He first formed a band that played contemporary blues but that lasted only three months. He was unhappy with the sound of the music “so I dedicated myself to playing at a higher level.” He retreated to his room to devote his energy to perfecting his guitar playing and sharpening his raw but undeniable talent. In the meantime, he used his bachelor’s degrees in English from Tuskegee University and Communications from Auburn University to make a living as a teacher while he learned to play traditional blues. He spent countless hours methodically studying, ripping apart, and reconstructing songs. Immersing himself in this work, Bill learned the art of songwriting.
In 1999 Big Bill’s debut recording, Rising Son, was cut in Chicago, where his father recorded many classic sides. The album was produced by Muddy’s long time guitarist, Bob Margolin, who also played on the record. Three other former members of the Muddy Waters Blues Band also joined Bill in the studio: Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums, Paul Oscher on harmonica and Pinetop Perkins on piano. Bill said of the sessions, “It was so inspiring playing with these musicians. Working with them in the studio was a special experience. They really brought out the best in me; those sessions left me with memories I’ll never forget.”
An avalanche of praise followed the release of Bill’s recording debut. From Billboard to People to National Public Radio’s Weekend Edition, critics across the land were quick to extol the emergence of this impressive new talent. Guitar Player magazine summed it up by declaring, “Big Bill is a singer/songwriter who surely would have made Muddy smile.” The New York Post touted Rising Son by saying, “This is one of the most impressive debuts to break in a number years.” And the Boston Herald announced, “Morganfield brings plenty of originality to the party – in the high quality of his original tunes, his blunt yet effective guitar style and the way he casually rises to the first-rank level of his accompaniment.” Perhaps the most gratifying acknowledgment of all came when Bill won the W.C. Handy Award for “Best New Blues Artist,” the equivalent of a Grammy Award in the blues world.