually I didn’t (laughs). I eat a lot of turkey. I try to watch my health and I eat turkey.
What do you think was the greatest lesson you learned from your mother?
I tell you, she just jumped in the car and went to a garage sale actually (laughs). My mom will be 82 in a few more days and I’d say I’ve learned more lessons from that little lady than I could ever imagine. Because Muddy was never at home, Muddy wasn’t there. Muddy was on the road doing Muddy. It was my mom and she passed out the punishment, whatever. It was always Mom cause Pop came home, he was tired. He had been on the road for two months and he would sleep two or three days. But that’s how it goes.
In your teenage years, who did you really like to listen to?
That’s an easy one. Again, I came up in a different era than my father and Little Walter and all those very fantastic artists. I came up in a different era and my favorite artist, and still is today, Barry White. That’s my all-time favorite. I mean, I have a list of them but Barry White was very much a romantic and I consider myself sort of romantic too. It could have been some of the mojo from father (laughs) that came down to me. I’m pretty sure it is, Leslie, but I really, really dig Barry White.
When did you start writing your own songs?
When I got in this business of blues and I started piecing together different parts of things I’ve been through. For instance, on my Son Of The Seventh Son album there’s a song called “Blues In My Shoes” and that’s a short burst of some of the things I went through. Like I mentioned earlier, I grew up in a rural area; not a rural area but a really urban neighborhood, and I’ve seen a lot of things and been around a lot of things. I didn’t have the pleasure of getting up and walking down the lakefront and watching the ocean and the lakes or something. I came up and there was gunshots and someone may have gotten hit down the street. I mean, I’ve seen the drunks, the drugs, and I tell you again, I can’t forget these things because it makes up who I am today. It makes me the man I am today.
Why did it take you so long to start doing this?
It WAS a while. I was supposed to follow in Dad’s footsteps (laughs). You know, as a kid, we read that and that’s the last thing you want to do. We didn’t want to follow mom or dad. We wanted to do our thing, you know. We want to do what we want to do. Just because my dad was a carpenter doesn’t mean I want to cut wood (laughs). If he’s a shoemaker, it doesn’t mean I want to shoe a horse. So with that being said, I had other aspirations but I always had this burning inside of me for music and it just won out, Leslie. It won out. And this is what I love doing. I love creating new stuff, new songs. I love singing about life and what life could have been or even what life could be. And that’s Mud Morganfield.
What do you think is the biggest change or evolution that you’ve seen in the blues genre?
Oh girl, it’s done changed so much it’s scary. Sometimes people say the blues is dead and this and that and I just think it takes good artists like myself to step up and continue this trend, and to celebrate blues because here you have gospel first. Not bebop, not hip hop. You had gospel which was sung in the cotton fields of Mississippi by slaves who were looking for a God for some relief. And from that came blues. So they started putting this kind of sound on gospel to get a message across to you that I’m hurting, I got the blues, I’m crying for this reason or that reason. But it all came out of church. And then it went to blues and from blues everything else evolved.
Is there anyone out there today, some of these young guys maybe, that have impressed you?
You know, I’ll tell you what impresses me: young people picking up the guitar is refreshing to me. Sometimes I play around the world and in the audience I have these kids that work through the lines of adults and they want to shake my hand or they’ve picked up the guitar or the harp and I will just let them up because those are the potential Eric Claptons, the potential Vaughans, the potential Muddy and Wolf. Let them in. So whenever I see that, it’s refreshing to me. I’ve had people ask me, “Hey Mud, why you do this? Your dad’s stuff and all?” Let me tell you this. I have had students call me from different colleges and asking me information about Father. You know, for me, I do these shows and one of the most important things I get from it is, for all those who have heard of Muddy Waters, I think I give them a glimpse, just a glimpse, Leslie, maybe, into what it would have been like to see Muddy Waters live.
Your father influenced so many of the British musicians, like Clapton and the Stones and Peter Green. Where do you hear your father the most in their music?
I don’t know, Leslie. Things are changing so much and so fast. Now they got something called rock blues or rock around the corner blues and blues with a spin (laughs). It is what it is but nothing personal and I don’t have anything against that but I try to stay traditional, and I can only pray that all the traditional blues fans are still around. I try to tap into that real life blues of things that have yet to come.
What made making this album with Kim and the other gentlemen in the band, so enjoyable for you?
First of all, you know we hung out in the studio and had a great time and I know most of these cats. Barrelhouse Chuck, Billy Flynn, Rusty Zinn, and I worked with these guys before except Kim. It was fantastic because you have a handful of top notch musicians, some of the best of the best actually, and they know the blues. So it was very, very exciting to do. Whenever I needed inspiration, they gave it to me and in return I gave it back and you have the result of that in your player.
When did you first hear about Kim?
I’ve known about Kim for years, and the Fabulous Thunderbirds. We never got a chance to play together but I’ve known about Kim and respected his harp playing for years. As a matter of fact, I respect any harp player. People don’t seem to understand the relationship. Otis Spann and Little Walter and James Cotton and those great harp players, I just don’t think you can’t have any really good blues unless you got a harp player. No offense to horn players, and you can add as many horn players as you may, but if you want some good, dirty, lowdown blues, you have to have a harp player. And keys of course.
Do you still live in Chicago?
I’m still in Chicago. I was born and raised here, been here all my life, and they’ll end up putting me right here at Restvale Cemetery where my dad’s at. I ain’t going nowhere.
Muddy played Jazz Fest here in New Orleans a long time ago.
I haven’t been a place yet, Leslie, that my dad [hasn’t played], and I’m talking about even to Russia. I was in Moscow and they were talking about a year my father was there. I mean, from Brazil to Argentina, all over the world, and I’m proud to be his son.
But I couldn’t stay there. I love warm weather but I can’t stand that hot weather. I need me some snow. Give me some cold. Remember I told you, I’m a big romantic. Me and my girl we just go to the movies and eat popcorn and it kind of helps you get to know each other (laughs). I’m a total romantic.
You sound very happy.
Well, I’m just going to be frank with you and keep it real. Life is not set up like that. I have good days and I have bad days. I’m in this just like you and you’re in it just like me and we take it one day at a time.
What is coming up for you?
I got several shows but they’re all overseas. I got two shows at the Albert Hall in England, in London, which is probably the most prestigious venue in England, the Albert Hall. I’m over there the 28th and 29th [of August] and I have about six or seven gigs over there. I hope to get more gigs in my country next year, you know. It’s strange, my dad worked from the inside out and I’m working from the outside in (laughs). But I’ll be more than happy to go anywhere in the world to sing some blues.