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Like Father, Like Son

[whitespace] Big Bill Morganfield carries on the legacy of his father, Muddy Waters, with traditional blues

By Nicky Baxter

It's what his daddy would have wanted. Big Bill Morganfield, son of Muddy Waters, always knew he would sing the blues. But it took some time. Maybe the passing of his father helped push him into the limelight. Whatever the reason, Big Bill is following in his father's large footsteps.

Raised by his grandmother in southern Florida, Big Bill's first inspiration to play the blues wasn't Muddy, but guitar hero Lonnie Mack. Big Bill jumped onstage and sang and played, and the crowd went wild. That was all he needed. Morganfield went into retreat, spending countless hours practicing, listening to traditional blues recordings, while working on his B.A. degree in English.

Morganfield understands the historical significance of the blues, having discussed the form with the likes of John Lee Hooker and harp player James Cotton. Morganfield returned to Chicago, where Muddy cut so many classic records, and joined forces with drummer Willie "Big Eyes" Smith and Pinetop Perkins on piano, along with Paul Stroger on bass.

Rising Sun (Blind Pig), Big Bill Morganfield's debut recording, is a precocious outing. Morganfield sounds uncannily like his father: deep, husky voice and commanding presence. On "Diamonds At Your Feet" a crusty old gem, Morganfield sounds assured, bullying the tune, wrenching every dramatic nuance from the tune, before letting go. "Left Hand Blues" could have been recorded in the 1930s, creaking and crawling along with like an old-time Mississippi field holler. When he advises a friend to "go to the river," it is with the authority of a backwoods preacher intent on saving souls. Morganfield's barrel-chested vocal inhabits the tune so completely, the instrumentation is nearly dwarfed.

Since Morganfield is an already an accomplished slide guitarist, songwriter and performer, it's not surprising that his reputation as a genuine keeper of the flame is growing steadily. And the 43-year-old is just getting started. There's no telling how far he will go, but he's fulfilling the dream of his father: Big Bill is dipping into Muddy Waters' rich legacy and bringing it into the present. No doubt, his daddy is smiling down on his man-child.

Big Bill Morganfield plays at JJ's Blues, 3439 Stevens Creek Blvd, San Jose on Wednesday, August 18 at 9pm. Tickets are $8. For more information, call 408.243.6441.

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From the August 12-18, 1999 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 1999 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.

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