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'.
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 is there any significance that you dropped the word "Wholesale"
from your new CD title, being as how you own the Delta Wholesale Hardware
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
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
A few years ago you probably couldn't see yourself writing one
of those historical Mississippi flood tunes. What motivated you to do
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.
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
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
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.
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:
on Charlie's website: www.charliemusselwhite.com
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