We caught up with Big Bill at the Dayton Blues Society Winter Blues Showcase at Gilly’s in Dayton on January 21st, 2012.
Blues Blast: Welcome to Dayton Ohio sir. Tonight, you’re headlining the Dayton Blues Societies Winter Showcase. Have you played Dayton in the past?
“Yes, I played Dayton about five years ago and I remembered it when I pulled up to the hotel, I was a bit younger, I don’t think I was the player that I am now. I’ve got more grease on me than I did then so I’m looking forward to kicking some butt out here!”
BB: You didn’t make the decision to pursue a career as a full-time gigging musician until you were in your 40’s. What prompted that move?
“Well it was my father passing away, it took me awhile to decide to make the move. I’ve got a solid education with degrees in English and Communication, one from a major white university and one from a major black university and that was my thing. I spent so much time in college and now I play the blues! Who would have known.”
BB: What were you doing before you made your career change?
“Man, a lot of different things. I’ve been a DJ, I’ve had my own radio slot with WIGO and I worked at repossessing cars! It was like having a real job but I got out of it. You’re chasing people who don’t want to pay bills. It’s like taking a mans horse back in the old west. People don’t want to give up their horses.”
BB: Did you encounter any resistance from your family or friends about your decision to go on the road and become a blues artist?
(Laughter) “Oh man, my friends and family thought I was crazy, even my wife. The question was why are you sitting around with a guitar playing the blues? It didn’t go over very well at all until I got my first award.”
BB: In 1999 your exceptional record, Rising Son was released and was given a big thumbs up by the blues community. How vindicating was it for your music to be recognized on its own merits?
“Well you know I cried. Then I got in my car and drove down the street yelling “Yes” out the open window. People must have thought I was crazy riding down the street screaming “yes!” It was like the people said to me , “Okay, you’re Muddy’s son but we’re going to put our stamp of acceptance on you for being the best new blues artists of 2009, the best blues artist in all of America.””
BB: One has to imagine that being the son of a genuine music legend can be a two edged sword. What’s the upside to being the son of Muddy Waters and what are the downsides?
“Well the upside is that people will listen. A lot of people in the music business won’t give you a chance, but it opened some doors for me. The downside is that you better be ready and you better be razor sharp because they are going to compare me to my Muddy Waters. With me, people have expectations, they expect me to be the blues. It’s tough sometimes but I’ve done all right with it.”
BB: I think it’s refreshing that you’re “Big Bill Morganfield” and not “ Muddy Morganfield” or something along those lines.
“I’m not interested in piggy-backing on my fathers name. Let me put it like this. I’m a proud man. Period. Not just Muddy’s son. I’m a proud man and I have standards and one of them is not to be a copycat. There’s nothing special about copying anyone. That’s not the same as playing Muddy’s songs. You think about every blues musician that becomes famous. Howlin’ Wolf is Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters is Muddy Waters, T-Bone Walker is T-Bone Walker, and all those guys bring something to the table. America isn’t a stupid country and we’re not stupid people. We understand the beauty of being an individual and being yourself and being original is important.”
BB: When you play the blues, how much of an influence is your father, his music and his style?
“Well you know, he’s the greatest influence on me and my style. He’s my father. He did it before me but I do want to do it my own way.”
BB: You were raised by your grandmother in Florida while your father did his thing in Chicago. Later in life, how close were you able to get with your dad?
“Pop and I got tight later in life. I always looked at myself as the son who got away. I was born in Chicago and at three months old my mother took me to South Florida and gave me to her mother. She said she wasn’t ready for me so my Grandmother took me and raised me. My life has been different, I would have liked to have known my father better. There again, I don’t know what would have happened had I known him better. However, knowing him as I did led me to what I’m doing today.”
“There were so many things I wanted to ask pop but he died. There were so many things I wanted to know. I wanted to know why certain things happened the way they did. A lot of my questions were answered when I stepped onto a stage and started doing what he did. I got my answers but I had to pick up a guitar and walk in his steps to get those answers. As I got a chance to see what was coming at me as far as women and things like that, it gave me a better understanding of what came at him. You know and maybe why, it went down the way it did between us.”
BB: Life on the road as a performer is tough. Long hours, lots of driving, tons of waiting around and usually little of the glamour people often assume comes with the territory. With that being said, are you living your dream?
“I’m living my dream because I’m doing what I want to do. I think this is my destiny. I think every man has a destiny. I think its important for everyone to figure out where we fit in on the planet. Everyone has to find their spot in the big scheme of things.”
BB: I understand you have a new record coming out?
“Yes, it’s in the can, I need to do some polishing up on it and it is good! We’re not sure when it’s going to be released, it’s done, that’s the good thing. It’s stressful doing a record when the record company is paying for everything, but when you’re doing it yourself, it’s pretty damn taxing and mentally challenging. Making records ins’t free, it costs more than what people think it does especially at the level that I make them at.”
BB: Where can people find out more about you Bill?
“Just Google me! You’ll find out more stuff about me than I even know! I do have a website but I have don’t have a lot of time but I have my fingers on every facet of the business. You can visit my website athttp://bigbillmorganfield.net/ .”
Photos by Chris A © 2012 www.chrisaphotography.com
Interviewer Chris Armold is a writer and photographer in Ohio. Much about him and his work is at: www.chrisaphotography.com .