Mo is better
Paradise blues man Maurice ‘Big Mo’ Huffman wins his way onto Monterey Bay Blues Fest stage
I guess you could call Maurice Huffman the “King of the Hill” when it comes to playing the blues.
Last month, Paradise singer-songwriter-guitarist Huffman, better known in the blues circuit as “Big Mo,” and his band—the fantastic Volker Strifler (of Robben Ford/Ford Bros. and Chris Cain fame) on guitar, Gary Silva (Buddy Guy, Albert Collins, Elvin Bishop) on drums, and locals Eric Weber, Patrick Hilton and Denny Everett on alto sax, trumpet and bass, respectively—showed ’em who’s boss at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival’s 2004 Battle of the Blues Bands.
Mo and his crew scooped 1st Prize and now have the opportunity to play the Main Stage at the 20th Anniversary Monterey Bay Blues Festival on June 25, 2005. Plus, the band was given automatic entry in the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., Feb. 3-5, 2005, beating out such fellow California hotshots as Lara Price and The Dave Workman Band.
I sat with the genial and unassuming Huffman recently on the comfy couch at Paradise’s Juice & Java listening to interesting tales of what has brought him to where he is in his life.
For one thing, one would never guess that Huffman’s native language is German. He speaks perfect American English, with no trace of a German accent. Huffman was born and raised in Germany and came to the States for the first time only 16 years ago, at age 28, with his American wife, Robin, whom he met while she was working in Germany. His father Jack, it turns out, was an American serviceman (hence the familiarity with English) who settled in Germany after marrying a German woman, Mo’s mother Inge. His parents still live in Heidelberg.
Huffman got into American popular music as a kid by listening to Armed Forces Network Radio, “basically the only station I ever listened to,” he told me. He fell in love as a teenager at first with Southern rock—Molly Hatchet, Allman Bros., ZZ Top—and he and his buddies formed “the only Southern rock band in Germany,” with their uniqueness getting them lots of gigs. “I’ve played every military base in Germany!”
Those Heidelberg roots also explain his connection to guitarist Strifler. The men have been friends since childhood. In fact, Huffman has another version of the Big Mo band, “my guys from Germany,” as he puts it—Strifler, Claus Bubick on bass, Stefan Bollack on drums and Peter Antony on keyboard—with whom he plays on his frequent trips back to Germany.
Huffman’s German band, as well as Paradise vocalist Amy Grayson, are also featured on his excellent 2001 CD—featuring Huffman’s appealing voice on all original songs—Mo Love (available at www.bigmoblues.com).
Huffman can’t say enough nice things about Strifler, whom he clearly loves. “Volker is one of the greatest blues guitarists of our time. All I want to do is listen to him play all day. Sometimes [on a gig],” he laughs, “I almost miss my cues because I am listening to him! In my mind, Volker is the best blues guitarist.”
Huffman elaborates: “The blues has to do with people’s stomachs, and if they have felt pain, experience, hangovers, losing girlfriends. … It comes from the stomach and from the heart and from the troubles you’ve had. …”
His story alone is enough to qualify Huffman for some kind of right-to-sing-the-blues status. After moving to America with his wife and touring around in a motor home for weeks, they finally settled in Paradise because that’s where they ran out of gas and money at Christmastime. Their puppy then ate the $5,000 check Huffman had saved for just such an emergency, and they had to live on dog food for 10 days because they couldn’t get hold of any family members for immediate help.
Plus, the guy’s really good at it.