Platinum-recording artist Big Head Todd and the Monsters have joined forces with three second-generation blues stars — Mud Morganfield, Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks — to form the Big Head Blues Club and release Way Down Inside, an in-depth tribute to Willie Dixon, a pillar of modern blues. The Big Head Blues Club’s U.S. tour kicks off September 22, 2016. The album will be available on the tour and online and is scheduled for a national release in early 2017 with the date to be announced soon.
Fans of Muddy Waters and Buddy Guy, or even Led Zeppelin and the Rolling Stones, have heard the songs of Willie Dixon. A Rock and Roll Hall of Fame inductee, Dixon has been called the “poet laureate of the blues,” and was a key architect of the Chicago blues sound that many people say gave birth to rock and roll. In addition to songwriting, Dixon was also an accomplished bass player and singer, and in 1937 won the Illinois State Golden Gloves Heavyweight Championship, later sparring with Joe Louis. By the time of his passing in 1992, Willie had written over 500 songs, 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,” many of which were covered by some of the world’s best-known arena rock bands. Way Down Inside includes some of those songs, while, as the title suggests, also digs deeper into the catalogue to explore other blues hits from the 1950s and ’60s that have not yet been introduced to a mainstream audience.
“Willie Dixon was a great writer, an incredible bass player, a great thinker and a beautiful guy,” notes Todd Mohr, lead singer and guitarist for Big Head Todd and the Monsters. “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 — featuring modern guitar hero Mohr; Brian Nevin, drums; Rob Squires, bass; and Jeremy Lawton, keys — are best known for their chart-smashing album Sister Sweetly, and their hit song “Bittersweet.” They’ve also been fans of blues music since their first days together playing music in high school. In 1997 they recorded a song with John Lee Hooker for their album Beautiful World, but it was in 2011 that the band fully delved into the blues with their first Big Head Blues Club project, 100 Years of Robert Johnson, which featured guest appearances by B.B. King, Hubert Sumlin, Charlie Musselwhite, Honeyboy Edwards, and others. That album led to a limited number of tour dates under the Big Head Blues Club moniker that same year. In that same vein, Way Down Inside is also being supported by a national 33-city tour that features all of the album’s guests, in what seems to have become a new tradition for the band.
Joining the band on this recording, which was co-produced with Todd by Grammy Award-winning producer Chris Goldsmith (Blind Boys of Alabama, Ben Harper, Charlie Musselwhite), are three great blues singers with royal blood. Mud Morganfield is the eldest son of Muddy Waters and recently released a Blues Music Award-winning album; Billy Branch is a three-time Grammy Award-nominee who played harmonica in Willie Dixon’s Chicago Blues All-Stars band; and Ronnie Baker Brooks, son of Chicago blues master Lonnie Brooks, is an accomplished blues guitarist and bandleader in his own right. All the artists are also joining Todd and the band on the road.
Also singing on the album (and tour) is the amazing Erica Brown, a Denver-based blueswoman who has worked with Todd and the band over the years, and sings the part of Koko Taylor on “That Same Thing,” a heart-wrenching duet with Todd that is actually mashed up with another Dixon-penned classic, “Insane Asylum.” Other songs include Todd’s version of the snappy “Hidden Charms,” the album’s first single, as well as Branch’s powerful take on Willie’s politically-charged epic “It Don’t Make Sense (You Can’t Make Peace),” which has special relevance given current events. Other album highlights include Brooks’ deeply soulful vocals and guitar work on “My Love Will Never Die,” and Morganfield’s commanding performance on “You Need Love,” taking the song that Led Zeppelin once said they wrote and reclaiming it for the blues.
Way Down Inside was recorded “mostly-live” over five days at Boulder’s new E-Town studio, and the session, according to Todd, 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 very vintage tones alongside emotional, contemporary performances. Every artist involved with “Way Down Inside” is beaming with pride right now because we know Willie is somewhere smiling.”