Big Bill Morganfield (left) and Big Pete Pearson:  Dealing blues you can use, the kind that are never out of fashion, wise in all the ways of the world.
(photos: Big Pete Pearson by Lyle Moutrie; Big Bill Morganfield by Robert T. Reid)

Blues With a Feeling, In a ‘Big’ Way
By David McGee

Big Bill Morganfield
Black Shuck Records/Vizztone

Steadily in the years following his 1999 album debut, Rising Son, Big Bill Morganfield has seen his growth as an artist greeted by critical hosannas from the blues cognoscenti. Born Lover continues this upward trending arc, being rife with his assured slide work, hearty vocals and sharp songwriting. The only son of Muddy Waters has moved well out of his father’s giant shadow by now and established himself as a blues man to be reckoned with. Producer/guitarist Bob Margolin, the towering musician who also played in Muddy’s band, returns here as Morganfield’s producer, a role he assumed on Rising Son, and his steady hand is evident in the tight, ensemble playing, the bright sonics, and the occasional well-tempered guitar lick. But Big Bill carries the day. As a writer he’s not going to dispense with the basic blues texts, so some mean woman tracts are in evidence here; two of the finest, in fact, come back-to-back late in the album’s sequence: in the spirited, driving “Who’s the Fool,” Big Bill beats himself up for giving so much of his own heart to a feckless female, and his spiteful self-lacerations are enhanced in intensity by Clark Stern’s anxious, rolling keyboard solo and the song-length, deep blue honking of harmonica maestro Steve Guyger, who is very nearly as much a star of this album as Big Bill, so memorable is he in his every appearance; however much Morganfield may be kicking himself in “Who’s the Fool,” that’s how deep in despair he dives in the doom-laden, dirge-like “Lonesome Lonely Blues,” the title itself revelatory of the dark hole he’s fallen into. With his brooding lament punctuated by taut, stinging guitar, Morganfield completely immerses himself in misery, using the deeper shadings of his muscular baritone voice to underscore the continuing pain of his loss.

Big Bill Morganfield plays the blues…

But it’s not all so serious in Big Bill’s universe. The man has an alternately feisty and randy sense of humor he gives free reign to here. In the steady grinding crunch of “Born Lover,” he evokes the spirit of another manly role model from back in his dad’s day, one Ellis McDaniels, aka Bo Diddley, in cheerily boastful lines such as “I make the married men made/I make the single men sad/make the little kids happy/I make the little girls glad,” although the idea of a convicted murderer being set free by a judge because “he’s a born lover” is a bit worrisome, even if uttered in jest. Still, Stern’s to-the-point piano fills and Guyger’s swaying and moaning harp lines keep things light and buoyant, with no small assist from Morganfield’s tart slide support. Settling into shuffle mode, Big Bill blissfully extols the sensual virtues of a female love machine he refers to as “X-Rated Lover,” and to put a fine point on his lust he fires off a slide solo that thrusts and howls with the kind of righteous fervor only pure, unabated passion can produce. When he shouts, “You know what I’m talkin’ about!,” well, you know what he’s talkin’ about. Elsewhere our man gets topical for a bit when he tears into “High Gas Prices,” and shows off a convincing, even striking, gift for crooning in “My Love is Real,” a ‘50s-style romantic ballad in the Percy Mayfield mode, so affecting it ought to be the start of a whole album of similar fare. Wherever he goes from here, though, Big Bill Morganfield has arrived. Dad would be well pleased.

Born Lover is available at


Big Pete Pearson




Big Pete Pearson
Modesto Blues Records

Of the many laudatory sentiments Big Pete Pearson earns with these two albums, both released within a couple of months of each other last year, is that age has not slowed the productivity of the big man known as Arizona’s King of the Blues (he was born in Jamaica, raised in Austin, TX, and settled down in Phoenix). Playing with two different iterations of his Rhythm Room All-Stars, he serves up 16 new originals among the collective 20 tracks here and further demonstrates that his 73-year-old voic remains a formidable instrument, whether he’s growling his way through the pulsating, suggestive come-on of his bass player Terry Davis’s “Come and Get It” on Screamer or turning that Bobby “Blue” Bland quiver and ache in his voice down to a steady, affecting simmer (swear to God he even lets loose with a squawl at one point) on his churning, gut-puncher blues ballad, “Heartaches” (Finger In Your Eye). No matter the situation at hand, Big Pete is never less than completely in control and fully in the moment, bringing home the burners and the tearjerkers with complete authority.

