(Opening with the title tune from "Champagne & Reefer" 1999 release on Fedora Records)
Jacquie: From his newest release called Champagne and Reefer, you heard the title track Champagne and Reefer.
Buford: Made in Phoenix , Arizona.
Jacquie: What label is that on Mojo? I've been handing him a bunch of his own CDs from various times in his life and Mojo's looking at them inquisitively. He doesn't remember half of them.
Buford: Really, I don't even have 'em.
Jacquie: One of the main things I pulled out today was a picture of Mojo on stage with Muddy Waters from 1961. Its a book called " Chicago Blues: As seen from the inside" with photographs by Raeburn Flerlage. Beautiful black and white photos and as you flip through the pages, you see pictures of Muddy Waters, Howlin Wolf, James Cotton, Little Walter, Otis Spann....you get to page 109 and there's Muddy Waters on stage, Mojo Buford blowing harmonica right next to him. And being the great blues fan that I am, I had Mojo sign the picture for me.
Lena: That's right....sho' did!
Jacquie: Joining Mojo and me in the studio, his lady friend. Her name is Lena Rodgers and you're right if you do recognize that last name. Lena is the sister of blues man, Sonny Rodgers (Blue Loon Records).
Buford: The late Sonny Rodgers.
Jacquie: The late, great Sonny Rodgers.
Buford: Now, you're talking.....
Lena: He was my oldest brother.
Jacquie: That right? Well in the meantime you got yourself all entangled up here with Mr.
Lena: Oh yea....I couldn't quit. I had to hook up with some kinda blues person. We grew up with it at home. Daddy used to play with Howlin Wolf back in his days, you know. And Sonny did too, coming up.
Jacquie: Your Dad used to play with Howlin Wolf?
Jacquie: What's your Dad's name?
Lena: Lee Rodgers. He passed away back in the 60's.
Jacquie: What instrument did he play?
Lena: He played that guitar and I believe he blowed the harp too. He played that old-timey guitar. That's the kind he used to swing on.
Jacquie: We say old-timey, but really you're talking Mississippi Delta blues.
Lena and Buford (in unison): NOW you're talkin'....
Jacquie: The real deal.
Buford: The real deal from Mobile.
Jacquie: Ahhh...that made you perk up. Mojo your home is here in Minnesota , but originally you are from where?
Buford: Hernando, Mississippi....25 miles south of Memphis, Tennessee.
Jacquie: By way of Chicago to Minnesota. What made you settle here in Minnesota?
Buford: Well...I came here with Muddy Waters in....let's see...its been so long, I can't hardly remember. See, when you get old like me, your memory kinda fades away.
Jacquie: How old are you Mojo?
Buford: 71 years old...71 years young!!! I may be getting old but I still have young fashioned ways in the blues.
Lena: He get around better than I do.
Jacquie: Have you been playing around town lately?
Buford: No, I don't play here much. I play overseas, California, Canada, Chicago, Mississippi...down through there.
Jacquie: Well, my next question is.....tell me something about this. You say you're overworked and underpaid?
Buford: That's right....you know I hate to say it, but they don't pay musicians right here. They don't....that's why I just had to give it up. Not "give it up" but I just don't try to get anything going here cause you can't make no money! Musicians have to make money nowadays. You know when I first started out....way back there...you go out here and play, make $15-$20 dollars, you'd be happy. But not now...not me!
Jacquie: Shoot...$15-$20 dollars don't even put gas in your tank no more.
Buford: I have played for that. But no, I have to get money now. I draw good, they say. They make a good offer and I go overseas two or three times a year. And I'm going to Edmonton, Canada in November.
Jacquie: You've also been doing some singing for James Cotton, too.
Buford: We were together yesterday.
Jacquie: I understand James can still play his harmonica but he can't sing anymore, so he's having you sit in. But the last time I talked to you, you were a little miffed cause you wanted to play your harmonica, too.
Lena: I don't blame him!
Buford: That's right, but we're still good friends. I help him out when he needs me, if I ain't tied up.
Jacquie: You were with James yesterday. Was that in Madison (Wisconsin at Luther's Bar)?
Buford and L: No, he came here, to Minneapolis.
Buford: He had to sing here somewhere...about 64 miles north of here on 35W, I think.
Jacquie: So, he snuck in town and out again.
Buford: Well, he couldn't pass here without contacting me. I was surprised.
Lena: Sho' did....he jumped up and started to laughin'. I say "What's wrong with him?!?" He told me: "James Cotton here. But he ain't got time to stay, so I'm going over to see him." So, he did.
