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Blues Harpist Charlie Musselwhite's Interview with SBM


This is Pat Benny doing this interview with Charlie Musselwhite.

Questions For Charlie Musselwhite
(
1) Congratulations, Charlie, on the success of your latest CD, ONE NIGHT IN AMERICA. It really is a superb recording. At this stage of your career, it must be exciting to be able to gather the formidable talent that accompanies you?
(Charlie) IT WAS A FUN SESSION ALRIGHT AND WHEN YOU ARE IN THE STUDIO WITH TOP NOTCH MUSICIANS WONDERFUL MUSIC ALWAYS HAPPENS - CAN'T HELP BUT HAPPEN. 

(
2) On your website, you get a lot of questions from guys wanting to know how you altered your harps to achieve a certain sound, and you gently disabuse them of any trickery. At the risk of joining their ranks, may I ask you how you achieved that clear, crisp sound on ONE NIGHT IN AMERICA?
(Charlie) WELL, ON THIS CD I DON'T USE ANY AMP AT ALL. I USUALLY PLAY THROUGH AN AMP, BUT I THOUGHT IT WOULD BE A NICE CHANGE TO JUST PLAY STRAIGHT AHEAD ACOUSTIC HARP RIGHT INTO THE VOCAL MIC WITH NOTHING ADDED. IT IS JUST PLAIN STRAIGHT HARP WITH NO EFFECTS.

(
3) In your liner notes, you mentioned that a semi-truck in Mexico hit you. I've heard many stories about you, but this is a new one for me. Could you tell us about it?
(Charlie) IT WAS AN UNUSUAL ACCIDENT. NOBODY COULD FIGURE OUT HOW IT HAPPENED OR WHO WAS AT FAULT. ALL I KNOW IS THAT AN 18 WHEELER PLOWED INTO THE DRIVERS SIDE - MY SIDE AND HIT ME HARD. I GOT TWELVE BROKEN RIBS, A BRUISED KIDNEY AND SPLEEN. WHEN I GOT TO THE HOSPITAL I WAS TALKING ABOUT WHEN I'D BE GOING HOME AND THE DOCTOR - THE ONLY ONE THAT SPOKE ENGLISH - SAID, YOU ARE STILL IN A LIFE AND DEATH SITUATION. I REMEMBER SAYING, YOU'RE KIDDING ME, AND I COULD TELL BY THE LOOK ON HIS FACE THAT HE WAS DEADLY SERIOUS AND THAT'S WHEN I GOT SERIOUS. I KNEW I WAS IN A LOT OF PAIN - TO PUT IT MILDLY, BUT I WAS DETERMINED THAT I WAS NOT GOING TO BE DOING NO KIND OF DYING BECAUSE I STILL HAD A LOT OF THINGS I NEEDED TO DO. SO THAT HAPPENED ON DEC 13 AND I WENT HOME IN A WHEEL CHAIR ON THE 30TH IN ORDER TO PLAY NEW YEARS EVE OF THE MILLINEUM. THE DOCTORS SAID IT WAS TOO SOON TO TRAVEL AND I SHOULD STAY IN THE HOSPITAL ANOTHER WEEK IN CANCUN. I TOLD THEM, I GOTTA GIG - I GOTTA GO. THIS WAS A BIG NIGHT AND I DIDN'T WANT TO LET THE BAND DOWN. THAT WAS ABOUT THE NICEST STAY I EVER HAD IN A HOSPITAL. EVERYBODY WAS SO NICE. ON CHRISTMAS THEY ASKED ME WHAT I LIKED AND THEN THEY MADE IT ALL FOR ME - HOME MADE GUACAMOLE, CHIKEN MOLE, HORCHATA, ETC - THEY WHEELED IT IN WITH CANDLES - THE NURSES WERE REAL ANGELS AND IF I'M EVER IN ANOTHER WRECK I HOPE ITS NEAR THIS SAME HOSPITAL.

