A few days ago I uploaded this little interview clip to Facebook... and after two days it had received over 7,000 views and was shared on the official Muddy Waters Facebook page.
Interestingly enough, the first time I heard Jontavious Willis play in spring 2016, he reminded me of Muddy Waters. Not exactly the way he phrased his songs, but the emotion behind the songs. His charisma. Humanity. Soul. He was playing at a little street festival in LaGrange, Ga. My son and his friends were playing in another group right before him. Someone told us we should stick around for the blues player. That he had played a cigar box instrument at a little New Orleans festival a few months earlier. That Taj Mahal had invited onstage in Atlanta a few months before that and was telling everyone he was the real deal (ie, country blues musician).
After Jontavious played, he carried his guitar over to my son's house, a few blocks away, while talking about the history of the blues like a grad student in musicology. Then he jammed on the front porch for the next couple of hours with my son and friends. By the way, he knows a bunch of bawdy blues songs and knows how to make them work.
At some point I told him my Muddy Waters story. It was a Sunday afternoon. April 9, 1978. I was working part-time at the Coop record store in Tallahassee, across the street from Florida State University. Muddy Waters was giving a concert on campus that I planned to go to. But then my coworker said he'd heard from a record distributor that Muddy would try to drop by the store after the show. So I stayed. Missed the show. Watched the door. A hard rain fell. One of those Florida afternoon showers. No Muddy. And that was that. Maybe it's good sometimes not to meet your heroes.
But as I told Jontavious on that spring day about 38 years later, I was feeling Muddy through him. And I thanked him for that.