Thursday, January 31, 2013

Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite by Blues Advocate

Happy Birthday to Bluesman Charlie Musselwhite!
Charlie Musselwhite (born January 31, 1944) is an American electric blues harmonica player and bandleader, one of the non-black bluesmen who came to prominence in the early 1960s, along with Mike Bloomfield and Paul Butterfield. Though he has often been identified as a "white bluesman", he claims Native American heritage. Musselwhite was reportedly the inspiration for Dan Aykroyd's character in the Blues Brothers.

Charles Douglas Musselwhite was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, United States. He has said that he is of Choctaw descent, and he was born in a region originally inhabited by the Choctaw. However, in a 2005 interview, he said his mother had told him he was actually Cherokee.

His family considered it normal to play music, with his father playing guitar and harmonica, his mother playing piano, and a relative who was a one-man band. At the age of three, Musselwhite moved to Memphis, Tennessee. When he was a teenager, Memphis experienced the period when rockabilly, western swing, and electric blues and other forms of African American music were combining to give birth to rock and roll. The period featured Elvis Presley, Jerry Lee Lewis, and Johnny Cash, as well as lesser known musicians such as Gus Cannon, Furry Lewis, Will Shade, and Johnny Burnette. Musselwhite supported himself by digging ditches, laying concrete and running moonshine in a 1950 Lincoln automobile. This environment was Musselwhite's school for music as well as life, and he acquired the nickname "Memphis Charlie."

In true bluesman fashion, Musselwhite then took off in search of the rumored "big-paying factory jobs" up the "Hillbilly Highway", the Highway 51 to Chicago, where he continued his education on the South Side, making the acquaintance of even more legends including Lew Soloff, Muddy Waters, Junior Wells, Sonny Boy Williamson, Buddy Guy, Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Big Walter Horton. Musselwhite immersed himself completely in the musical life, living in the basement of, and occasionally working at Jazz Record Mart (the record store operated by Delmark Records founder Bob Koester) with Big Joe Williams and working as a driver for an exterminator, which allowed him to observe what was happening around the city's clubs and bars. He spent his time hanging out at the Jazz Record Mart at the corner of State and Grand and the nearby bar, Mr. Joe's, with the city's blues musicians, and sitting in with Big Joe Williams and others in the clubs, playing for tips. There he forged a lifelong friendship with John Lee Hooker; though Hooker lived in Detroit, Michigan, the two often visiting each other, and Hooker served as best man at Musselwhite's third marriage. Gradually Musselwhite became well known around town.

In time, Musselwhite led his own blues band, and, after Elektra Records' success with Paul Butterfield, he released the legendary Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band album in 1966 on Vanguard Records (as "Charley Musselwhite"), to immediate and great success. He took advantage of the clout this album gave him to move to San Francisco, where, instead of being one of many competing blues acts, he held court as the king of the blues in the exploding counter-cultural music scene, an exotic and gritty figure to the flower children. Musselwhite even convinced Hooker to move out to California.

Since then, Musselwhite 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. He himself 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.

In 1979, Musselwhite recorded The Harmonica According to Charlie Musselwhite in London for Kicking Mule Records, intended to go with an instructional book; the album itself became so popular that it has been released on CD. In June 2008, Blind Pig Records reissued the album on 180-gram vinyl with new cover art.[7]

Unfortunately, Musselwhite, as with many of his peers, fell into alcoholism, and by his own admission[citation needed], he had never been on stage sober until after he stopped drinking entirely in 1987.

In 1990 Musselwhite signed with Alligator Records, a step that led to a resurgence of his career.

In 1998, Musselwhite appeared in the film Blues Brothers 2000. He provided the harmonica position in the super-ensemble The Louisiana Gator Boys, which also featured many other rhythm and blues legends such as B.B. King, Bo Diddley, Eric Clapton, Koko Taylor, Jimmie Vaughan, Dr. John, and Jack DeJohnette.

Over the years, Musselwhite has branched out in style. His 1999 recording, Continental Drifter, is accompanied by Cuarteto Patria, from Cuba's Santiago region, the Cuban music analog of the Mississippi Delta. Because of the political differences between Cuba and the United States, the album was recorded in Bergen, Norway, with Musselwhite's wife ironing out all the details.

Musselwhite believes the key to his musical success was finding a style where he could express himself. He has said, "I only know one tune, and I play it faster or slower, or I change the key, but it’s just the one tune I’ve ever played in my life. It’s all I know."[8]

His past two albums, Sanctuary and Delta Hardware have both been released on Real World Records.

Musselwhite plays on Tom Waits' 1999 album Mule Variations. He can be heard at the beginning of the song "Chocolate Jesus" saying "I love it". Waits has mentioned that he feels this is his favorite part of the song.

In 2002, he featured on the Bo Diddley tribute album Hey Bo Diddley - A Tribute!, performing the song "Hey Bo Diddley".

Musselwhite lost both of his elderly parents in December 2005, in separate incidents. His mother, Ruth Maxine Musselwhite, was murdered.

Musselwhite joined the 10th annual Independent Music Awards judging panel to assist independent musicians' careers. He was also a judge for the 7th and 9th Independent Music Awards.

Charlie Musselwhite was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame in 2010, and has produced an album with Ben Harper, set for release in February, 2013.


1967 Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band (Vanguard)
1968 Louisiana Fog (Cherry Red Records)
1968 Stone Blues (Vanguard)
1969 Tennessee Woman (Vanguard)
1969 Memphis Charlie (Arhoolie)
1970 Memphis, Tennessee (MCA)
1971 Takin' My Time (Arhoolie)
1974 Goin' Back Down South (Arhoolie)
1975 Leave the Blues to Us (Capitol)
1978 Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough (Crystal Clear)
1978 Harmonica According to Charlie Musselwhite (Kicking Mule)
1984 Where Have All the Good Times Gone? (Blue Rock'It)
1986 Mellow-Dee (CrossCut)
1990 Ace of Harps (Alligator)
1991 Signature (Alligator)
1993 In My Time (Alligator)
1997 Rough News (Virgin)
1999 Continental Drifter (Virgin)
2000 Up & Down the Highway Live: 1986 (Indigo)
2002 One Night in America (Telarc)
2003 Darkest Hour (Henrietta)
2004 Sanctuary (Real World)
2006 Delta Hardware (Narada)
2007 Black Snake Moan Original Soundtrack (New West)
2008 Rough Dried - Live at the Triple Door (Henrietta)
2010 The Well (Alligator)

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