Mud Morganfield Honors the Past and Chases the Future

"You can’t really sing no blues if you ain’t had no blues."

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-Photo by Paul Natkin

Your name is Mud Morganfield and you are the oldest son of McKinley Morganfield, known to millions as Muddy Waters. You decide that you want to make music and you want to sing. But most of all you want to do that being your own person and honoring your father’s legacy at the same time. Outside looking in says that’s a tough bet. Reality says that it is a tough bet indeed.

Mud Morganfield is undeterred and sets about getting a heaping helping of living life and experiencing its trials and tribulations first hand. He is gathering his blues to him from the streets and the roads he’s traveled.

American Blues Scene’s Barry Kerzner caught up with Morganfield recently. They spoke about the new album They Call Me Mud and what music has been important to him. He was also anxious to discuss Muddy Waters’ former home in Westmont, and his legacy in general.

Barry Kerzner for ABS:

You produced They Call Me Mud along with Rick Kreher, who plays guitar on the album as well. What benefits do you enjoy producing yourself?

Mud Morganfield:

It gave me a chance to put stuff that I felt comfortable in doing [on there]. I never produced an album but it gave me a chance to add stuff to it that I felt would make the songs have some character. And I enjoyed it immensely. Let me just say, Rick Kreher was part of my dad’s last band, with the Rolling Stones, and he’s a great guitar player; especially rhythm.

So, you feel that producing gives you more options than when someone produces for you?

When someone is producing your stuff for you, they put their own spin on it. What I learned is when you produce your own stuff, you bring out the best in the songs because I’m a songwriter too so… It gave me a chance to show the people exactly what I wanted that song to say to everybody.

You wrote ten of the twelve songs on the album.

I wrote ten songs.

What do you draw from when you write? Do you go to a particular time or place in your life, or just various experiences?

Well man, I spent over half my life in the streets of Chicago. So, I’ve seen plenty of blues, and I’ve had plenty of blues. People ask me where have I been and that’s where I’ve been. Run-ins with the police or things happen in the streets of Chicago. That’s what all I had to see when I came out of my door. I wasn’t fortunate to come here with a gold spoon in my mouth.

Then I had to go get some blues, man. This is Muddy Waters talkin’: “You can’t really sing no blues if you ain’t had no blues.” You just don’t get up and call yourself a blues person and all your life you been [in] college and… Blues is real life man. Some people can play it backwards and forwards but how can you have some blues if you don’t GET any? You gotta have some blues!

I hear that! I’ve had an adventurous life myself. You have some of the best musicians in the world on here with you. Billy Flynn, who’s phenomenal…

What I like about Billy is that he can almost play anything. He can sit right there and he knows right where I wanna go with this stuff. He will give me exactly what I need. All these guys were the same way. I fortunate to have a bunch of great people, musicians that was willing to get my album to where it’s at. And that’s every time I record an album; I try to get some of the best.

You’ve also got Michael Wheeler on there who’s one of the up-and-coming “next generation” of players. Him, Toronzo Cannon and Corey Dennison… that whole “young” crew. I say young but they’re the ones coming up behind the older folks and they’re doing a hell of a job.

They’re the new generation man and I… I wish we could live forever. But, the blues is in good hands and I’m sure that my dad and Wolf and all those cats know that the blues is in good hands when I t went to that next generation.

Also on this album you have Billy Branch who’s a master, and Studebaker John.

Great friend of mine. I called Billy Branch to do that number twelve, on that track. He did a great job. He went over the material at least a month to make sure that… again man: some of the best of the best made sure that they gave me what I was looking for. I’m overwhelmed actually.

Of course, Studebaker John is no slouch either!

John, he helped the recording company mix that album man.

We were in one booth and John was in another booth and every time he heard something in the next booth, he’d say “No, no, no; that’s not right.” So I was in good hands doing this album.

I’m fortunate and I had a great team. I think the album shows another side of me. I’m more comfortable doing my dad’s stuff; It’s cause of where I am, you know. I thank him and God for giving me that kind of talent.

I grew up in a different era. I came up in the Tyrone Davis and the Johnny Taylor era. Teddy Pendergrass. This is the music I listen to. This is the music that I made children by. [It’s] kinda what I related to. I kinda see how it feels to be what my dad was in the entertainment business and to express myself.

Speaking about your dad, you cover two of his songs, “Howling Wolf” and “Can’t Get No Grindin’.”

What’d you think about ‘em?

I liked it. I’ll get to that in a minute. We are gonna talk about the album, trust me. So, when you are doing your father’s songs, what’s it like to perform those? What is going through your mind when you are performing that?

When I first started and I was doing a lot of dad’s copy man. Man, I’ll tell ya – I felt darn good! I feel real darn good. The good book says “Honor thy mother and thy father.”

I thank dad and my God for giving me those lungs and giving me that sense of being able to get in front of thousands of people and do “What’s the Matter with the Meal” (“Can’t Get No Grindin'”) or “Mojo.” I loved it man. How proud of a son can you be?

As far as the two songs on the album: I’m not gonna do an album without putting one or two of my dad’s songs on my album. It’ll be a long time before I do a whole album with just dad’s stuff.  I did that with Kim Wilson [‘For Pops] and we won a blues award for that album.

This album really tells you where I think at. Of course, I could never leave dad.

You did the track “Who Loves You” with your daughter Lashunda: That’s a good track!

