Harmonica giant re-discovered by a new generation.
By Linda “Photo Diva” Evans
At 69 years young, Charlie Musselwhite is having a very busy and very successful year, and the smile on his face clearly reveals that he’s enjoying every minute of it. Not only has he been touring as both a solo act and with fellow Blues icons like Mavis Staples, this amazingly talented electric blues harmonica player has recorded some new music, most notably the commercially acclaimed Get Up! with Ben Harper (Stax).
He also has been recently nominated for 2013 Living Blues Awards’ Blues Artist of the Year and Most Outstanding Musician (having previously won the Most Outstanding Musician category a total of nine times). He has won 14 W. C. Handy Awards and six Grammy nominations, as well as Lifetime Achievement Awards from the Monterey Blues Festival and the San Javier Jazz Festival in San Javier, Spain, and the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
Reportedly the inspiration for Dan Aykroyd‘s character in the Blues Brothers, Musselwhite was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, and raised in Memphis TN since the age of 3, his family considered it normal to play music. His father played guitar and harmonica, his mother played piano, and there are stories of a relative who was a one-man band. As a young man, Musselwhite supported himself by digging ditches, laying concrete and running moonshine in a 1950 Lincoln automobile while Memphis experienced the popularity of rockabilly, western swing, and electric blues which, in turn, gave birth to rock and roll. This environment was his “school of music” as well as life, and when he acquired the nickname “Memphis Charlie.”
Musselwhite came to prominence in the 1960s, after moving to the South side of Chicago, IL.
He immersed himself completely in the musical life, spending time hanging out, occasionally working at and living in the basement of the Jazz Record Mart (the record store operated by Delmark Records founder Bob Koester) with Big Joe Williams, and making the acquaintance of Blues legends including Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Buddy Guy, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Big Walter Horton, He’d also hang out at the nearby bar, Mr. Joe’s, with his fellow blues musicians, and sat in with Big Joe Williams and others, playing for tips and gradually Musselwhite became well known around town.
In time, Musselwhite led his own blues band, and released the legendary and successful Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band album in 1966 and rode that wave of success all the way to San Francisco, where he bacame the king of the blues in the exploding countercultural music scene. Since then, he has released over 20 albums, as well as guesting on albums by many other musicians, such as Bonnie Raitt‘s Longing in Their Hearts and The Blind Boys of Alabama‘s Spirit of the Century, both winners of Grammy awards. He also appeared on Tom Waits‘ Mule Variations and INXS‘ Suicide Blonde.
Now with Stax Records, Musselwhite recently collaborated on the critically and commercially acclaimed Get Up! with Ben Harper and the pair have been playing shows in Australia, Europe and the US all year, including the Inaugural BottleRock Festival in Napa CA this past May, where I was lucky enough to catch their set as well as Musselwhite’s solo set.
I also got the opportunity to ask him a few questions about longevity, collaboration and what he can’t live without while on the road when he visited the press tent. Check out the video: I think it will leave you smiling. Oh and what I went to BottleRock Festival for…to shoot the “first 3, no flash” of their sets (among others) so please check out the Photos and let me know what you think.
I think you will enjoy his smile…I did.
– Linda Evans
Photos by Linda Evans