“Big Head Todd and the Monsters” built an audience for their rock/alt/pop/jam sound over 30+ years of touring, even landing a few songs and albums on Billboard magazine’s music charts. But blues music has always been near and dear to band leader Todd Mohr, even if straight-up blues songs haven’t been part of their recorded output.
“I’m a lifetime blues lover. I fell in love with John Lee Hooker when I was 13 years old” said Mohr. “I just built my life around blues and rhythm and blues music … it had more ‘deep turn after deep turn’ and it ended up where we’re now doing meaningful things within the genre, and I’m really proud of that.”
On their current trip across the country, the band is billing itself as “Big Head Blues Club & Friends.” Those friends include Larry “Mud” Morganfield and Ronnie Baker Brooks, sons of Chicago blues legends Muddy Waters and Lonnie Brooks respectively. Longtime Chicago vocalist/songwriter/harmonica man Billy Branch is also part of Mohr's "friends." Big Head Blues Club is touring with their just released “Way Down Inside” album, a tribute to Chess Records jack-of-all-trades Willie Dixon. Dixon's song have been covered by Cream, Jeff Beck, Led Zeppelin, Jimi Hendrix, the Rolling Stones, Bob Dylan, and The Doors, among others.
“Willie Dixon is one of the greatest and under appreciated songwriters that ever lived. He spent much of his life watching other people get rich off of his songs. He’s also one of the most central figures in blues music, at least the Chicago blues story and sound. And it just happened to segue well with the guests we were able to incorporate into The Blues Club. Mainly Muddy Waters son Mud Morganfield, but including Billy Branch and Ronnie Baker Brooks” said Mohr.
Bussing across the country with Morganfield, Brooks, and Branch on this tour and with the late Hubert Sumlin previously, Mohr found himself on the receiving end of a rich trove of blues history.
“Especially with Hubert, he had such an incredible life with blues music, and he had a lifetime of stories to talk about” said Mohr. “We were close because of the three months together. On the day he died, I actually wrote and performed a song for when he was put into his grave in Chicago. That was an incredibly proud moment in my life.”
Mohr had an unexpected meeting with John Lee Hooker not long before Hooker's death in 2001. He said the band was recording in Sausalito, California where producer Jerry Harrison was lobbying Mohr to record Hooker’s classic “Boom Boom,” as it had become a staple of The Monsters live show. After Mohr balked a few times, Harrison coaxed a “yes” from him if he could roust Hooker to be part of the recording.
“So a couple days later a black Cadillac pulled up to the studio” said Mohr. “He comes out with a waft of smoke coming out the window and three biker chicks on his side. He was fully dressed with a purple three piece suit at 9:00 o’clock in the morning. First words out of his mouth were ‘where’s the Miller Lite?’ We sat down and it was an absolute pleasure. I was playing guitar and he looked me in the eye and said ‘you bad.” And that was one of the best feelings I ever had in my life. ‘Boom Boom’ has been a great track for the band, and I do miss John.”
Mohr said he’s having a blast touring as “Big Head Blues Club” and takes pains to emphasize the special nature of the shows.
“And I’m not just saying that for me” said Mohr. “It’s a real education in blues music and in American music. And in this day and age when there’s so much racial division and conflict, this is something that is really the melting pot, and the thing that makes America great.”
Big Head Blues Club plays the Castle Theater in Bloomington, IL October 30 and The Arcada Theater in St. Charles, IL November 2, before moving on to shows in Minnesota and Wisconsin.