The children of famous artists often have to live with the tag line, "son (or daughter) of_____." It often means their lives are treated as though they are merely an extension of their well known parent. It can mean that nothing is expected of them, or that everything is. I often wondered if Jakob Dylan would get a fair shake, or live forever overshadowed by the legacy of the Bard of Rock and Roll. In blues music, there are legends. And without a doubt, there is no name more well known than that of Muddy Waters.
TFSB- When did you know that music was going to be your thing?
MM-I think probably when I was inside of my mother’s stomach when I was kicking. Music has been a part of my life, man, my entire life. I can’t remember a moment when I didn’t have music on my mind and in my head.
TFSB- I once heard an interview with Johnny Cash in which he spoke of constantly hearing music in his head, either a song of his or someone else’s, or something he wanted to write. It was constant, 24/7.
MM- It’s kind of…it can be a torturous thing some times. You need to concentrate on something else and you got these notes and stuff running through your head. So I kinda agree with Johnny. It’s a blessing and sometimes it can be a curse you know. I can’t give it up, there’s always something musically running through my head, Joe…
TFSB- It’s in the DNA I think.
MM-Yeah, it’s not a bad thing, man. I mean, you know, anything related to the John Lee Hookers and the Muddy Waters, it’s not a bad thing, but, it’s a way of keeping this type of music, and music in general, alive...
TFSB-On your new record, For Pops, you are paying tribute to your father on the 100th anniversary of his birthday. You are singing his songs, and although you must hear comments about how much you sound like your father, you can still hear that it is your own thing. You are being yourself, it’s not an impersonation.
MM-Yeah, one thing you can make sure you tell people, it’s not an impersonation. I don’t look at films of father, I don’t study his music. When I sit down….as a matter of fact that album we just released, a tribute to Pops, the second song…
TFSB- “Just to be With You…”
MM-Yes, “Just to be With You,” I sang that song in the studio, I read it off the paper. It was the first time I had that song in my hands, the first time I had a look at the lyrics, actually how they go, and it was there on the music stand. Once I had Kim Wilson and Barrelhouse Chuck there, I just sung it off the paper, so it’s not impersonating. Whatever it is that I got was made with God and Pops, maybe a long time ago, I have no idea how to explain it, Joe.
TFSB- You can tell when you listen to the record, it just feels real.
MM- It’s from the heart. What you see and what you hear, when it comes to me, is just a man who was once a child who loved his daddy to death. That’s what you get with me. I’m a typical story of Chicago, you know, broken homes, parents split up, man, and there’s just so many things I never got a chance to say to my father. It’s just what it is, man.
TFSB-It must have been hard with him being on the road a lot.
MM-You know, I was fortunate. My mother had several brothers that kind of stood in as that father figure for me. Stuff like fixing that first flat tire on my bike, you know, (they) took me to buy my first car, and different stuff. Pop was always on the road you know, and when parents break up it’s such a hard thing. When parents break up and there are children involved, for whatever reason, it’s a horrible thing. And that’s the way it was, I grew up on the streets of west side.
TFSB- It’s good that you had family gather around you to help during those times.
MM- You know, it was only me though. My dad was really and truly a mojo man, a hoochie coochie man, so, he had several kids out of wedlock around Chicago area. But what it is, is what it is, you know. I’m just proud to be a son of his, to cherish his music and share his business that he shared his whole entire life.
TFSB –Did you ever discuss your desire to go into the music business with him?
MM-I’ll tell you what I did. I remember this one particular occasion I started a band up, and, like I said, music has been a part of me all of my life, you know. I would just get discouraged sometimes. A lot of people do that. You pick something up and then you get discouraged and you put it down, and then you pick it back up. But when I asked Pops... I told him I wanted to start a band….he took me over to his manager’s house, who, at that time, was a guy called Scott Cameron. We went down in the basement, and man, from wall to wall there was some big amps and guitars, and Pops just told me, you get whatever you want. It was a highlight for me man, I picked out some of the most beautiful Fender amps there was, even bigger than me, man. He had them delivered to my home and I started the band. One thing I did put down though, Joe, I still write by the bass guitar. I keep it by my bed and I write by the bass guitar.
TFSB- You hear a lot about people writing from guitar or piano, but not as many writing by the bass guitar.
MM- Well I do. I wish it was the piano or the guitar because you got melodies, you got chords. When I got a hot bass line I have to tell someone like Rick Crayer, who was my dad’s last guitar player, or Billy Flynn or some other great guitar player, what I’m looking for. What I’m feeling, what Mud Morganfield is feeling. If you go back to the album before this one, Son of the Seventh Son, there’s a bunch of original stuff I wrote there, and those bass lines, those are mine, my bass lines.
TFSB- Well, it seems like the logical place to start, everything depends on the rhythm section, bass and drums, right?
