Artist: Big Bill Morganfield
Album: Bloodstains on the Wall
Label: Black Shuck
Release Date: 02/03/2017
Pressure? Try being a blues artist as the son of perhaps the best blues artist ever.
Blues Music Award Winner Big Bill Morganfield bears up well, with his slide guitar reminiscent a bit of his dad, Muddy Waters, not to mention the vocal similarity. Make no mistake: maybe no one has the commanding presence of Muddy but Big Bill has plenty of power. Backed mostly by the Mofo Party Band, the Atlanta-based Morganfield also enlists the support of what he terms “world class session players’”: guitarists Colin Linden, Eddie Taylor Jr., Chuck Cotton, and Bob Margolin and pianist Augie Meyers and harmonica ace Steve Guyger, among others for select tracks.
His lineage to Muddy is not as straightforward as it may appear. Born in Chicago, Bill was reared by his grandmother in southern Florida. Though certainly aware of Muddy’s recordings as he grew up, Morganfield didn’t really immerse himself in the blues until after his dad’s 1983 death (he had earned two college degrees and was working as a teacher). He spent six long years patiently learning his way around a guitar. Inspired by an appearance with guitar legend Lonnie Mack at Atlanta’s Center Stage, Big Bill resumed playing and began gigging around the regional club circuit in the mid-‘90s.
Mixing four originals with tunes from Willie Dixon, Otis Rush, and others, Morganfield delivers pure blues, mostly Chicago, combined with flavorings from New Orleans and Memphis too (“Help Someone”). Modeled on Muddy’s own “You Can’t Lose What You Ain’t Never Had,” Big Bill delivers a heartfelt expression of his grief over his mother’s death. He re-invigorates Dixon’s “I Am the Blues” and unearths seldom heard gems “Lost Without Love” (Cornelius Green/Jerry West) and “Help The Bear”(Jimmy McCracklin).
The bonus track, “Hold Me Baby,” from the Fox TV Series, Shots Fired, doesn’t fit with the rest of the traditional material. Yet Morganfield has a major role both writing songs for and acting in the series. He offers this, “I am creating a fusion between blues and hip hop. I believe that ‘crossover’ efforts like this are what it will take for the blues to retain –or, more realistically, reclaim – its identity as American black music.” The series is about police brutality targeting black youth, a cause that’s deeply meaningful to this former high school English teacher.
Approach this with open ears. Don’t expect to compare him to his dad, that’s not fair. Instead, listen to a solid, true torchbearer for the real deal blues, who is doing his part in carrying the art form forward.