(
4) There has been so much written and said about your past, the drinking and wild life. Despite the fact that most of us know that you now live a less volatile lifestyle, do you ever get tired of the fans and the media asking you about the old days?
(
Charlie) IN A WORD - NO. ALSO, I FEEL LIKE IF THERE'S ANYBODY OUT THERE THAT HAS A PROBLEM, MAYBE I CAN BE AN INSPIRATION FOR THEM TO STOP. IN FACT, MANY PEOPLE HAVE TOLD ME THAT I INSPIRED THEM TO QUIT DRINKING. I TELL THEM THAT IF I QUIT, ANYBODY QUIT. ON OCT 12TH OF THIS YEAR IT WILL BE 15 YEARS SINCE I HAD A DRINK. I FEEL LIKE A GOT A REPRIEVE FROM DEATH ROW.

(
5) Unlike most of the blues harpists that base their music on a certain style of playing, you have always put a lot of variety into your recordings. Have you ever worried that your listeners wouldn't respond to a new project?
(Charlie) I DON'T KNOW IF WORRY IS THE RIGHT WORD. I'M ALWAYS CONCERNED ABOUT HOW THEY WILL RESPOND. BUT I KNOW YOU CAN'T PLEASE EVERYBODY, SO I JUST DO WHAT I THINK IS RIGHT AND HOPE THAT PEOPLE WILL TRUST ME AND COME ALONG FOR THE RIDE. IT SEEMS LIKE MOST OF MY FANS ALWAYS APPRECIATE WHAT I'M TRYING TO DO.

(
6) I've heard several stories on how you came to record with the band INXS, could you tell us the real story?
(Charlie) WELL, OKAY. I WAS ON A TOUR OF AUSTRALIA AND ONE DAY I GET A CALL IN MY HOTEL. IT IS SOMEBODY FROM INXS AND THEY KNEW I WAS GOING TO BE IN SYDNEY SOON AND WOULD I COME TO THE STUDIO ON ONE OF MY OFF DAYS. I DIDN'T REALLY KNOW WHO THEY WERE. I'D NEVER HEARD THEM, BUT I SAID I'D LOVE TO COME TO THE STUDIO. WHEN I GOT THERE THEY WERE ALL VERY NICE AND I ENJOYED VERY MUCH WORKING WITH THEM. IT WAS A VERY LAID BACK SESSION AND NOBODY WAS ACTING ARROGANT OR "STAR-TRIPPING" OR ANYTHING LIKE THAT. ALL THE GUYS IN INXS WERE REAL DOWN TO EARTH GREAT GUYS. ANYHOW, ON ONE OR TWO TUNES I JUST PLAYED STRAIGHT AHEAD LIKE I WOULD ON ANY SESSION BUT FOR SUICIDE BLOND THEY SAMPLED MY HARP AND ANDREW FARRIS PLAYED MY HARP SOUND ON HIS KEYBOARD. "FAR OUT" I THOUGHT.

(
7) Your previous recording, CONTINENTAL DRIFTER was largely a departure into Brazilian music. Do you plan to do more of this, or perhaps incorporate the blues into yet another genre?
(Charlie) NO, THAT WAS NOT BRAZILIAN. SOME OF THE TUNES WERE RECORDED WITH A CUBAN GROUP KNOWN AS CUARTETO PATRIA. THEIR LEADER IS AN AMAZING SEVEN STRING GUITARIST NAMED ELIADES OCHOA. I CALL HIM THE MUDDY WATERS OF CUBA. THESE GUYS ARE NOT FROM HABANA WITH RUFFLED SHIRTS. THEY ARE FROM SANTIAGO DE CUBA AND WEAR COWBOY BOOTS, SO YOU KNOW THESE GUYS ARE STRICTLY DOWN HOME - BUT VERY SOPHISTICATED MUSICALLY, AT THE SAME TIME. WE RECORDED IN NORWAY AND LATER AFTER THE CD RELEASE, WE TOURED SCANDANAVIA, SPAIN, MEXICO AND CALIFORNIA. IT WAS A WONDERFUL EXPERIENCE BEING ON THE ROAD WITH THEM AND WE ALL BECAME VERY CLOSE FRIENDS. THERE WERE ALSO SOME TUNES ON THE SAME CD WITH MY TOURING BAND AND SOME SOLO TUNES OF MINE, TOO.

