Howard’s set to get its Chicago blues mojo on

Joseph "Mojo" Morganfield (left) and Maurice Vaughn


BG Independent News

When Joseph Morganfield was a 12-year-old, he’d go hear his father play the blues in local Chicago clubs.

His father always closed the show with the tune, “Got My Mojo Workin’” and knew that was Joseph’s favorite song. So he’d call the youngster on stage, and being a kid the son would inevitably snatch away the microphone and scurry away.

“He had a look that would bring me back,” Morganfield recalled in a recent telephone interview.

His father was McKinley Morganfield, better known to the world as Muddy Waters, the guitarist who plugged in the raw blues from the Mississippi Delta and helped shape Chicago blues, and later ignite the rock revolution.

Joseph Morganfield has taken “Mojo” as his stage name, and is now carrying on his father’s tradition.

“Mojo” Morganfield with special guest Maurice Vaughn will perform at Howard’s Club H, Friday, March 29. Doors open at 8 p.m. Cover is $5.  The show is presented by the club and Third Street Cigar Records.

Morganfield, Muddy Water’s youngest child, said his father wanted him to go into music. He taught him guitar, though Morganfield said he doesn’t have much aptitude for the instrument, and singing, which he did take to.

But aside from those impromptu appearances at the end of his father’s sets, he didn’t pursue music when he was young. Instead he played basketball, and even earned a college scholarship.

“He was not happy with that,” Morganfield said. “He was preparing me for it (music).”

His father died when Morganfield was a senior in high school.

Morganfield, 53, went on to have a family of his own — seven kids. He worked trimming trees to keep them away from power lines. His only stage was the shower, he said.

Then three years ago with his kids grown, he decided to return to music.  “That desire was always with me,” he said.  “I didn’t want any regrets. At least I could say I tried doing it.”

So he took some vocal lessons and got together a band and started working.

He does allow that every now and then he can hear some similarities to his father’s voice. “He had a voice like a southern preacher,” Morganfield said. Even if the listener couldn’t quite make out the words, “you knew what he meant.”

One of the elements of the music scene now, compared to his father’s heyday, was that his father always fielded his own band.

Now, Morganfield said, he sometimes gets booked for gigs as a single and will perform with a group of local musicians.

Even though they may rehearse some before the show, the sound is never like it is with an established group.

He’ll bring his own band to Howard’s including guitarist Rick Kreher, who worked with Muddy Waters. Kreher, in fact, was on stage one legendary night at the Checkerboard Lounge when the Rolling Stones stopped by to jam.

He’ll also be joined by Maurice Vaughn on keyboards. Vaughn is a band leader in his own right — he played a show at the Cla-Zel back in spring, 2001.

When he’s not working with his band he’ll join Morganfield. He performs on the vocalist’s new EP, which includes two originals and two covers of Waters tunes.

Sometimes he’ll book all-star bands, all in the interest of keeping working and keeping the blues alive. “People like us don’t want to let the music die. We want to keep our music in front of everybody as long as we can.”

He’s also gigged with Morganfield’s brother Big Bill Morganfield. Another brother  Mud Morganfield also performs. “Both his brothers have been out circulating and playing the blues for years. I think it’s really wonderful that in the family.”

In his case, he said, “I was the only knucklehead in my family to become a musician.”

Vaughn said listeners do get a taste of what the father sounded like hearing “somebody who is very close to his music like that.”

Vaughn has played with many of the masters of Chicago blues, including Waters. And many like Waters, like Luther Allison, like Queen Sylvia, like Son Seals, have died.

But back then playing with people now considered legends “wasn’t a big deal because everybody was on the stage.”  

Vaughn is proud to be part of that tradition.

He laughs when asked whether people will still be listening to the blues 50 years from now.

“It certainly doesn’t matter what I think,” the 66-year-old said. “I’d like to think so. I’d like to have them listening to my CDs. That would be nice.”