MM- Very important components in any music. And man, I can tell you, if you got a bad drummer, forget it, (laughter), forget it.
TFSB- If he can’t keep time you’re in trouble….
MM- You’re in trouble. You can have a not so good bass player and get by, but if you got a bad drummer you can just forget it. You know, I’m not saying who you drummers are, but you know who you are (laughter). You have to have a great harp player, of course.
TFSB- One of my favorite records of your father's was the Woodstock album, with the great drummer, Levon Helm.
MM- Oh yeah, Pop surrounded himself with some of the best of the best, and I try to do the same thing. I try to surround myself with some of the best guys because when you talk about quality in music, whether it be blues or jazz, or rock or whatever, you need a bunch of great guys to help bring out what’s inside of you.
TFSB- I think that came out on this record, everyone is together, everyone gets their chance to shine, but nobody’s hogging the limelight.
MM- Well that’s the problem with a lot of bands today, you know. The guitarist is doing a premiere solo on the guitar and I’m just traditional, old school, man. Same thing my father was. He was great up there by himself. But imagine putting Willie “Big Eyes” Smith up there on drums, Calvin “Fuzz” (Jones) on bass and Otis Spann and Pinetop on keys, you following me, Joe? It’s a great combination, man, and everybody got a chance to shine, everybody was a star.
MM- I ain’t gonna work with no band that do that, I’m just not. If I get a guy back there and he’s doing that, then he’s home. If he’s going over two times doing a solo he might not work again with me. This is about teamwork, about all of us, we got to reach a common goal, just like in basketball and football, we gotta play together.
TFSB- How did you go about choosing the tracks for the new album? You had a lot to choose from, how do you go about selecting fourteen tracks?
MM- This whole idea was actually spearheaded by David (Earl); he’s the owner of Severn records. He had a bunch of phone calls that we should make this record. It was his idea…. Muddy’s birthday was coming up in April, and so it was the perfect time to put this band together. So we did, we went in there ….and these guys are professionals. On top of that, they love my dad and you can’t beat that.
TFSB- When you were beginning your recording career, did the fact that you were Muddy Waters’ son open doors for you, or did you find that people stood back a little and said, “Let’s wait and see?”
TFSB- Legacy can be a two-edged sword…
MM- And it has cut me both ways, I’ll tell you. It’s a two-headed coin also. I’ll be damned if I do and damned if I don’t. It’s what I feel inside of me and I love what I do. I can be doing shows with my material and people will holler out, “Do nineteen-years-old.” Do this or do that. And I was just able to pick up the DNA from Pops to even be able to sound similar to him. What kid wouldn’t want that? You think some kid wouldn’t want to sound like B.B. (King) or play like B.B.? You know what I mean?
TFSB – I notice you tour overseas quite a bit. I hear the audiences there really support the blues.
MM – They really love….Joe, they really love Muddy Waters. And they love me cause they love my dad. And Pops opened doors for me? Of course, from the beginning. At the same time I have to bring something to the table, too. And I do. And that’s what some key people were missing. I might sing a Muddy song til the cows come in, but Mud Morganfield brings something to that table. And if you ever see me you’ll know I ‘m not just sitting there trying to get by. I put my heart and soul into everything I do when I get on that stage. And no one has to tell me, that that ain’t what Pops would want me to do. That’s exactly what Pops wants me to do. I think he’s proud of me and I’ll continue to do that and similar stuff to that, until I can’t do it no more.
TFSB – The door may be opened for you, but you’re the man that has to walk through it.
MM – Yeah, (laughter). How can you impersonate fourteen songs? Some of those songs I knew, and the rest were put on a lyric sheet, the band played and I sang ‘em.
TFSB – I think it was clear, when you listen to the record, that you were showing honor to your Pop, but as Mud, the man.
MM – I’m not Pops. I would wish I was Pops, but there ain’t but one Muddy Waters, there ain’t but one Howling Wolf. Ain’t but one of those guys, man. But as a tribute to my Pops, it’s a fantastic album. No one has to tell me, that if there’s a realm somewhere that we go to when we pass this life, I know that my dad is as proud of me as any man can be. He’s probably got a cigar in his mouth, telling them, “That’s my boy there.” And that’s good enough for me.
TFSB – Of these fourteen tracks, do you have a favorite you like singing more than others?
MM – I love them all, but I like “I Love the Life I Live, I Live the Life I Love.” And I didn’t know I could do “Trouble No More” so well. That thing scared me, man. I’m like, wow, this is amazing, man. You know, all I can say is this is some business that’s bigger than me, you know? I sound just like my father to myself. And the uncanny look people say I have, that I look like my dad, I don’t see it. I mean, I did see it one time, in a picture. And I was blowed away with it, the closeness that I looked to my Pops. It ain’t no bad thing…
Part Two of the interview, tomorrow.....