What it’s like to be Muddy Waters’ son

This article originally appeared on the Telegraph, May 7, 2014

Blues singer Mud Morganfield Photo: Rex

Muddy Waters is a gargantuan figure of the musical world. Known as “The Father of Modern Chicago Blues”, his illustrious career saw him bring the blues out from the Mississippi delta and into the amplified black clubs on the south side of Chicago, before exporting the genre to a generation of young white musicians during the blues bloom in the Sixties. But to Larry “Mud” Morganfield, Muddy was simply known as “Pops”.

Larry (everyone calls him Mud) Morganfield is the son of McKinley Morganfield (Muddy Waters), and Mildred Williams. Growing up, he was always close to his father, who referred to him as “Papa” due to the resemblance between the two.

It was not until 2011, nearly twenty years after Muddy’s death, that Mud decided to launch his own career as a blues singer, releasing his first album, ‘Son of the Seventh Son’, at the age of 58. “I ran from the blues, and I ran from it, and I ran from it,” he reflects. “But it caught up with me, man.”

Mud’s flight from the blues saw him go to business school and drive trucks to make a living, but he realised he wanted to leave his own legacy and not just live in the shadow of his father. “You’re born and it really don’t make a lot of difference after you die, but it’s what you do in between that matters. So if I leave something good here in this life of mine, then job well done.

“We got enough bad things we can say about ourselves, but you have to leave something good at some point. It’s a whole wind that don’t ever change direction.”

Just as Muddy was shaped as performer by growing up on a plantation, Mud has strongly been shaped by his upbringing in the heart of the Chicago ghetto.

“If it wasn’t for what I’ve been through, then I wouldn’t be singing the blues. How can you sing the blues if you never had any? How can you tell me how it feels to be drunk if you never took a drink? If you’ve never been a drug addict, how can you tell me what drugs are gonna do to me? If you’ve never been through anything, how can you sing the blues? That’s propaganda; it’s not real.”

During Mud’s childhood, his father was often on the road touring, and by the time he was eight, his parents split, leaving Mildred to raise their son.

“She could only teach me how to treat a lady, but she couldn’t show me how to be a man,” he recalls. “It was tough. Mothers can raise girls, but mothers can’t raise men. It takes a man to raise a man.”

Mud’s uncles, however, were on hand to step in.

“My mum had seven brothers, and kinda stood in when Pops wasn’t there. To fix my bike, show me how to drive my first car, that kinda thing.”

Mud remains extremely close with his 81 year old mother today.

“The sun doesn’t shine until she wakes up,” he says. “I just got off the phone with her as a matter of fact. I call her every hour. She says, ‘Son, why you keep calling me?’” he adds chuckling.

He doesn’t tour for more than 13 days for fear of being away from his mother if something should happen. “It would break my heart, if she was to make a transition and I wasn’t there to hold her.”

Mud Morganfield © Ben Lazarus 2014

As Mud grew up, his father’s significance continued to grow, as a generation of young stars picked up on his blues numbers. Muddy’s songs, such as ‘I’m Ready’, ‘Mannish Boy’, ‘I Just Want to Make Love to You’, ‘I Got My Mojo Working’, and ‘Hoochie Coochie Man’ gained legendary status among a generation of white blues fans. And, most famously, his song ‘Rollin’ Stone’ was used by five young white kids in Britain when naming their band.

The Beatles remarked upon arriving in America for the first time that the thing they most wanted to see during their stay was Muddy Waters. But during this period, his music was lost on his son.

“I just thought it was a bunch of guys playing,” he says laughing. “As a matter of fact, I probably called it noise a few times! What you making all that noise for? Man, I was just a kid, I related to what my peers related to.”

For Mud, it was the newer sounds of black America – Rhythm and Blues and Motown – that he enjoyed, particularly his all-time favourite, Barry White. “I’ve got six babies from Barry White!” he says with a wide grin.

On stage, Mud takes after his old man, always dressing sharply in a suit to deliver his authentic Chicago blues.

“Pops said: ‘Always look like a gentleman when you come on stage. If you want to see me in overalls and blues jeans, then I can meet you at the nearest pub’. Personally, I think it’s appropriate. People pay money to come see you. It’s respect to the audience.”

Mud is currently trying to save Muddy’s former home. Earlier this year, he established the Morganfield Foundation, in order to stop his father’s old home in the South Side of Chicago from being demolished. The Foundation is trying to raise enough money to purchase the home and turn it into a Muddy Waters museum, or a community centre for young kids to go to learn how to play the blues.

This year also sees the release of Mud’s tribute to his father, an album of covers called Pops: A Dedication to Muddy Waters’. The studio album contains covers of his father’s earlier recordings from the Delta, rather than material that he is best known for. Mud is certain his old man would have been thrilled about the record and his son continuing his legacy.

“Do you know how many times I’ve felt his presence around me?” he asks, before quickly answering his own question: “Almost every time I get up on stage. But I tell you man, there’s no doubt in my mind that Muddy would be proud of what I’m doing. No doubt.”


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s