I might have missed Muddy but I’m not missing Mud …

by Phil Johnson

One Friday evening when I was 14 an older schoolfriend called for me to go and see Muddy Waters at the People’s Theatre, Jesmond. I can’t remember if there was a prior arrangement because people just did things then. Anyway, my mother wouldn’t give me the 5 shillings for the ticket (25p in “the new money”) so I didn’t get to go. It’s true that I never quite forgave her. I never did see Muddy Waters, who died in 1983, either.

That’s one of the reasons why I’m so excited about seeing Mud Morganfield at St George’s on the afternoon of Sunday 12 July. He’s not Muddy Waters (real name McKinley Morganfield) but he is his eldest son, and he’s great. Mud even covers some of his dad’s favourite songs, as you can see here, with Muddy’s version of’ ‘Walking Through the Park’ followed by Mud’s.

Although I failed to catch Muddy, I did get to see John Lee Hooker, Champion Jack Dupree (who lived in Bradford) and Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee, all at Newcastle City Hall, and later on BB King, Buddy Guy, Son Seals and Otis Rush, all over the place. Why I wanted to see them was no mystery: there was a blues boom going on. Following the success of the Rolling Stones and Eric Clapton (with both John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers and Cream), my generation developed a deep love affair with the blues. We wrote the names of old, blind singers on our exercise books and haversacks; picked out the riffs to ‘Spoonful’ and ‘Dust My Broom’ on our acoustic guitars, and watched T Bone Walker or John Lee Hooker on TV’s ‘Ready Steady Go!’, along with The Who and the Small Faces. We also watched ‘Panorama’ about the Civil Rights movement and Martin Luther King and tried to guess at what the blues might be about.

The result of all this blues boom business, and its regular renewal through each succeeding dynasty of bands, from Fleetwood Mac and the later Clapton right on up to to whoever’s bending a note or riffing a chorus today, is that the blues has become the people’s choice of English popular music styles: the Chicken Tikka sandwich of contemporary guitar-based rock.

It’s also become a powerful token of musical authenticity, whether played by sporting gentlemen from the south side of Chicago or Telecaster-toting dentists from Surrey. Mud Morganfield – who was raised by his mother, Mildred Williams, and saw his father only occasionally – grew up on the wrong side of the Chicago tracks. “I didn’t have the pleasure of getting up and walking down to the lakefront and watching the ocean or the lakes or something”, he says. “I came up and there was gunshots and someone may have gotten hit down the street. I mean, I’ve seen the drunks, the drugs, and I tell you again, I can’t forget these things because it makes up who I am today. It makes me the man I am today.”

Mud had a working life as a truck driver before he started performing, which he didn’t consider as a career until his father’s death. He began singing in blues clubs on the south side, performing a mixture of his own material and his father’s songs. “I started to sing to show the world that dad left me here”, he says. “I love and am proud to sing his songs just like I love and will always be proud of him, but I’m not Muddy waters, and I’m certainly not trying to be Muddy Waters. I’m Mud Morganfield, but when I’m up on stage I always feel Pops is there with me and it means so much that I can get on stage and keep his music alive around the world.”

What Mud does with Muddy, and how contemporary Chicago blues measures up to the golden age of the Fifties and Sixties, you can see at St George’s. And despite the ubiquity of the blues as everyone’s favourite tipple, you don’t get the chance to see a real Chicago blues singer in Bristol very often, no matter who they’re related to.

Bristol Americana Weekend: Mud Morganfield / The Coal Porters

Sunday 12 July, 3pm
Tickets £20 (plus fees)