Jacquie: How's James doing?
Buford: He's doing purty good....Purrty good, you know...ups and downs.
Jacquie: Speaking of which, you just recovered from some surgery yourself. You doing okay?
Buford: Oh yea...oh yea....I'm doing fine. Thank God!
Jacquie: Obviously, cause you're here at the station today. You're on your way to Canada. Already been to Holland, Belgium, Germany?
Buford: Been all over them places.
Jacquie: What are the audiences like there?
Buford: Great...really fantastic. I get there and say "What are all them people standing there looking for?" Driver say: "They're looking for you." I say: "Can't be". But when I walk in there, they're waitin' for me.
Jacquie: They cant' speak English but they can speak the blues.
Buford: That's right......but some of them can speak good English. Nice people over there, too. And they pays you right! But I'm gonna try to get in over here. I made the name of Mojo
Buford: right here. And I want to let people know I'm still alive and still going.
Jacquie: Well, you got a couple guitars players looking to play with you, too when you get something going here in the Cities. You got a ton of musicians waiting.
Buford: Yea....well....the average musician want to rehearse this week then go to work next week. You can't do that. You got to get the show together. You can't go out here with some raggedy soundin' somethin'. You got to have the stuff up tight.
Jacquie: You talking about rehearsing, aren't you, Mojo?
Buford: That's right!
Jacquie: That's another question someone wanted me to ask you. They're having a bit of a struggle with their band. They don't want to rehearse.
Buford: I don't want nobody that don't want to rehearse. Can't get nowhere like that. Rehearsin' makes it tight.
Jacquie: Harmonica ...is that your first instrument?
Jacquie: How come....why'd you stick just with that?
Buford: Cause of Little Walter. Little Walter was my favorite harmonica player. My dad was a country harmonica player. He didn't never did make it nowhere. Down in Mississippi, in those days, it was hard for black folks to do anything in those years...except for the juke house and stuff like that.
Jacquie: Tell me about Little Walter. How did he get to be your favorite?
Buford: Well...when I first came to Chicago in 1953...I heard his records, but I wanted to see him. Then one night, Muddy Waters said "I'm gonna take you down there and let you see Little Walter. Cause you got a good sound but really, you don't know what to do with it right now." I can't say what all he said. But, he took me down there. I walked in and Little Walter...he looked at me funny and all. He shook my hand. Muddy Waters say: "That's gonna be my harmonica player now." I don't know....Cotton (James)....messed up somehow. See I used to run Muddy Waters junior band before I got in his big band. When he went out of town, I would take his place.
Jacquie: That picture I showed you from 1961, did you remember it being taken? (Photo: Mojo on stage with Muddy Waters from "Chicago Blues: From the Inside" by Raeburn Flerlage, ECW Press)
Buford: No...I got mo' pictures at home that I don't even know....don't remember, you know. But that one was me alright.
Jacquie: Your writing....the music that you write. Did you learn about that from being with Muddy?
Buford: Well...I don't write...I arrange music, now. Not too many blues singers write music now. They don't get it from here (touching his forehead).
Jacquie: You mean they don't create? Why is that, why aren't blues singers writing anymore?
Buford: I never know'd too many blues singers that write since I been singin' the blues. Those ones that used to write, I guess they must be out of business. Muddy Waters didn't know nobody that wrote music. He just sat down and arranged. He saw something, he like it , he played it until he get it his way. Then, he go one down in the basement and get it together. And that's it.
Jacquie: Well...don't forget about Willie Dixon. He was writing his behind off.
Buford: That's right. What'd he say: "I Am The Blues". And he was.
Jacquie: Time to take a break to hear some music. Up next "Overworked and Underpaid." (Blue Loon 1996 CD release: "Still Blowing Strong". Mojo
Buford: backed by the Senders.
Jacquie: Anything you want to add to the interview, Mojo?
Buford: I want my fans to know I'm still around. I'm gonna be coming out here with something directly. But I wants a good tight band. Don't want no sloppy band...no drunk band. Cause I don't drink at all. I used to , but you get drunk off that stuff, you think you doin' something, but you ain't doing nothin'. Stay sober and you can control what you're trying to do.
Jacquie: Good advice, Mojo. Up next, more music. "Mo's Stroll".
(JSP 1998 CD Release: State of The Blues Harp recorded in London, England)
(Segue to 1989 Blue Loon release:"They Call Me the Cat Daddy" by Sonny Rodgers)
Jacquie: Sonny Rodgers, Lena's big brother.
