By Nick Krewen

CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE's most constant travelling companion is his suitcase.

At 53, the San Francisco-based innovative blues harmonica player still trots around the globe for concerts, punching in a few hundred dates a year. And he's discovered that the blues is not only a universal language, but a worldwide commodity.

"I see how special blues music is all over the world," Musselwhite said recently during an early morning phone interview. "I see bands singing blues in their native languages -- places like Italy and Norway, China and Japan, and Hong Kong."

Musselwhite intentionally captures some of that flavors on his 17th and latest album, Rough News. Although he recorded the album in the blues heartlands of Chicago and New Orleans, as well as Los Angeles, Musselwhite unearths some Australian and Brazilian blues.

"The Brazilian style of music is called `forro,'" he explains in his relaxed Southern drawl.

"This music has the same appearance as the blues, even though they don't claim it as such. It's just music from the heart. But to me it's the same thing.

"It's even treated the same way in their country. You don't hear forro on the radio. It's played in bars and in flea markets. But I've noticed that around the world, everyone has their own form of the blues."

Widely recognized alongside the late PAUL BUTTERFIELD as one of the few Caucasian pioneers of the blues harp, the Kosciusko, Mississippi-born Musselwhite first became enamored with the blues as a child after he and his family hightailed it to Memphis .

"It made me feel good," recalls Musselwhite, a seven-time recipient of the W.C. Handy Award, the blues equivalent of the Grammy.

"It just expressed everything that I felt."

Growing up with such musical neighbours as JOHNNY BURNETTE, SLIM RHODES and JIMMY GRIFFIN within a two block radius, Musselwhite learned his trade by hanging out with street musicians.

"I played people's homes, parties," he remembers. "Sometimes I just hung around blues singers. You'd catch a ballgame on the radio, enjoy a jug of wine, and just hang."

In his teens, Musselwhite worked several temporary jobs, including a short time as a moonshine runner. When he turned 18, Chicago beckoned -- although his primary incentive had nothing to do with the city's fabled blues scene.

"I had heard there were a lot of jobs up there," he says. "I saw people disappearing up Highway 51 and returning driving their own cars. I thought that was pretty neat."

Once he landed in Chicago, he worked his way into the blues clubs, hired by such bandleaders as JOHNNY YOUNG, ROBERT NIGHTHAWK and J.B. HUTTO. Eventually he hooked up with blues icons MUDDY WATERS, HOWLIN' WOLF, BUDDY GUY and JUNIOR WELLS, and another harmonica genius, LITTLE WALTER "SHAKEY" HORTON.

"We became instant friends," says Musselwhite. "We had had the same teacher in Memphis, and he was really nice and encouraging to me. He played with so much power. To me, his records never truly caught the unbelievable energy of his performance and what he was capable of doing."

In 1966, a duet with Horton eventually led Musselwhite to his own deal on Vanguard and his first album, Stand Back. A year later, while booked into the Fillmore in San Francisco on a bill with CREAM and Paul Butterfield, Musselwhite liked what he saw and settled there. He's been in the Bay Area for the past 30 years.

Musselwhite, who has recorded with artists ranging from JOHN LEE HOOKER and the late JIMMY WITHERSPOON to more contemporary artists like BONNIE RAITT and INXS, is also celebrating his tenth year of sobriety.

"At first, alcohol was a whole lot of fun," says Musselwhite. "After the years went on, it wasn't any fun at all. I felt trapped. It began affecting my mental attitude. All the way around there was nothing good about it."

He says he found it easy to mask his stage fright behind his drinking, and decided to quit cold turkey after hearing news reports of a toddler who had fallen into a well.

"There she was, at the bottom of this well, fighting for her life, and I thought, she's really got a problem," Musselwhite recalls. "And I thought, here I am, going to do something I know perfectly well how to do, and I think I've got a problem? As a prayer for her to get out of that well, I quit drinking."

Today Musselwhite prefers to spend his time as a workaholic, and has plans to tour Australia in the New Year once his commitment to the House Of Blues trek concludes next month.

Musselwhite, who performs at Centre In The Square with DR. JOHN, ALVIN "YOUNGBLOOD" HART and ROBERT JR. LOCKWOOD -- the man taught by ROBERT JOHNSON to play guitar -- promises a good time for all.

"We're just going to play one sad blues after another," he laughs. "Actually, I play just with my guitar and my harmonica. Dr. John has a band, and we do different combinations all night. There will be solos, duets and trios.

"I'm loving it. We have so much fun that the audience can't help but have a good time."




