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Q&A with Charlie Musselwhite

Exclusive Interview by Karen Beishuizen

His website says it best: Charlie Musselwhite doesn’t just sing and play the blues; he is, in every sense of the word, a bluesman. He worked with Paul Butterfield, Mike Bloomfield, John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Howling Wolf, Ben Harper, Cyndi Lauper, Eddie Vedder, Tom Waits, Bonnie Raitt and many others. He collaborated with Elvin Bishop on the album 100 Years of Blues which was released in September 2020. His new album Mississippi Son is out now, and everybody loves it. Go Check It Out!

KB: Did you always want to be a musician as a kid?

As a kid I loved music and wanted to play, but I didn’t have dreams of being on stage and in the spotlight. For me it was all about the music only.

KB: Why did you choose blues or was it the other way around?

I liked different kinds of music, but blues meant so much to me because it sounded like how I felt.

KB: Who were your idols growing up?

I found 78s in junk stores by John Lee “Sonny Boy” Williamson, and they sounded so good that he inspired me to play harmonica. To this day I still love his style.

KB: I read you supported yourself running moonshine in a 1950 Lincoln automobile. What is running a moonshine?

I didn’t totally support myself running moonshine. It was just some extra money from time to time. Running moonshine is when you move it from the guys that make it to the guys that sell it. They’d fill the trunk of my car with 5-gallon cans of illegal whiskey they made out in the country and I’d deliver it where they wanted it to go.

KB: What is the Chicago Blues Movement?

To me, Chicago blues is the country blues of Chicago that became urbanized when they electrified it.

KB: Which blues musicians did you meet in Chicago?

I met just about everybody in Chicago. Muddy, Wolf, Little Walter, Rice Miller, Shakey Horton, Jimmy Reed, Johnny Young and a whole lot more. Just about everybody except Elmore James who died in Chicago before I got to see him.

KB: You worked as a driver for an exterminator?

Not much to talk about driving for an exterminator. It was a one-man operation. He didn’t like to drive so I drove him around Chicago, and we’d spray for roaches and put out poison for rats and I built cages to catch pigeons.

KB: Your friendship with John Lee Hooker.

I first met John at a gig of his in Chicago. We just became immediate friends and stayed close friends until he passed. He was my Best Man when i married Henrietta and 1981. I recorded with him many times and played with him many times and he recorded with me once too. He was a good friend. I met him about 1963.

KB: You played with Paul Butterfield.

I didn’t really play with Paul, but I’d sit in with him sometimes. He was a good friend, and we did a fair amount of hanging out together. Either at his apartment listening to records or going bar hopping.

KB: You also worked with Mike Bloomfield.

I met Mike when I was working at Jazz Record Mart and living in the basement with Big Joe Williams. Mike and I were real good friends for a long time. Big Joe and I had a regular gig in a bar in the Old Town section of Chicago. Joe decided he had to leave town and when he did Mike brought a drummer and bass player and we had a band that eventually recorded for Columbia. Mike didn’t really like being a band leader and things fell apart so eventually he went to work for Paul.

KB: Continental Drifter was recorded with Cuerteto Patria at a time when there were political disagreements between US and Cuba, so the album was recorded in Bergen, Norway.

I was, and remain, a huge fan of Eliades Ochoa y Cuarteto Patria. One of the heads of the Bergen Norway Blues ‘n’ Roots Festival was also a fan and he booked Eliades into his festival and had me return to Bergen. I invited Eliades to record and he was all for it. After Continental Drifter came out, we toured together in Europe and Scandanavia and Spain and Mexico and the US. We are still close friends and I recently recorded with him.

KB: You credit Jessice McClure for stop drinking in a song. Tell me the story.

Jessica McClure fell in a well when she was a baby. I thought she was being so brave to be trapped in the bottom of a well and singing nursery rhymes to herself in dark with a broken arm. I wanted her to survive and as a prayer to her I said I wasn’t going to drink until they got her out of the well. It took about three days and by the time they got her out I was out of the well too….so to speak.

KB: Have you found the style you can express yourself in?

Everybody says I have a style that they can recognize immediately. They all tell me that I don’t sound like anybody else. It doesn’t have a name. I just try to play what I feel. From the time I was a kid I always assumed that one should play what the felt from their heart. So, as I learned my instrument, I learned how to express myself. I can “hear” the notes I want to play in my mind and then I play them.

KB: Tell me about your new album Mississippi Son.

Mississippi Son was kind of an accident. The pandemic was on, and everything was shut down and I wasn’t working, but I was hanging out at a friend’s studio three blocks from my home here in Clarksdale, Mississippi. I would be there playing guitar and one day he suggested recording what I was doing. i said sure. So, every time I came by, we’d recorded a few more tunes. Then my wife, Henrietta, said “this could be an album”. So, we brought in a local drummer and bass player for some tunes. So, that’s how it came about in a nutshell.

Check out Charlie’s website: HERE
Find Charlie on Facebook: HERE

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