He's got the blues for you
Singer Mud Morganfield, legendary blues musician Muddy Water's son, opens up about the genre and his father ahead of his India debut
The last question is answered. Goodbyes are about to be exchanged across continents. But right before singer Mud Morganfield boards a flight in the US, pioneering blues legend Muddy Waters's eldest son — who'll make his India debut in Mumbai tomorrow — asks us over the phone, "Can I leave a quote for the up and coming new artistes?" Of course he can, we tell the 65-year-old musician. And he says, "This is what I got for them — don't believe the hype. Don't believe that you need a drink or a drug of any kind to play better, or sound better. It is a lie. It's a big hype. You don't need anything but what God gave you already."
The black-and-white era
That statement is testament to how different the genre of blues functioned back when Waters was in his heyday in the 1940s and '50s, and when Morganfield himself would bring home big round cans from the local supermarket and make himself a drum kit in the '60s. The blues, when Waters sang it, came straight from the suffering he faced while working on plantation fields in Mississippi. Its soul lay in the helpless anguish of the African-American community in cotton fields, tied up in chains. Forget about drugs. There wasn't even scope for a drink. The songs were instead a yearning for freedom. In lives engulfed in darkness, they were a way of shedding light.
Things had of course changed by the time Morganfield was buying those cans in the supermarket. By then, Waters and his compatriots like the iconic BB King had shifted base from Mississippi to Chicago and started a movement that the world was forced to sit up and notice. The blues had arrived as a musical force. It gradually erased the saccharine-sweet bebop music prevalent at the time like a duster being used to wipe a blackboard clean. The former plantation workers were now plying their trade not with axes and shovels, but with electric guitars in clubs that paid them the sort of money they couldn't have imagined earlier.
But at its heart, the music still came from a pool of suffering that the musicians dipped their feet in. Except that the waters had changed, so to speak. If his father's grief came from the lash of a whip on his back, Morganfield's came from the experience of growing up impoverished in a rough urban neighbourhood. He says, "It wasn't as bad as it is now in these big cities in the United States, like New York, Chicago, Detroit and even Washington. But I still had to fight. And I'm glad I did, 'cause I got the blues from that. I'm 13 or 14 years old and I'm seeing a dead body on the street, you know? I cried. I talked to many people. So for me, that was my way of getting my blues. You've got to go through something, man. You don't just say I want the blues and you get the blues. It doesn't work like that."
That's why, he adds, he took his time learning music professionally. He did so only in 1983, aged 29. Till then, he was driving trucks, busy embracing the human condition till he could feel it in his bones. Morganfield says, "I could have put on this massive dance and said, 'Hey, I am the son of Muddy Waters.' But I had to find my own blues journey. I had to find my own suffering, my own happiness. Dad found his in Mississippi. I had to find mine in Chicago. And the day I did that, I decided to sing."
But we are compelled to ask, what sort of man was his father, really? What was his personality like beyond that of a musician? That, in fact, is the last question we pose to Morganfield. And he laughs, "Dad was a no-nonsense man. I don't know if it was his upbringing on the plantation or not. But most of those men were the no-nonsense kinds, like Willie Dixon. And Buddy Guy the way he is now. They just didn't play those southern games, you know. He was on the road most of the time when I was growing up. So mum was both my father and mother, in a way. Dad had to scuffle but, again, that's how he got the blues," meaning that the message for any upcoming musician planning to take to the genre remains simple — keep fighting till the blues truly comes to you, and meanwhile, don't believe the hype.
ON November 23, 7 pm
AT Tata Theatre, NCPA, Nariman Point.
Cost Rs 1,000 onwards
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