Charlie Musselwhite Says Bring Your Dancing Shoes

One of the many outstanding moments in the Memphis music documentary Take Me to the River is when the great blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite is teamed up with a Memphis band called The City Champs to do a blues tune, and Charlie picks up the guitar to show guitarist Joe Restivo how the song should sound, and blows everyone away with his guitar-playing ability.

“I wasn’t really aware they were filming me at that point or I would have taken the time to play something a little cooler,” Musselwhite said in a recent telephone call from Clarksdale, Miss., to preview his Nov. 5 appearance at the Winter Blues Fest at Door Community Auditorium.

“I do play guitar,” Musselwhite continued. “I just finished up an album here in Clarksdale with me playing guitar on all the tunes. It’s pretty much done as far as recording. Not sure when it’s coming out. There’s an album out on my old label, Henrietta Records, called Darkest Hour, and that’s all guitar.”

Musselwhite was born in Mississippi, grew up in Memphis and earned his blues chops in the early 1960s during the great blues surge taking place in southside Chicago with the likes of Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, as well as white players such as Paul Butterfield. Dan Aykroyd’s harp-playing Elwood Blues of The Blues Brothers was supposedly modeled on Musselwhite.

“A lot of people in my family played music but not professionally,” Musselwhite said. “My father played harmonica and guitar and mandolin. My mom played some piano. My grandmother played piano in the church. I had an uncle who had a one-man band. Almost every Musselwhite I have ever met plays some instrument. They may not be in the business, but they are musical.”

Asked when he knew music would be the trajectory for his life, Musselwhite said, “I guess when my first album [Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Band, 1967] came out, it gave me a clue that something was going on, and when I got a Grammy in 2014, it confirmed my suspicions.”

Then he adds, “This is what I do. Whether I was successful at it or not, I’d still be doing it. It just happens that I’ve been successful at it, but that’s just because I was lucky at it. The harder I work, the luckier I get.”

The 2014 Grammy was for the 2013 release Get Up!, which he recorded with Ben Harper. It won for Best Blues Album.

In his 50-plus year musical career, Musselwhite has felt the cyclical nature of blues ebb and flow.

“It’s up and down,” he said. “I remember when I first got to Chicago in ’62, hearing people talk about, ‘Well, the blues is dead.’ And I’m thinking, blues isn’t a fad. It isn’t in style today and gone tomorrow. It’s up and down, but it never goes away. As long as there’s people, there’s always going to be blues. It’s got so much substance and depth and feeling. All really good jazz players are really good blues players first. It’s all about improvisation. Jazz guys just take it many steps forward.”

Of course Musselwhite can hold his own with the jazz guys.

“I played on a record with [organist] Jack McDuff one time and I have jammed with jazz players many times,” he said. “The most notable time was when Joshua Redman and I played with each other’s group and then jammed with everybody. It was a lot of fun.”

But first and foremost for him is the blues.

“I always say blues is your comforter when you’re down and your buddy when you’re up. It’s an all-purpose comforter,” he said. “We’ll be blowing all the blues away. There will be none left when we’re all through. Bring your dancing shoes. We’ll have a really good time.”

DCA Winter Blues Fest

Nov. 3 – 5

Thursday, Nov. 3: Take Me to the River documentary screening with panel discussion by executive producer Jerry Harrison (of The Talking Heads) and supervising sound editor Eric Thorngren.

Friday, Nov. 4: Booker T. Jones performs classic Stax Record hits with ten-piece band

Saturday, Nov. 5: Charlie Musselwhite and the North Mississippi Allstars

All shows will take place at 7 pm on DCA’s mainstage. Tickets for the individual events range from $10 to $88, with three-day packages available from $75-$150 (with a limited number of student packages available for $45). Advance reservations are recommended and can be made through the DCA box office, located at 3926 Highway 42 in Fish Creek. The box office is open Monday-Friday, 12-5 pm. Tickets can be purchased in person, on the phone at 920.868.2728, or online at


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