Music News & Reviews

Musselwhite is still spreading the blues

Blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite will perform at the Harris Center.
Blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite will perform at the Harris Center. Courtesy Charlie Musselwhite

Double your blues when harp master Charlie Musselwhite and Southern rockers the North Mississippi Allstars team up.

The Mississippi artists are joining forces for the Home Cookin’ tour, which stops at the Harris Center for the Arts on Sunday, Feb. 21.

At 72, Musselwhite continues to tour regularly. Two of his live shows resulted in his last two albums, 2013’s “Juke Joint Chapel” and 2015’s “I Ain’t Lyin’.” The latter was recorded at the Valley of the Moon Festival in Sonoma County, which Musselwhite calls home.

He spoke Bee recently from his wine country home about his music, his love for the blues and what keeps him performing.

Q: Are you working on any new music?

A: I’m always thinking about it, got something going on. In the next year or so would be good to put something out. But there are always a lot of irons in the fire. I don’t know what will happen next in this business.

Q: What do you like to listen to?

A: All kinds of music. I have a radio show where I play all kinds of music, called “Charlie’s Back Room” on KRSH out of Santa Rosa. On that show I play everything from world music to hillbilly music to jazz to folk music, Brazilian, Cuban, blues. Anything that seems like it is from the heart and makes you feel good, that’s what I like.

Q: You’re, of course, known for your blues harmonica. What first attracted you to the instrument, and what continues to challenge/intrigue you about it today?

A: Well, it’s an interesting instrument. It’s the only instrument you breathe in and out of; all others you blow out of only. It’s also the only other instrument where you can’t see how it is played. With other instruments you can see hands or fingers moving. It’s a blind man’s instrument.

Harmonicas were always around when I was a kid; it was a common toy. As a kid I’d just tooted on it, made kid stuff. I had always been listening to blues – I loved old (blues harmonica player) Sonny Boy Williamson. I loved how it sounded. It occurred to me that, ‘Hey, you have a harmonica; why not take it into the woods and make up your own music?’ It made me feel good to listen to it and even better to play it. One thing led to another, then I was sitting with Muddy Waters (whom he played with and learned from in Chicago) and people started paying me money to play it. That got my attention.

Q: Do you think it’s an instrument that gets the respect and attention it deserves?

A: I think it could use more recognition, but it seems like more people than ever are playing it. All around the world, everywhere I go, I run into more and more people playing blues on the harmonica. In Brazil, lots of young women are playing blues harmonica really well. It’s a fascinating world.

Q: For you, being such a music veteran, what continues to excite you about playing live?

A: Oh, nothing beats seeing all the smiling faces and people dancing. Now when I play festivals – compared to where I started out playing in little bars – you see whole families come to see me. After the show, people say, ‘I met my wife at your shows’ or ‘Here are my grandkids.’ That’s really rewarding.

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284

Charlie Musselwhite and the North Mississippi Allstars

When: 8 p.m. Sunday,

Feb. 21

Where: Harris Center, 10 College Parkway, Folsom

Cost: $30-$45

Information: 916-608-6888, www.harriscenter.net

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