That’s my youngest girl and she’s a gospel singer. She practically lives in church and I tell her “Why you stay in church so long? You ain’t been living on this Earth that long.”

This record really reminded me of the ’70s soul; it had that Super Fly vibe. Curtis Mayfield was the man. He was called “the pulse of the ghetto” and all of that, but…

Yeah. I came up with him just like you did. I come up with those guys, those Motown guys. I know what you’re talking about. You talking about “Who’s Fooling Who” with Mike Wheeler on there.

Another track that has that same feel is Marvin Gaye’s “Trouble Man” or “Across 110th Street”…

I didn’t go back that far did I?

My notes for “Who’s Fooling Who” read “’70s Superfly Soul!!”. For “Can’t Get No Grindin’” I put down “’50s inspired club jump blues…”

You’re a serious reviewer! God bless you – I appreciate it man. The most important point is that you like the album. I’m elated.

Sure there’s a bit of Teddy P influenced R&B here but “Walkin’ Cane” is some really sweet Memphis soul, and “Mud’s Groove” is a light, slow and relaxed groove.

I try to record albums that… I don’t want to do the same stuff that everybody is doing. If I have to reach back into the ‘60s, I’ll do it. I try to get what they’re gonna like, “Oh Yeah” – it’s got that John Lee Hooker kind of thing… I try to stretch out on these albums man.

It was like a trip back to the days when soul was not all about being commercial. Sure, Curtis Mayfield wanted a hit album: but he was writing from the heart. Womack, Isaac Hayes, all those guys wrote about what they felt. They wrote about the life they were living and the BS they were seeing everyday all around them.

I’m with you. I’m right there with you man. I totally understand. You know, after the assassination of Martin Luther King, the city burnt up and now, you couldn’t find stores. I remember as a young man my mom used to have to ride way down … to find bread ‘cause all the stores were burnt man. For a young person to see stuff like this, it has an everlasting effect on you. You have to remember that. I have to remember where I come from.

Making For Pops you were able to work with Kim Wilson. You earned a Traditional Album of the Year BMA for that album.

We won a few awards for that album. Working with Kim was great. He’s a phenomenal harp player. He’s such a Little Walter, but with his own style. That’s hard to find. Now I understand why my dad loved Little Walter so much because it gave him backbone if he felt Little Walter was right there.

Kim was real careful not to do the same things Little Walter was doing on those records when he recorded, and still, there was Little Walter written all over it.

American Blues Scene is spearheading a drive to get your father a Google Doodle for his birthday. So how do you feel about people trying to honor your father and tip a hat to him in various ways?

I support all that kind of stuff for my dad man. He’s been gone for over thirty years now. I support any of that as long as it respects my dad’s legacy and my dad’s estate, if that’s the financial reasoning, then I’m in man. I hope dad’s legacy lives forever.

Talking about remembering your dad and showing respect… I know you played with your brother at the reveal of that multi-story mural of your father by Eduardo Kobra and his team on the side of the building at 17 N. State St.

Again, overwhelming, especially for me —  I’m a Chicago boy. Old as I am, I felt like a young boy again. I felt like “Hey, that’s my dad!”

I’m going to ask a couple of questions and if you don’t want to answer, let me know. Over the years there has been talk about the house in Westmont becoming…

It was about me too.

They were talking about making a museum, and there were deals and they fell apart… There’s just all kinds of stories about what happened.

I washed my hands of it. I finally washed my hands of it man. For reasons that’s out of my control. I went at that building… it’s been sitting there in rubbish for years man. There’s a family member somewhere down the line that… who owns that property, who don’t want to get rid of that property, who can’t fix it up and I really don’t know what they’re doing with it.

I had a couple of my attorneys and we started a fundraising and one of our attorneys that was pretty well-to-do was putting up his house. We were gonna buy out the house and we made this relative an offer and when she found out that it was me and we might have the idea for it, she said “No!”.

Now what I think personally is that she gonna wait for money for their-self … How selfish is that? For a landmark as the Muddy Waters house where he slept in.

There was a time when his friends would join him and make music in the basement.

I don’t get it. My point was, I mean, it’s falling down. If someone get it. I had a couple attorneys, we were gonna buy it straight out and run it and we wanted to put a museum in there. We wanted to put a school in there in the basement for children, for young adults to learn how to play blues.

We were going to take the empty lot next to the building and make it a parking lot where tourists could come through. I mean all of the above. These people, this relative of mine, they won’t do anything man.

Every year after year after year… the building just sits there with a big X on it. It doesn’t mean tear down, it means it is condemned. When these attorneys went for me and they said, “We want it, can we get it?” we were told “No, somebody else got it.” As you can see, years later [it’s] still standing there and still in shambles.

“They’re not doing anything. As you can see and right now today, go out on 43rd and South Lake, you can see right there that nothing has been done to this house. They might have paid some back taxes so the city can’t take it. They don’t want anybody to get it. They’re waiting on the highest bidder.

It’s a shame.

Anything they may say about that, it still doesn’t explain why all these years that house been sitting there like that. If you can’t do nothing with it, why don’t you give it to someone who can. It’s Muddy Waters’ house. It’s my dad’s house. Why not give it to [folks] that’s gonna do something with it? They should have been done something with it!

Do you get to spend time with your brother, Big Bill as everyone calls him? have you thought about doing an album together?

No man. We haven’t considered doing anything yet.

Thanks again so much for taking time with us.

Anytime. Thank YOU.

Mud Morganfield

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*Featured Image Photo by Paul Natkin