The Mojo Man

When I was young I lived in a small town in the deep south. Occasionally my father would walk me down the long, winding path to a back-woods shack that served as the area’s juke joint. As I watched my father dance and drink his troubles away with his friends, it must have presented a funny picture to anyone that cared to look – a four-year-old white boy sitting in the corner watching his dad and a room full of black men & women dancing to a blues band. This may not exactly be Norman Rockwell’s picture of the early 1950’s, but it was my picture.

The reality of this is that I remember very little of it. Although my mother filled in the details many years later, my memories of those occasions were of the music itself.

Even to a four-year old the blues was as seductive as it was sad. In spite of its sad name this predictable and stylized American music form remains for me a source of optimism. I think this is its seduction. Its only purpose is to make people feel good by creating courage from helplessness.

In 1976 – more than twenty years after my juke joint experiences – I revisited the blues as I photographed Muddy Waters at one of his last concerts. He, Pinetop Perkins – currently the oldest performing bluesman at 96 – and their band at the time held a concert in a small park in Water’s hometown of Westmont, Illinois.

Although “The Mojo Man” needed the help of fans and friends to get off the stage after the concert, his voice was strong and clear as he sang most of the songs that made him an inspiration to not only several generations of rock & roll performers, but to a young photographer.

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Muddy Waters


Muddy Waters with his band


Muddy Waters and his band


Pinetop Perkins


Westmont, IL crowd enjoying Muddy Waters and his band


The Mojo Man, Muddy Waters


Muddy Waters' hand and guitar


Muddy Waters


Crowd enjoying Muddy Waters in Westmont, IL


Getting help from friends and fans after Muddy Waters concert


Muddy Waters talks with friends and fans after concert


Holiday Inn


Pinetop Perkins


This entry was posted in black & white photography, old photo assignment, portraits and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , .

22 Comments

  1. Anna December 29, 2009 at 8:41 am #

    Wow. I agree, blues music is seductive in its rhythm, bass, and its complete sensory power to uplift the spirit despite the hardship associated with the lyrics or background. Lucky you, Muddy Waters in the 70s. Pinetop at the piano. How cool is that.

    I used to go hear Big Twist and the Mellow Fellows whenever they were out this way. “300 pounds of heavenly joy,” that big boy could sing and move.

    And then Koko Taylor. Heard her many a time in a smoky old bar.

    Thanks Bill for the post.

  2. Gene E December 29, 2009 at 2:03 pm #

    Bill–

    It was two degrees this morning when I walked to the train. Diane sent this to me at work later on.

    Great stuff. Mojo Man definitely warmed me up.

    Gene

  3. sarah December 30, 2009 at 10:23 am #

    love these pictures, and of course the story…

  4. William Koechling December 30, 2009 at 11:58 am #

    Thanks Anna & Gene. Sarah, too bad you weren’t there like Ben was!

  5. jesse December 31, 2009 at 10:16 am #

    i was just wondering if ben (and mom) ended up in any of the shots in the background.

  6. William Koechling December 31, 2009 at 10:26 am #

    I’ve looked but never found them.

  7. jesse December 31, 2009 at 4:59 pm #

    how about the shot with the holiday in towel? i love that one

  8. William Koechling December 31, 2009 at 5:06 pm #

    I just added that one, Jesse. I like it too. I guess hot hands are hot hands.

  9. William Koechling December 31, 2009 at 5:10 pm #

    …and one more of Pinetop Perkins I like. If I can find the color one of the close-up of his alligator shoes I’ll scan that one & add it.

  10. jesse December 31, 2009 at 5:55 pm #

    i also have to ask…. did you climb a tree to get some of those shots? i don’t remember if you’ve said before

  11. William Koechling December 31, 2009 at 5:59 pm #

    remember me and heights… no tree climbing! I don’t honestly remember how I was elevated for that wide-angle shot. Maybe there is a hill there or something. Maybe I ought to take a drive to Westmont & see the park.

  12. Bev January 1, 2010 at 7:44 pm #

    Wonderful pictures–and beautiful reflections! Thank you!

  13. MrBrownThumb January 4, 2010 at 2:55 am #

    This story is awesome, but the pictures tell the story all on their own.

    I’m sure you get a lot of people telling you how much they like your art, but I’d like to be added to the list.