Lena: Oh yeah.....the oldest one. He play that guitar since he was 4 years old. Used to sit on my Daddy's lap. That's how he learned, back in his days to play guitar.
Jacquie: You were saying something about everybody being out choppin' cotton while Sonny played guitar.
Lena: We were out there sweatin'....and he was someplace playin' guitar. But, that was good, in a way for him, cause he made a lot of people happy. He was underpaid just like the rest of 'em.
Jacquie: He was also under-recognized. Sonny was your best friend, Mojo?
Lena: Yea , he was. They played together many years.
Jacquie: Here in Minnesota?
Buford: No, we played with Muddy Waters. I got him a gig with Muddy Waters. Sonny played with Muddy Waters, too.
Jacquie: How did you meet Muddy?
Buford: 1956. I was living on the same street as Muddy Waters, Lake Park (in Chicago)...and somebody told me: "Muddy Waters live right down the street there". I'd been wanting to see him, but I was kinda shy, you know. So I run up on Otis Spann, his piano player, in a liquor store. He was talking, then he said: "I'll take you down there and let you see Muddy Waters." I say, "Then take me on down." And so we went on down there. They fed us, me and him too. We drank a few drinks and talked. We was friends from then on.
Jacquie: Tell me something about your stage set-up, Mojo. When you're ready to get up on the stage and play a gig, what are you looking for in musicians? What is it you want them to bring to the table for you?
Buford: Well...you know....open up a good show for me. That's what price is all about. Musicians get a good name like anybody else: "Well he got a good band." You know....that's what you want. I ain't got nothin' to do with it but sit there till they get through warming 'em up. Then I got to get up there and knock 'em out. Keep it going, keep it hot!
Jacquie: What kind of instrumentation?
Buford: I like all kinds of instruments, like piano, drums, saxophone, organ. I like blowing with a saxophone.
Jacquie: Who are some of your favorite local....homegrown...musicians around town.
Buford: The guy who just died.....Rick O'Dell. He was my favorite.
Jacquie: I already know you like Hook (Mike Deutsch). He's been calling during the show and talking with you and Lena.
Buford: I like 'em all .
Lena: The Senders!
Buford: The Senders are my favorites. Cool Breeze and me played together for about 7 or 8 years. I hired him when he was 16 years old. I taught him how to play the blues on guitar....adlibbed it to him, you know. Then he caught on, went on about his business.
Jacquie: There so many young folks out there trying to get involved with the blues. From your perspective as "blues royalty," what do you have to say to these young people who are out there trying to cut their teeth, so to speak.
Buford: Well.....keep your head together. And study your instruments and notes and co-ordination and stuff like that there. You can't be all messed up in the head and do it. I know alot of 'em try it ,but they just can't cut it.
Jacquie: I got a question about your gunbelt...the one you wear with all the harmonicas in it.
Buford: Awww, man....that was stolen! I'm sorry to say that. Stole my Surburban....stole everything, took everything.
Jacquie: How long ago was this???
Buford: About 6 months ago. I looked out there and it was gone. I wish I could've caught 'em though. I couldn't catch 'em.
Jacquie: All your hamonicas were in there ?!?
Lena: They stole his whole belt and he ain't got nobody to make him another one. It was a part of him.
Buford: I'm gonna get another one. I got a gal in Mississippi whose gonna try. She made that one, so I just gotta get in touch with her. I feel naked on stage without it.
Jacquie: As we close the interview today, what would you like to say to the Minnesota audience out there?
Buford: Keep your head cool and keep on pushing, you know. Go where ever you like with who ever you like. I'm gonna make you like me. I got a new thang coming out about monkey-hips and rice. See people done forgot all that stuff. I came up with folks saying: " What's your wife fixin'? and the return call is: "Monkey Hips and Rice!" and all that kinda stuff. That was a good album, when I was a boy.
Jacquie: See...looks like you are writing after all, Mojo.
Buford: I'm puttin' it together....just puttin' it together.
Jacquie: Thanks for coming into the station today. And thanks for bringing Lena Rodgers with you.
Buford: Thank you and God bless you. And God bless my friends and fans out there. And I'll be looking at ya'll's beautiful faces pretty soon.
2001 Dates for Mojo
Buford: in Edmonton, Canada: November 7-12th.
Rollin & Tumblin -- KFAI Radio
903.FM & 106.7FM
This review is copyright © 2001 by Jacquie Maddix, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved. Copy, duplication or download prohibited without written permission. For permission to use this review please send an E-mail to Ray Stiles.