Mud Morganfield

June 2023 View more

By Mike Thomas

The son of Muddy Waters had to get his own blues

Mud Morganfield

It’s not easy to slip the shadow of a famous father. Just ask Frank Sinatra Jr.—or Mud Morganfield. Now 68 and the eldest son of iconic Chicago bluesman Muddy Waters, Morganfield knows that shadow is permanent. But he’s comfortable in its shade.

Over the past four decades, since ditching truck driving to play music professionally, Morganfield has managed to carve out his own bluesy niche—in part by enthusiastically embracing Muddy as a creative inspiration. He even put out a tribute album, For Pops, in 2014. (It doesn’t include Muddy’s signature tune, “Mannish Boy,” but Morganfield’s live 2013 rendition at the Haven Club in Oxford is something to behold. Fifty years earlier, also in England, a new rock band took their name from one of the song’s verses: “I’m a man/I’m a rollin’ stone.” No one knows what became of them.)

Not long before Morganfield’s June 17 Blues on the Fox appearance at Aurora’s RiverEdge Park, he talked about playing, touring and, of course, Dad.

Q: How long did it take you to feel like you were coming into your own and getting out from under your father’s shadow?
A: I can never get out from under that shadow. It’s a double-edged sword. I am the firstborn male of Muddy Waters, so people look for me to do that stuff. And other people are like, “He needs to do him.” But I don’t care, as long as I can honor Dad and myself. If Muddy had been a painter, I’d have been a painter. If he’d have been a carpenter, I’d have been a carpenter.

Q: When you sing your dad’s music, you’re doing more than performing; you’re channeling.
A:Well, I’ll tell you, I have no idea. I do what I do, man, and I thank God for that. I do know this: I came here tapping on my mother’s stomach inside. I’ve always had the blues, man. It always ran through me. I’ve been scorned so many times for beatin’ on furniture and just tappin’ on stuff. I used to go to bed at night and tap on my mattress till I fell asleep. I always had that rhythm, those notes, that blues. It just was in me.

Q: What is the key to being a great bluesman?
A: It’s something you’re born with and it’s life experience. I had to go get my own blues. I was born and raised in Chicago on the streets, on the West Side in the Lawndale area. It was a pretty rough area; I had to fight all the time. And I had to get my blues. You can play the blues backwards and forwards and you can do it excellent, but until you get some real blues, you ain’t got no blues. You got to go through something.

Q: How do you want to make people feel when they hear your music?
A: Well, I don’t want them to feel sad. I want to uplift people. Back in Dad’s day, there was so much hardship till everything they sang about was almost like, “Please, help me. Please save me.” And I don’t want to sing that. I want people to come out and dance and have a great time. If they come to the show and they’re down and out, if I have to jump off that freakin’ stage and do my old-ass dance [I will]. When that person leaves, they need to feel better than they did when they first came in.

Q: What’s your current touring schedule like? Are you mostly staying in the country or are you overseas a lot?
A: I’m beginning to pick up some work here in this country, man. It’s been a little bit of a nightmare, a long drive trying to keep working here in the U.S. I’ve been getting a lot of work overseas. It’s the only place where I can walk down the street, and they’re still playing Muddy Waters out of their windows.


Photo: Jenn Noble