Rough News -- Pointblank

In My Time -- Alligator


Ace Of Harps

Cambridge Blues -- Blue Horizon

Mellow Dee -- Crosscut

Tell Me Where All The Good Times Have Gone -- Blue Rock It

Harmonica According To Musselwhite -- Blind Pig

Times Gettin' Tougher Than Tough

Leave The Blues To Us -- Capitol

Goin' Back Down South -- Arhoolie

Takin' My Time

Louisiana Fog -- Cherry Red

Memphis, Tennessee -- Paramount/Crosscut/Mobile Fidelity

Tennessee Woman -- Vanguard

Stone Blues!

Stand Back!

Takin' Care Of Business -- Kent

The Blues Never Die -- Vanguard

Memphis Charlie -- Arhoolie

The Dynatones Live, Curtain Call - -- War Bride



Tom Waits, Mule Variations

Jim Belushi and the Sacred Hearts , 36-24-36 , House of Blues

Various Artists, Blues Brothers 2000 -- Universal

Dave Peabody, Americana -- Waterfront

Merriweather, Word Of Mouth -- Capitol

Bonnie Raitt, Longing In Their Hearts -- Capitol

INXS, X -- Atlantic

John Lee Hooker, The Healer -- Chameleon, Virgin

Gary Smith Blues Band, Up The Line -- Messaround

Memorial Blues Band, The Love Tribe -- Route 44

William Clarke Satch, Tip Of The Top -- Double Trouble

L.C. "Good Rockin'" Robinson, Ups And Downs, Arhoolie

Barry Goldberg & Mike Bloomfield, Two Jews Blues -- Buddah

Big Joe Williams, Thinkin' Of What They Did To Me -- Arhoolie

John Hammond, So Many Roads -- Vanguard

Doc & Merle Watson, Red Rockin' Chair -- Flying Fish

John Lee Hooker, Never Get Out Of These Blues Alive -- ABC

Various Artists, Ivar Avenue Reunion -- RCA

Tracy Nelson, Deep Are The Roots -- Prestige

Tracy Nelson, In The Here And Now -- Rounder

Harvey Mandel, Christo Redemptor -- Phillips

John Lee Hooker, The Cream -- Tomato

The Chicago Bluestars, Coming Home -- Blue Thumb

Jimmy Witherspoon, The Blues Singer

Barry Goldberg, Blowin' My Mind -- Epic

Barry Goldberg, Blast From The Past -- Buddah

Barry Goldberg, Reunion -- Buddah

Johnnie Lewis, Alabama Slide Guitar - Arhoolie

Jimmy Foot, Rhythm Addict -- Boingo Boy

Sarah Baker, Maybe Someday -- SEB

John Hammond, Found True Love -- Vanguard

Mark Hummel, Married To The Blues -- Flying Fish

Doug Macleod, Come To Find -- Audioquest

Teisco Del Rey, The Many Moods Of... -- Texicali

Roy Rogers, Rhythm & Groove -- Pointblank

Mike Bloomfield, Essential Blues -- Columbia

John Hammond, You Can't Judge A Book By The Cover -- Vanguard

John Lee Hooker, Boom Boom -- Pointblank

Not All There, Not All There -- Foundation

Michael Osborn, A Case For The Blues -- Blue Rock It

Elvin Biship, Ace In The Hole -- Alligator

Various Artists, Blues Fest -- Modern Blues Of The '80s

Too Slim And the Taildraggers, Swamp Opera

Roy Rogers, Slide Zone -- Liberty

Various Artists, Chicago: The Blues Today!

Various Artists, Chicago: The Blues Today! Vol. III -- Vanguard

Various Artists, Chicago Anthology Archive Series

Various Artists, Blues Package '69 -- Mercury

Various Artists, Blues From Chicago -- Cherry Red

Various Artists, Blues Bay -- Messaround

Various Artists, Best Of The Blues -- Red Hot

Various Artists, Got Harp If You Want It -- Blue Rock It

Various Artists, Bloody Blues - Indisc

Various Artists, Genuine Houserockin' Music 5  -- Alligator

Various Artists, Legends Of Guitar, Electric Blues Vol.1  Rhino

Various Artists, Alligator Records 20th Anniversary Collection, Vol.1 Alligator

Various Artists, Alligator Records Christmas Collection, Vol.I  Alligator

Various Artists, The Legendary Bluesmen -- Excelsior

Various Artists, Alligator Records 25th Anniversary Collection, Vol.III

Various Artists,Vanguard Blues Sampler Vanguard

Various Artists, Blues Harp Boogie -- Music Club

Various Artists, Ten Years Of Great Modern Blues  Blue Rock It

Various Artists, Prime Chops Vol.3  Blind Pig

Various Artists, Coming Home To The Blues, Vol.1  Music Club

Various Artists, Coming Home To The Blues, Vol.3  Music Club

Various Artists, Blues Masters, Vol.4, Harmonica Classics Rhino

Various Artists, Still On Target     Pointblank



©1997, 1999 Nick Krewen, Octopus Media Ink


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