No use recommending one of these long players over the other—both boast a multitude of virtues and a surplus of soul, as well as superb support by the All-Stars on both discs. Finger In Your Eye is the most polished of the two. Produced by Bob Corritore (who also sits in on harp and cuts loose with a solo on the aforementioned “Heartaches” that is as much a wonder to hear as it is the perfectly attuned howl to Big Pete’s epic hurt), Finger boasts a lineup of A-team Windy City blues players, among them Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass, Brian Fahey on drums, Pinetop Perkins adding his usual tasty, invigorating voice on piano on the kickoff track, “Don’t Mess With Me (Finger In Your Eye),” and a fairly awesome lineup of other guitarists, not least of all Duke Robillard on two tracks. Given the number of songs on Finger addressing women of dubious character, James’s scorching guitar and what one critic called Corritore’s “Promethean” harp take a co-starring role, often being dominant second voices to Pearson’s own and seemingly driving him to more intense readings—the heat they generate on “Short Change” is nigh on to scary, and Pearson’s personal investment in his lyrical sand-in-the-line declaration to the gal he’s kicking out burns with equal ferocity. Organist Bruce Bears makes his lone appearance memorable, introducing the breakup blues “The Time Has Come” with a sprightly McGriff-style sprint over the keys and settling into a smooth hum behind the solid rhythm section and Doug James’s baritone sax ruminations; despite the number’s subject matter, its easygoing, jazzy groove defines one of the warmest moments on either of the albums in question (tip of the hat to Robillard here for his fine and mellow solo, all warm, fat tones emanating from the hollow-body electric and reminiscent at points of Billy Butler’s timeless signature on Bill Doggett’s “Honky Tonk”).

Big Pete Pearson with the Rhythm Room All Stars live: Big Pete on vocals, Bob Corritore on harmonica, Chris James on guitar, Patrick Rynn on bass, Willy Maes on drums.

Screamer, aptly titled, teams Big Pete with a completely different band that includes a horn section, which gets a good workout here and delivers every time. Produced by Big Pete himself, with executive producer Sammy Combs, Jr., the album has a raw, live feel, more immediate than Finger and arguably more incendiary, mostly due to the horn section making its glorious noise a formidable presence throughout. The tension between the pumping horns, the driving band track and Pearson’s rhythmically feisty vocal on the album opening “I Don’t Know You” is a masterful stroke on every level. Jerry Donato’s voluble organ on the abovementioned “Come and Get It” complements Pearson’s lighthearted salaciousness and allows him room to improvise some witty asides to the woman he’s having a great time trying to seduce. When it’s time to grind, on “Blues Bailout,” Mike Howard’s stinging guitar obbligatos over the horns’ surge-and-retreat strategy proves the ideal setup for a topical song springing from the economic crisis, as Pete declares his intent to march on D.C. and speak to the powers that be, including the President, about his dire straits (is there a more fitting verse for our times than “I spent a lot of money/to fill my tank with gas, uh-huh/I borrowed mo’ money, listen to me, y’all/’cause that didn’t last/I’ve been lookin’ for a job/laid off from the last/I can’t pay my mortage—listen to me!/so they kicked me out on my ass!” Big Bill Morganfield is not alone in wanting to beseech Washington for some answers…). Woman gets taken to task, of course: in the B.B. King-style shuffle, “Paycheck,” with the horns burping along and Donato gettin’ busy on the organ and Howard charging in with sharp, piercing solos, Big Pete mulls the problem of being with a gal who’s mostly waiting for payday to roll around; in “Trustworthy Woman,” a powerful Delta Blues-style acoustic number, with his voice backed only by Howard’s aggrieved guitar work, Big Pete tears into a duplicitous female, begging “Fanny Mae, please tell me the truth/well, you just lie so much/you just lie all the time,” and, like “Paycheck,” closes with a resigned sigh, a sort of existential shrug to the immutability of certain facts of life. But let’s not misrepresent the whole of Screamer: on its penultimate track, dedicated to his wife, Pearson delivers a beautiful, poignant take on Johnny Ace’s “Pledging My Love,” the band swaying gently behind him, Joe Bar-Nadav settling into a warm hum on the B3 and Mike Howard fashioning a tender, shimmering electric guitar solo with gospel overtones so rich as to move Big Pete to say, in preacherly fashion, “Say it, Mike; say it, son.” All of which sets up the final minute of the song, in which our man divests himself of a warm, loving spoken tribute to his bride. Big Pete has a big heart, but if you don’t know that well before “Pledging My Love” comes around, you ain’t been listening close enough. So go back and start all over—these are blues you can use, never out of fashion, wise in all the ways of the world.

Finger In Your Eye is available at

Screamer is available at

Founder/Publisher/Editor: David McGee
Contributing Editors: Billy Altman, Laura Fissinger, Christopher Hill, Derk Richardson
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