  14. William Koechling January 4, 2010 at 10:10 am #

    Hey, Mr. Brown Thumb… thanks. I also enjoyed taking a look at your gardening blog. I’ll check it out closer. It may be inspiration enough to return THIS blog to a gardening format!

  15. Daron Surrency March 12, 2010 at 5:32 pm #

    Nice one! If I could write like this I would be well happpy. The more I read articles of such quality as this (which is rare), the more I think there could be a future for the Net. Keep it up, as it were.

  16. William Koechling March 12, 2010 at 6:30 pm #

    Thanks, Daron. You’re awful kind and your comments made my day!

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  18. Sid TheMojoMan Grubbs December 28, 2010 at 4:22 pm #

    Great pictures. I just found this site. I was a personality DJ for many years on several stations. All the Blues Guys were my heroes. You name it I played it,,many times getting Hell from a PD that didn’t know CRAP about the beginnings of Rock&Roll. I used my middle initial “D” calling myself MR.D in the very beginning.UNTIL I was in Los Angeles visiting my Aunt and heard GOT MY MOJO WORKING by Ann Cole in a CAR commercial. From then on I called myself THEMOJOMAN. I even TRADEMARKED the name in 1959. USTM # 2 373 775. I never knew Muddy was being called The Mojo Man until I saw the book named THE MOJO MAN by some lady named Sandra (something)(last name slips me). I am a great fan and your pictures are TERRIFIC. I’m probably the world’s greatest Bo Diddley fan. During my radio career I booked BO many times in the early days especially. We live in Fla. every winter for the last 30yrs. after our seasonal business is over here up north. When BO died had I been in Fla. I would’ve made that funeral. I heard that STEVEN SEGAL was the only celebrity that was there. I really respect him for that. If I ever see him I will thank him for that. Thank You
    The Ole Jive Bomber THEMOJOMAN

  19. SidTheMojoManGrubbs November 22, 2014 at 4:03 pm #

    I wrote a comment several years ago. Was just going over your pictures and story of the juke joints again. It’s so sad that “today’s young people” will never really know where the Rock Music they love really came from. I was in LA at my aunts between radio jobs waiting on my divorce to go thru. That’s when I saw Ann Cole singing “Got my Mojo Working” in a car commercial,,,she later toured with Muddy’s show and after she left he just kept on singing the song as part of his show. That’s actually where I got the idea for TheMojoMan as a radio name.
    I trademarked it in 1959 (reg.ustm) 2 343 775. Like you I am a great fan of the Blues. Jimmy Reed,,,Elmore James,,Slim Harpo,,Lightnin Slim,,Bo Diddley,,Joe Tex,,Big Joe Turner and many many more. Thanks for posting your pics. I was telling my wife (who is much younger than me) that in the old days we would use the bed of tractor trailer trucks for a stage or even just two trucks like your pics. She said “Oh I see what you mean”. In fact one station I worked for in Spartanburg,S.C. in 1970 (WORD radio) We had a TT bed for a stage when we brought in “Janis Joplin with Big Brother and The Holding Company” AND “Steppenwolf” It was an afternoon concert.

  20. William Koechling November 22, 2014 at 5:08 pm #

    Hi Sid,

    Thanks so much for checking in once again. I hope all is going well for you.

    I appreciate the history you’ve added here. I think young people will eventually come to realize that all music like all art forms comes from people that came before their musical/art idols. When they really like a musician they’ll usually do a little research or listen to those musicians talk about who influenced them. That takes it right on back.

    I loved seeing the old flat-bed trucks as the stage! The hand-written “Muddy Waters” sign is priceless too. You’re right. Janis didn’t care much about the stage under her feet. It was all about the music and still is with the blues.

    Bless you, friend. You’ll be the only other person I’ll call the “Mojo Man.”

  21. Patrice Penney April 4, 2015 at 5:52 pm #

    Bill, your story is amazing. Love the tribute in photos and words to Muddy Waters. I love the blues, though I am not sure when or where I was first introduced, though I did have an amazing African American choral director in early high school in a small town in West Virginia who had played with Nat King Cole, and introduced me to jazz. Must have been sometime after that.

  22. William Koechling April 4, 2015 at 6:11 pm #

    Thanks for taking a look, Patrice. Sometimes the origins of stuff that pricks your soul are a bit tough to pin down. Your choral director may have had something to do your attraction to the blues. I’d also put money on African music. I can’t even imagine some of the music you’ve heard in your years in Kenya!

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