Charlie Musselwhite

Charlie Musselwhite
Northeast Tour - New CD only available at gigs

By Karen Nugent
April 2009

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Stand Back!

Harp legend Charlie Musselwhite’s 1967 album of that name is apropos to his new release, Rough Dried – his first live album in 23 years.

Musselwhite, who will make a swing through the area next week, (April 13, 14, 16, 17) with shows in Northampton (Iron Horse Music Hall,) Rockland, Maine (Strand Theatre;) Londonderry, N.H. (Tupelo Music Hall;) and Fall River (Narrows Center for Arts,) chatted with me Friday about the fantastic album and the tour.

The disc, which will only be available at Musselwhite’s gigs, was recorded before a live audience at The Triple Door in Seattle, although the production is so great, you’d never know it. Musselwhite, who plays guitar on two tracks – he couldn’t remember which two – said the decision to record live was made because of an excellent sound system at the club.

“Usually, you have to bring in all your own equipment, and the sound quality is not as good. And you can’t control the situation,” he said from a hotel outside of Pontiac, Mich.

The disc, which follows 2006’s wildly popular Delta Hardware, will surely appeal to blues purists; nearly all of the tracks are blues, including a shuffle, two slow blues, classic Delta riffs, jump, and swing. There are a few modern touches, along with a funky song, “Drop Down Baby.”

But there’s also a Brazilian blues song – that’s correct, our man is an avid traveler and appreciates all types of music. He says he can hear blues in people’s hearts and songs no matter what the background.

The tune, “Feel It In Your Heart” is Musselwhite’s take on a style of music heard on street corners in Brazil, a country he fell in love with. The music, called “Fort-All,” (I am not at all sure of the spelling) is a combination of Portuguese and English that roughly translates into “for all.” The harp on it almost sounds like a brass instrument.

“I used a chromatic on it,” Musselwhite said. “It’s the music of the streets. I’m interested in different cultures, different food, the history of the place, the language – everything.”

He has toured all over the world, and heard blues in places such as China and New Zealand.

“Wherever I’ve been, there have been amazing blues bands. Even in China,” he said. “There are different takes, but you can still recognize the feeling.”

The 12 tracks are mostly originals, including two of his old classics, “Strange Land,” which he said his bandmates encouraged him to include; and “Cristo Redentor” the 60s gem which is his most requested song.

“That one is always different. It goes off in different ways, and seems to have its own spirit,” he said.

The only band member from the album on this tour is drummer June Core. But again on tour with Musselwhite is New Hampshire’s own Matt Stubbs on guitar, along with Mike Phillips on bass.

As most of us know, Musselwhite was born in Mississippi, moved to Memphis as a boy with his musical family, and then went to Chicago in the early 1960s where he teamed up with everyone from Mike Bloomfield to John Lee Hooker.

His early days on Chicago’s South Side were spent in the company one of his greatest influences, Carey Bell, who died in 2007. The two played on Maxwell Street with a cigar box set out for cash, or with Musselwhite roaming through the audience holding the box out for some tips. That was during Musselwhite’s boozing days, and he said the two were drinking buddies who had to visit a bootlegger before the 9 or 10 a.m. Sunday sessions. (Liquor stores didn’t open until noon on Sundays.)

Now a sober Californian, Musselwhite, 65, said he took up harp as youngster.

“There was always a harp around; it was a common toy for kids in the south. They were cheap in those days,” he said with a chuckle. “Kids just had fun with them, tooting around.”

“As time went by, I just loved blues, and the way it made me feel, and I loved the sound of the harp, and the way that sound and me feel so good. I’d just take it out in the woods and dabbled around - and one thing led to another,” Musselwhite said.

That’s putting it very modestly from someone in the top echelon of blues musicians, especially among harmonica players.

The blues audiences, he said, seem to be getting younger, “or I’m getting older.”

“Blues is not a fad. People keep discovering blues,” he said. “I have couples show up after a show with their grandkids, and they say they saw me in 1968. And here they are still together, and hopefully, their grandkids will be going to see blues, too.”

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