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Charlie Musselwhite main image

May 2006. Interview by Billy Hutchinson

Since the release, in 1966, of 'Stand Back', Charlie Musselwhite has recorded over 20 albums and received 18 WC Handy Awards and 6 Grammy nominations. In a career now running into it's 5th decade he's played with all the greats (John Lee Hooker was the Best Man at his wedding!) and pushed the boundaries of what blues harp is all about - check out his Latin tinged 'Continental Drifter' from 1999 or his playing on Tom Wait's 'Mule Variations'.

Despite an admirably self deprecating attitude - "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" - he really is one of the greats. With the release of his new, gritty and hard edged 'Delta Hardware' album, Charlie's in town playing at the Jazz Cafe. Billy Hutchinson asked him about the new CD...

Charlie Musselwhite CD cover - Delta Hardware

Charlie is there any significance that you dropped the word "Wholesale" from your new CD title, being as how you own the Delta Wholesale Hardware Co. building?

Musselwhite: I didn’t do that. You'd have to ask the art department at Real World about that. I expect having Delta Wholesale Hardware Co. is a lot more awkward and too many words. Delta Hardware says it. Plus, people in Clarksdale don’t say that whole name anyhow. They’d just say Delta Hardware and that’d be enough.
Quite rightly the promo material draws comparisons between this album and your first "Stand Back" but I find there is edginess about it too. Would you please elucidate?
Musselwhite: The last album, Sanctuary was dark and moody and I wanted to go it the exact opposite direction for "Delta Hardware".

I dig the rhythmic start to the new album in, dare I say it, a Dire Straits way. How did that come about?

Musselwhite: I don't know one thing about Dire Straits. I've heard the name but I couldn’t identify their music to save my life.
A few years ago you probably couldn't see yourself writing one of those historical Mississippi flood tunes. What motivated you to do so now?
Musselwhite: I felt it was time to say something about how this administration has let America down.

How did you become an artist on Peter Gabriel's UK label – Real World Records?

Musselwhite: My producer, Chris Goldsmith, had already done albums for them by The Blind Boys of Alabama and had a good working relationship with them.
One of the things we respect about you Charlie is your no bullshit approach. Has it ever left your PR people red-faced?
CM: If it did, I wasn't paying attention. I try not to embarrass people on purpose.

Charlie Musselwhite and band
Your drummer sounds like a thundering freight train! Tell us about your regular band members who are on "Delta Hardware".
Musselwhite: Kid Andersen is on guitar. He's from Norway and sounds like he grew up in Memphis. June Core has a long history in blues and is from Cleveland where he started out playing with Robert Jr. Lockwood and Johnny Shines. Randy Bermudes has been playing and touring in blues bands a long time. He was last with Little Charlie & the Nightcats. All of these guys are not only great musicians, but they're great guys too. They are well versed in music beyond blues – they know jazz and all the popular stuff too. I love working with them.

When you wrote "Blues For Yesterday", did you have St. Louis Jimmy’s "Going Down Slow" on your mind?
Musselwhite: No. I knew Jimmy in Chicago and we once did a New Year's gig together in Chicago, but that tune just came to me by itself.
Can you tell us a bit about the music you have recorded for Craig Brewer’s movie "Black Snake Moan"?
Musselwhite: That was a wonderful time. Scott Bomar is in charge of the music and he is the bass player – Luther Dickinson is on guitar, Cody Dickinson is on drums and their dad, Jim Dickinson is on piano. Director Craig Brewer would talk about a scene and discuss what was going to be happening and how he’d like to hear the music follow the scene. Then they’d roll the scene on a screen and we’d play along to it. It was more complicated than that, but that’s pretty much it in a nutshell. I thought we all had a good understanding of the scene and feel for the music and a great rapport. Craig was very good at describing what he wanted, too. I’m real proud to be a part of it.
Unlike a lot of contemporaries of your age, your musical vision isn’t stuck in a bygone era. What drives you musically?
Musselwhite: Well, I do keep one foot back in the country blues style. That’s the music that I identify with the most and feel the most connected to. So, in a way, you could say part of me IS stuck in the past. That’s my base. That’s my heart. From there, I look ahead and seek new ways to play traditionally. I think the beauty of blues is how it can be applied to other musical forms and create an interesting new sound. Blues is indestructible.

Charlie Musselwhite and band 2
With your recorded output and how popular you are, I’m sure you don’t need a new record to tour. So what motivates you to record?
Musselwhite: It keeps things moving along – keeps things interesting – keeps the fans interested in what’s new – and it’s FUN!!!!

Once again you are to tour New Zealand, not a typical blues tour destination. What’s with Charlie Musselwhite and New Zealand?
Musselwhite:There are a lot of blues fans in NZ and some real good blues players there too. It is a beautiful country and I love to go and play there. If you've seen Lord of the Rings then you know how beautiful it is. The people are wonderful and I have many good friends. It’s one of the nicest places in the world: the air is clean, the water is clean, they are environmentally concerned – they are good hearted people – and they LOVE blues.

Charlie is playing at The Jazz Cafe on Tuesday 9th May 2006

Some CD selections:

The new one  


The last one  
The First one  

More information on Charlie's website:





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