Since the 1993 breakthrough album "Sister Sweetly," Colorado born-and-raised singer, songwriter and guitarist Todd Park Morh has garnered a large and passionate fan base for his work as bandleader of Big Head Todd and the Monsters.
The band's dynamic sound found its roots in Morh's affinity for vintage American blues, and it's that foundation that is the focus of his spin-off project, Big Head Blues Club. This labor of love — which debuted in 2011 with tribute album "100 Years of Robert Johnson" — makes an impressive return with "Way Down Inside," an album that features Mohr, Brian Nevin on drums, Rob Squires on bass and Jeremy Lawton on keys, along with an in-depth tribute to Chicago blues legend Willie Dixon.
The national 33-city tour also will showcase guest players on "Way Down Inside": Singer Larry "Mud" Morganfield, who is the eldest son of Muddy Waters, blues harp player Billy Branch and Chicago singer and guitarist Ronnie Baker Brooks.
Big Head Blues Club will perform at 7:30 p.m. Sunday, Sept. 25, at the Craterian Theater, 23 S. Central Ave., Medford. Tickets are $42, $45 or $48, $30, $33 or $36 for ages 18 and younger, and can be purchased online at craterian.org, at the box office, 16 S. Bartlett St., or by calling 541-779-3000.
The tour kicked off Sept. 22 at the Cascade Theatre in Redding, Calif. The new album is set for release in early 2017, but copies are available at the shows and online at bigheadtodd.com.
Dixon's musical influence endures through such blues artists as Muddy Waters, Bo Diddley, The Rolling Stones, The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, Buddy Guy, Led Zeppelin, Jeff Beck, Eric Burdon, Canned Heat, Foghat, Savoy Brown and many, many more.
A Rock and Roll Hall of Famer, Dixon is known as the “poet laureate of the blues,” and he was a key architect of the Chicago blues sound that many say gave birth to rock 'n' roll. In addition to songwriting, Dixon was an accomplished bass player and singer. In 1937, Dixon won the Illinois State Golden Gloves heavyweight championship, later sparring with Joe Louis.
At the end of his life in 1992, Dixon had more than 500 songs to his credit, including such immortal hits as "Bring It On Home," "Spoonful," "You Need Love," "You Can't Judge a Book by the Cover," and “I Just Wanna Make Love to You.” A great many of Dixon's songs are covered by some of the world's best-known arena rock bands.
"Way Down Inside" includes some of those songs, as well as a deeper exploration of other blues hits from the '50s and '60s that have not been introduced to mainstream audiences.
“Willie Dixon was a great writer, an incredible bass player, a great thinker and a beautiful guy,” says Mohr in a press release. “He tends to get overlooked because so much of what he did was behind the scenes, but he was definitely one of the most important songwriters in American music. He always professed that the blues is an accurate mirror of human life, and his subject matter ranged from politics to love songs and everything in between. So I'm excited to be able to tell more people about Willie Dixon with this project.”
Big Head Todd and the Monsters are best known for their 1993 chart-smashing album "Sister Sweetly" and its hit "Bittersweet." The band mates have been blues fans since their first days together playing music in high school. In '97, the band recorded a song with John Lee Hooker for their album "Beautiful World," but it was 2011 until the group delved fully into blues with its first Big Head Blues Club project, "100 Years of Robert Johnson." That album features guest appearances by B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Charlie Musselwhite, Honeyboy Edwards and others. "100 Years" led to a limited number of tour dates that same year under the Big Head Blues Club moniker. "Way Down Inside" also is being supported by a national tour with the album's guests in what seems to be a new tradition for the Monsters.
"Way Down Inside" was co-produced by Mohr and Grammy Award winner Chris Goldsmith. Morganfield won a Blues Music Award for his 2014 "For Pops: A Tribute to Muddy Waters," Branch played harmonica in Dixon's Chicago Blues All-Stars, and Brooks, son of Chicago bluesman Lonnie Brooks, is an accomplished blues guitarist and bandleader in his own right.
Also on the album and tour is Erica Brown, a Denver-based blues singer who sings the part of Koko Taylor on “That Same Thing,” a heart-wrenching duet with Mohr that is actually mashed up with another Dixon-penned classic, “Insane Asylum.” Other songs include Mohr's version of the snappy “Hidden Charms,” the album’s first single, as well as Branch’s powerful take on Dixon's politically charged “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace).” Other standouts include Brooks’ soulful vocal and guitar work on “My Love Will Never Die” and Morganfield’s commanding performance on “You Need Love.”
"Way Down Inside" was recorded “mostly live” over five days at the new E-Town studio in Boulder, Colo., and the session, according to Mohr, was surrounded by a positive vibe from the start.
"It was really an emotional session, and there were tearful moments for all of us. We ended up with vintage tones alongside emotional, contemporary performances. Every artist involved with the album is beaming with pride right now because we know Willie is somewhere smiling.”