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'Big Bill' among the ShedFest lineup

June 27th, 2013

by Lilli Kuzma; reprinted with permission from Sun-Times Media

Big Bill Morganfield, son of late great blues musician McKinley Morganfield, aka Muddy Waters, will be among the top musical acts performing at ShedFest in Highland Park.

The festival, running July 19-20, also includes music headliners Eddy Clearwater, Chicago Blues Reunion, Dick Holliday & The Bamboo Gang and The Bad Examples. The outdoor fest, hosted by The Shed, a private musicians club in Highland Park, will also feature a tented dining area food and drink vendors. The music fest benefits Rebecca's Dream, an organization that promotes awareness of depression and bipolar disease.

Morganfield, who was inducted into the Chicago Blues Hall of Fame in April, is carrying forward the legacy of his famous father while establishing himself as one of the finest blues artists of his own generation. We spoke with him by phone from his home in Atlanta.

Q. You have a great respect for tradition, and devoted a number of years to studying old blues songs and song forms and styles. What was that process like?

A: It was a hands-on thing I did by myself. I would listen and try to recreate the sound and put down the music. That's how you really learn. It's like making a cake — you can look at recipes all day long, but until you put your hands in it and try to make it, it's just a recipe. And the blues, everyone thinks the music is easy. But try to recreate it, that's when you realize it's not easy, so many riffs, and really intricate. It's an art form that is hard to duplicate.

Q. You were born in Chicago, but raised in southern Florida by your grandmother, the late Verdell Clark. But did you have contact with your father? Did he encourage you in music?

A: As a little boy, I wanted to be like my Daddy. I had a little plastic guitar, and would break strings and all that good stuff. It started with that. But as I got older, I understood that I had to make sure I could make a living for my family, so I went to college, wanted to be educated to make sure I could do things besides working on music.

Q. Some of your album titles are an homage to your famous father — titles like "Rising Son," "Blues in the Blood." Do you believe you inherited this musical ability?

A: I must have inherited a certain thing. People have always told me I have that "it" thing. You can be a great guitarist, and you can be a great singer, but you have to be able to have a persona from the stage, and that is something I didn't have to work on, it's in my chemical make-up.

Q. You're 57 and grew up in a time that offered a rich mix of music. Was this an influence on you?

A: Definitely. I always had a transistor radio and lots of records. I knew the format of the radio stations so well, I would sit there with my guitar and wait [for certain songs], and listen and try to play it, and each time a song would come on, I would learn to play a little bit more. Rare Earth, Stevie Wonder, I would wait for all those cats to come on. Staple Singers. Ike & Tina Turner. It would take me half a day to say all the artists I liked!

Q. How did you learn slide guitar style?

A: That I got from my Daddy. [I] have a natural thing for that, and it's something I don't practice; practice everything but that. I use a slide made from the clay in Colorado, the Rocky Mountain Slide, they're light and don't beat the fret like metal slides that I started out on.

Q. What will you be playing at ShedFest?

A: I'll be featuring songs from the new CD, "Blues with a Mood"; will be playing and collaborating with others on stage who will back me.

Q. What is the most blues town in the United States?

A: Chicago. The best blues players are in Chicago. You got Otis Rush and of course you got Buddy Guy, Magic Slim who just passed away, so many more, and many great players who don't have big names. I go to Chicago because they play blues the right way, not blaring in your ear, they turn the volume down a little, and that's a hard part to understand [about doing it right].