Thursday, October 13, 2011

George 'Mojo' Buford 1929-2011

I had the pleasure of seeing George ‘Mojo’ Buford sing with James Cotton at the 2006 Pocono Blues Festival, but never had the chance to see him play harmonica.  Word of his passing on October 11 hit hard for those of us who are fans of old school Chicago-styled blues. Born in Hernando, Mississippi, Buford moved to Memphis while still young and got his early blues schooling there before moving to Chicago in the early 50’s where he became a band that became known as the Muddy Waters Jr. Band. It was not a band of Muddy imitators, but rather Muddy's selected band to fill-in for him at Chicago clubs when Muddy was on the road. Buford, himself, would have several stints as part of Muddy’s band replacing Little Walter and James Cotton. He was a member Muddy’s band when that legend passed away in 1983.

After Muddy’s death, Mojo performed as a leader and also with other blues legends, serving a spell with James Cotton as vocalist after Cotton lost his singing voice. His last performance was with Cotton and guitarist Hubert Sumlin at Yoshi’s in San Francisco this past July. Shortly after returning to Minneapolis, he had heart surgery from which he never fully recovered, and he died on October 12 of heart failure. He was survived by nine children.

James Cotton and Mojo Buford at 2006 Pocono Blues Festival. Photo © Ron Weinstock
Buford physically relocated to Minneapolis in 1962 which would remain his home for the rest of his life and he would be a major figure in that community’s blues scene. In 1964, his first album, Exciting Harmonica Sound of Mojo Buford (Blues Record Society) was issued and it would not be until 1979 when Mr. Blues issued Mojo Buford’s Blues Summit, would he have another full album as a leader. This was subsequently issued on Mr. Blues and the Japanese P-Vine label. He shared albums with other members of the Muddy Waters Band for Douglas Records and was a sideman on a Bluesway album by Otis Spann as well as on some live performances by Muddy Waters. Subsequent to the Mr. Blues album, he recorded several albums for JSP, Blue Loon and Fedora. The latter label issued a 1998 live recording, Champagne & Reefer which was Buford's last album.

Ironically I had uploaded two of his albums to itunes on my Mac computer a few weeks ago. These were Still Blowing Strong, a 1996 recording originally issued on Blue Loon, and Champagne & Reefer, the live Fedora CD I have mentioned. Both recordings are solid efforts that show him to be influenced by Muddy Waters as a vocalist and a capable harmonica player in the Little Walter vein with a fat, crying tone. Both of these albums are currently available.

Still Blowing Strong was a studio recording with a solid Chicago styled band (and not having the physical CD in front of me I can’t provide personnel). It has some solid idiomatic originals, performed in the style of the Muddy Waters Band. There is some Muddy styled slide guitar provided on Apple On A Tree, a nice cover of Sonny Boy Williamson’s In My Younger Day, and a couple of instrumentals that showcase his harp playing.

Recorded in Phoenix, the performances on Champagne & Reefer are solid with a band that included Bob Margolin on guitar and Chico Chism on drums. Margolin, in introducing Buford, notes that Buford got him to join Muddy’s band right after one of Muddy’s guitarists had left, which Margolin thanks him publicly for. He provides guitar in the vein of Muddy as Buford delivers forceful vocals on the title track, Blow Wind Blow, Long Distance Call, Don’t Go No Further, and other songs associated with Muddy. There also are spirited versions of Willie Dixon’s Wee Wee Baby, and Sonny Boy Williamson’s Nine Below Zero.

Information in this review was based on Bill Dahl’s biography at and the obituary in the Minneapolis Star Tribune. Bob Corritore, who produced Champagne & Reefer, has an appreciation of Mojo Buford on his website, It is an entry dated October 11, 2011.

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