Q&A with Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield: Muddy Waters’ youngest son is a rising star on the Chicago blues scene. Interview by Michael Limnios.
“The Blues changed. When my father was a young man the blues was a black audience, but when Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Johnny Winters introduced the world to my father the Blues became white overnight. But the Blues is the foundation of music and crosses cultural borders – no boundaries – meaning age or race.”
Muddy Waters‘ youngest son, Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield is a rising star on the Chicago blues scene. His Delmark Records debut recording, “It’s Good To Be King” featuring fellow Chicago blues stars, Ronnie Baker Brooks on guitar, Billy Branch on harp, Brother John Kattke on keys, and Rick Kreher on rhythm guitar! Muddy Waters’ Delta roots stretch deep into the heart of his son Joseph “Mojo” Morganfield’s powerful vocals on his new single. DNA and a childhood of experiences from the heart of the Chicago blues scene pour out his legacy in Mojo’s latest single. Mojo’s first full album is on track to be released in 2021. He began his career as a young boy following in his father’s footsteps, traveling and performing with him and growing up in the Blues. He learned guitar from Muddy and Muddy’s guitarist Bob Margolin. Mojo put music temporarily behind him in favor of playing college basketball after winning a scholarship at the University of Northern Iowa and starting a family. He returns to music once again in clubs and festivals around Chicago, the United States, and in Europe when the pandemic allows. Joseph has performed on stage with Grammy Award Winners Don Was, Jamey Johnson, and Warren Haynes at The Chicago Theater – The Last Waltz and with his brother Big Bill Morganfield at the Chicago Blues Fest.
In 2019 Mojo opened for Bad Company featuring Paul Rodgers. He also performed on stage at the Chicago Blues Festival with his Band The Mannish Boyz. Mojo, the only son Muddy raised, grew up in and around Chicago with the father of the Chicago Blues. Muddy Waters gave Mojo his first guitar backstage at one of his concerts. Raised with the same Mississippi country values to which Muddy held firm, even after decades in Chicago, Mojo’s talent took a backseat while he worked to provide for his own children. Now he is doing what comes naturally and returning to his music. Mojo can’t help but carry on his father’s sound, “elemental and deep…sound no one else could make” according to Rolling Stone’s Obituary of a Blues Legend. Muddy’s sound influenced many greats, placing Mojo in the company of Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and so many others.
How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
Having Blues at an early age, seeing my father’s trials and tribulations, seeing current events happening in the world…the Blues has made me stronger, with a thick skin, I have learned to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.
How do you describe your music philosophy and songbook? What was the hardest part to be Muddy’s son?
My music is definitely influenced by my father, with a more up to date approach. I don’t necessarily like “old fashioned” Blues – I think Blues can be a happy song as well.
The high expectations of being Muddy’s son – people compare me to Muddy. They need to realize there is only one Muddy Waters. I am trying to make a way for Mojo Morganfield.
“Having Blues at an early age, seeing my father’s trials and tribulations, seeing current events happening in the world…the Blues has made me stronger, with a thick skin, I have learned to hope for the best but prepare for the worst.” (Mojo Morganfield / Photo by Connie Carroll)
Which meetings have been the most important experiences? What was the best advice anyone ever gave you?
Bob Margolin – knowing him as a kid and performing with him as an adult – we have an unbreakable bond.
Best advise was from my father – he taught me to be true to myself – to be me – people are going to like you or they’re not but you have to be true to yourself.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
I miss the stories and comraderies – when a musician was a musician and didn’t have to be in your band to perform on stage. I miss traveling with my band – now there are bands waiting for you. My dad would have never gone for that. His band went everywhere with him.
That the Blues will continue – we need to reach out to youth, to continue to find and encouraged young talent.
Why do you think that Delmark Records continues to generate such a devoted following?
It is the oldest American Jazz/Blues record label, and its right here in Chicago. With that recognition they can reach a lot of people. That is why I chose Delmark to release my new single “It’s Good to be King”.
“Always have a rehearsal with a new band. Encourage others – especially younger – you never know who is the next Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, or Howling Wolf. Stay humble.” (Photo: Muddy Waters’ family & Ruth Brown with Muddy’s stamp, Chicago 1994)
What would you say characterizes Chicago blues scene in comparison to other US local scenes and circuits?
Chicago Blues is the capital of Blues – founded in Mississippi, but different in St Louis and Tennessee, made more of an urban sound in Chicago. My dad changed the dynamics – Chicago doesn’t use horns, we use a harp instead. Two guitars, a rhythm and a lead, we added a piano. That’s the Chicago way.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
Always have a rehearsal with a new band. Encourage others – especially younger – you never know who is the next Buddy Guy, Muddy Waters, or Howling Wolf. Stay humble.
What is the impact of Blues on the racial and socio-cultural implications? How do you want it to affect people?
The Blues changed. When my father was a young man the blues was a black audience, but when Eric Clapton, the Rolling Stones, and Johnny Winters introduced the world to my father the Blues became white overnight. But the Blues is the foundation of music and crosses cultural borders – no boundaries – meaning age or race.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really want to go for a whole day?
1941 – Clarksdale MS to the day Alan Lomax recorded a young Muddy Waters for the Library of Congress. I also want to find Robert Johnson to see how great he was.