Papa Was A Rolling Stone
Mud Morganfield and his half-brother “Big Bill” Morganfield play the blues. Sometimes they play together. I have a live recording of the two playing at the Chicago Blues Festival, doing songs such as Mannish Boy, Nineteen Years Old and Forty Days and Forty Nights, all songs that you can instantly recall as being standards sung by blues legend, the late Muddy Waters. No coincidence there because both the Morganfields are his sons. Remember Muddy Waters’ real name was McKinley Morganfield. Muddy died in 1983 but his two sons in their 50s–Mud’s the older one—keep his trademark Chicago blues sound and legacy alive. They play gigs. They cut records and have a considerably big fan following among blues aficionados.
Mud’s vocals invoke huge influences of his father’s style. It helps that his voice is as deep and his growls nearly as great as his father’s used to be. But, like John Lee Hooker Jr., who played with his band at the Mahindra Blues Festival in Mumbai earlier this year, the Morganfields do get huge mileage out of their lineage. And why not? If fans like that, what’s the harm.
But it’s hard being children of big musical legends and trying to break out of that shadow. Or, for that matter to live up to, often unrealistic, expectations. Many do try to do that. Some, like Bob Dylan’s son, Jakob, whose band, The Wallflowers, has had platinum albums and several chart-climbing songs, have not tried to emulate their more famous parent’s style. Others, such as Adam Cohen, son of Leonard, curates his father’s art and writing but also sings. The junior Cohen’s new album is an intimate acoustic set of 10 songs that invoke his father’s music. It helps that like his father, Adam too is a great baritone. It also helps that his lyrics are as emotional as his father’s.
It is hard to shake off the fame of a legendary parent. But many children of great musicians do and have been able to carve out their own places under the son—Damien Marley, Charlotte Gainsbourg, Rufus Wainwright, the late Jeff Buckley (who, not unlike his father, Tim, also died young), Dhani Harrison, Sean Lennon (who even looks like his dad), Dweezil Zappa…. the list can go on. Some of them follow in their more famous parent’s footsteps, making music that is in the same genre or is influenced greatly by it; others, try to beat a new path.
The two Morganfield brothers play the blues and often, as I mentioned, sing the songs from Muddy’s storied repertoire. Yet, if you listen to Mud Morganfield, he also has some brilliant original compositions. His latest album is called Son of the Seventh Son. Many of the 12 compositions on it are his own, including the cheeky, replete with double entendre, Cat Fishing. It helps that he has a great band to back him and produce a sound that is his own but not entirely bereft of his famous father’s influence.
Some sons, however, take the expected route and yet come out with impressive results. Zappa Plays Zappa, is Dweezil’s band that is a tribute to his father Frank’s music. It’s a tribute act, really, which does live shows that cover Frank Zappa’s eclectically influenced music. Formed in the mid 2000s, the junior Zappa’s band often performs entire albums. I’ve heard them render Apostrophe (‘), one of Zappa’s best studio albums from 1974, and they did a fabulous job.
Seeing that we’re talking about covers and tributes by sons of their fathers, the inherently deep-rooted Deadhead in me cannot help but stray off topic before I end this instalment of DC. Fans of the Grateful Dead are die-hard loyalists. They collect every bootlegged concert; every album; every video and all the memorabilia related to the object of their adulation that they can lay their hands on. But when it comes to covers of the Dead’s music, they are usually purists.
Few Dead tribute bands, a notable exception is the Dark Star Orchestra, which faithfully reproduces every gig that the Dead played (and they played more than 2300), passes the muster of Deadheads. Yet there are many. Jazz Is Dead is an ensemble that takes the Dead’s music and interprets it, quite nicely, in jazz form.
But last week, I heard a show called Funk Is Dead in which The Motet, an American band that fuses Jazz, Afrobeat, Funk, Salsa and Samba, takes trademark songs by the Grateful Dead and adds what they call “a bit of booty” into them. If you want to listen to funkified live versions of Shakedown Street, New Speedway Boogie, St. Stephen, Dark Star (and a reprise), Scarlet Begonias and even Loose Lucy and Stella Blues, I’d suggest you give them a try. And, even if you’re a die-hard Deadhead, I think they’ll pass muster. A suggestion: while you’re going about doing that, do download The Motet’s new album, Dig Deep. It’s free off their website and worth having on your player.