By Blake Maddux –
Blues aficionados will instantly recognize that Larry Morganfield’s last name is the same as the real one of one of the 20th century’s most venerated musicians. The fact he performs under the name Mud Morganfield should make it abundantly clear that he is the son – the first-born, in fact – of Muddy Waters.
Despite his lineage, Morganfield did not become a professional musician until his early 50s. Still, music has always been an essential element of his life.
“I come here tappin’ on my mama’s stomach,” he said in a recent phone interview. During the many years that he spent as a truck driver, his handle was “the singing trucker.”
Morganfield has released several studio, live, and tribute albums since 2008. 2014’s For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters won a Blues Music Award for Traditional Blues Album of the Year. His most recent, They Call Me Mud, came out last March.
Morganfield is sure to mix in some of his famous father’s songs among his own when he performs at Beverly’s 9 Wallis on Saturday.
Is it true that your first instrument was a drum set that your father gave you for Christmas?
Yeah, the drums were my first instrument. Dad used to buy me a set of drums till about 13 years old. I put the drums down and picked the bass up about 18, 19 years old.
Why were drums your first choice?
As a kid I got scolded so many times for beating on furniture. I had this music running around in my heart and my head and I couldn’t get rid of it. That’s why I picked the drums up. It was a way to release those feelings that I was getting. Those rhythms that stayed in my head. I had to get them out, either in words or in sound, and I did it with drums.
Do remember any famous blues musicians being at your house when you were growing up?
Yeah, but I didn’t know they were that famous! I didn’t know until later on. I didn’t know who Chuck Berry was. I didn’t know who Howlin’ Wolf was. I didn’t know who all these people were. All I knew is that they were friends of dad’s.
There were just some of Muddy Waters’s colleagues to you, eh?
Exactly, and playing some loud music! Of course I didn’t understand the blues cause I wasn’t born and raised in the South like dad and my ancestors were. I was born in Chicago. Stax records, Motown records – that’s what I came up with.
Why did you decide to begin pursuing music professionally in your early 50s?
Well, dad was gone and I always wanted to be a part of that because of who my dad was. The music was fighting and the blues were fighting to get out. It’s genetics, simple.
Was it also the result of having experienced the blues firsthand?
I got a lot of blues. I come up on the west side of Chicago, man, and seen a lot of stuff and heard a lot of stuff in my travels and coming up in the urban neighborhoods of Chicago. How could you miss that? The ambulances, the shootings. And then after the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King it got worse. So I’ve seen quite a few things. I don’t regret it, don’t get me wrong. If I didn’t go through what I had to go through, I can’t truly say I’m a blues man can I? You gotta live and eat some blues, man.
It was that firsthand experience that got it all got started, right?
That’s how it all got started: in the cotton fields of Mississippi, the tobacco fields of Mississippi. It came out of church. People were singing those hymns in the fields in that hot blazing sun. They were singing hymns and gospel, and that’s where it all started. Church and blues, they’re hand in hand, man.
How many shows would you say that you play in an average year?
That’s a good question because it depends on the promoters, who they want, what they want. If you want some real deal Chicago blues, you know, I’m one of those cats, man. I mean, you can’t deny Muddy Waters. You can’t deny Howlin’ Wolf. You can’t deny B.B. King. I’m not the only one, but I’m one of them.
Your most recent album, They Call Me Mud, includes two Muddy Waters songs among its 12 tracks. How do you select which of your father’s songs to record yourself?
That’s a hard question because pop had so many great ones. Also on that album is my dad’s last guitar player, Rick Kreher. Me and him put our heads together and figured out which ones fit me better. And I enjoy doing it. There are some of dad’s songs I just don’t touch. They’re signature songs. So we decided to do “Howling Wolf” and “What’s the Matter with the Mill? (Can’t Get No Grindin’).”
Rick Kreher was a member of the final configuration of your father’s band. Had the two of you been in touch for many years or did you recently team up together?
He played the last four years of my dad’s life in his band with John Primer. Rick Kreher is a Muddy Waters man, you know. He was so proud that dad brought him in the band with him. When he found out about me it was pretty much sealed. He came on board with me and he recorded most of the albums with me.