Harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo can recollect a leaner time when his record collection had been whittled down to only the bare essentials: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's South Side Band. Butterfield and Musselwhite will probably be forever linked as the two most interesting, and arguably the most important, products of the "white blues movement" of the mid- to late '60s -- not only because they were near the forefront chronologically, but because they both stand out as being especially faithful to the style. Each certainly earned the respect of his legendary mentors.
No less than the late Big Joe Williams said, "Charlie Musselwhite is one of the greatest living harp players of country blues. He is right up there with Sonny Boy Williamson, and he's been my harp player ever since Sonny Boy got killed."
It's interesting that Williams specifies "country" blues, because, even though he made his mark leading electric bands in Chicago and San Francisco, Musselwhite began playing blues with people he'd read about in Samuel Charters' Country Blues -- Memphis greats like Furry Lewis, Will Shade, and Gus Cannon. It was these rural roots that set him apart from Butterfield, and decades later Musselwhite began incorporating his first instrument, guitar.
Musselwhite was born in Kosciusko, MS in 1944, and his family moved north to Memphis, where he went to high school. Musselwhite migrated north in search of the near-mythical $3.00-an-hour job (the same lure that set innumerable youngsters on the same route), and became a familiar face at blues haunts like Pepper's, Turner's, and Theresa's, sitting in with and sometimes playing alongside harmonica lords such as Little Walter, Shakey Horton, Good Rockin' Charles, Carey Bell, Big John Wrencher, and even Sonny Boy Williamson. Before recording his first album, Musselwhite appeared on LPs by Tracy Nelson and John Hammond and duetted (as Memphis Charlie) with Shakey Horton on Vanguard's Chicago/The Blues/Today series.
When his aforementioned debut LP became a standard on San Francisco's underground radio, Musselwhite played the Fillmore Auditorium and never returned to the Windy City. Leading bands that featured greats like guitarists Harvey Mandel, Freddie Roulette, Luther Tucker, Louis Myers, Robben Ford, Fenton Robinson, and Junior Watson, Musselwhite played steadily in Bay Area bars and mounted somewhat low-profile national tours. It wasn't until the late '80s, when he conquered a career-long drinking problem, that Musselwhite began touring worldwide to rave notices. He became busier than ever and continued releasing records to critical acclaim.
The addition of jazz pianist Skip Rose gave a new dimension to the ensemble sound, and provided a perfect foil to Charlie's own soloing -- especially on the re-take of "Cristo Redentor," extended to 11 minutes, shifting to double-time in spots. Rose's instrumental, "A Nice Day for Something," is a welcome change of pace, and Musselwhite's "Blue Feeling Today" compares favorably to fine covers of Little Walter and Fenton Robinson tunes.
by Dan Forte
1. Tennessee Woman (Fenton Robibson) - 3:43
2. Blue Feeling Today (Charlie Musselwhite) - 5:00
3. A Nice Day for Something (W.E. "Skip" Rose) - 6:26
4. Everybody Needs Somebody (Walter Jacobs) - 3:20
5. I Don't Play, I'll Be Your Man Some Day (Willie Dixon) - 3:15
6. Christo Redemptor (Duke Pearson) - 11:45
7. Little by Little (Mel Landon, Junior Wells) - 2:45
8. I'm a Stranger (Charlie Musselwhite) - 5:15
*Charlie Musselwhite - Vocals, Harmonica
*Tim Kaihatsu - Vocals, Guitar
*Larry Welker - Guitar
*Fred Roulette - Steel Guitar
*Rod Piazza - Harmonica
*Skip Rose - Piano
*Carl Severeid - Bass
*Lance Dickerson - Drums
More Charley Musselwhite releases
1967 Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's Southside Band
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