(
8) Where do you see the Blues in general headed in the next decade?
(Charlie) I CAN'T PREDICT THE FUTURE, BUT I CAN LOOK BACK AND REMEMBER HOW WHEN I STARTED OUT BLUES WAS MOSTLY BEING PLAYED IN LITTLE ROUGH BARS ON THE SOUTH AND WEST SIDES OF CHICAGO. THEN THERE WERE NO BLUES MAGAZINES, NO BLUES FESTIVALS, NO BLUES SOCIETIES; AND TODAY THERE ARE BLUES FESTIVALS ALL OVER THE WORLD. THE BLUES IS IN GREAT SHAPE AND IT SEEMS LIKE ALL IT NEEDS IS EXPOSURE. WHENEVER SOMEBODY HEARS GOOD BLUES FOR THE FIRST TIME, SOMETHING RESONATES WITHIN THEM AND THEY KNOW THEY NEED MORE OF THIS AND THEN YOU HAVE A NEW FAN FOR LIFE. IT HAPPENS EVERYDAY - SOMEBODY ELSE DISCOVERS BLUES AND THEN THEY CAN'T GET ENOUGH. AND BLUES HAS EARNED ALL THIS POPULARITY ON ITS OWN. THERE HAS BEEN VERY LITTLE IN THE WAY OF A PUSH FOR BLUES LIKE OTHER MUSIC GETS. IT JUST KEEPS SLOWLY GROWING AND GROWING ALL OVER THE WORLD. BLUES IS NOT A FAD.

(
9) If you could, what changes would you make to ensure the preservation of the Blues and expand its growth?
(Charlie) ALL IT NEEDS IS THE PROPER EXPOSURE.

(
10) I've had the opportunity to see you perform solo on several occasions. Do you plan to do more of these? I'm sure that you have many fans that are unaware that you are also an accomplished blues guitarist.
(Charlie) YES, I WILL BE PLAYING A LONG TOUR FOR THE COLUMBIA ARTIST MANAGEMENT, INCORPORATED (CAMI) WITH PEOPLE LIKE DEBORAH COLEMAN, COREY HARRIS, HENRY BUTLER, ROBBEN FORD, ELVIN BISHOP, OTIS GRAND AND DUKE ROBILLARD. WE WILL PLAY SOLO, DUO AND BAND SITUATIONS AND SOMETIME DURING THE SHOW I'LL DO AT LEAST A COUPLE OF TUNES SOLO. IT'LL BE A LOT OF FUN FOR EVERYBODY - THE AUDIENCE AND THE MUSICIANS.

(
11) I'd like to thank you for your time, Charlie. There are lots of excellent harp players arund but in my opinion you are the most versatile and influential blues harpman since Sonny Boy Williamson. But I have to ask, who is your favorite harp player?
(Charlie) THANK YOU FOR THE KIND WORDS AND I CERTAINLY ADMIRE YOUR TASTE. AS FAR AS A FAVORITE, I JUST DON'T HAVE A FAVORITE. TO ME, EVERYBODY HAS SOMETHING TO OFFER. JUST BECAUSE ONE PLAYER HAS MORE TECHNIQUE THAN ANOTHER, DOESN'T REALLY MAKE HIM A BETTER BLUES PLAYER. SOME CAN DO MORE WITH LESS THAN ANOTHER CAN DO IN THEIR WHOLE LIFETIME WITH MORE - IF YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN. ITS THE BEAUTY OF THE BLUES - ITS ALL ABOUT HEART AND FEELING FIRST OF ALL. I REMEMBER WHEN I LIVED IN CHICAGO AND WOULD HANG OUT IN ALL THESE BLUES CLUBS - ANYBODY COULD SIT IN THAT COULD PLAY WITH HEART. NOBODY WAS CRITICIZED BECAUSE THEY COULDN'T DO TECHNIQUE GYMNASTICS. PLAYING A SIMPLE EFFECTIVE BLUES WITH JUST A FEW NOTES CAN BE WAY HARDER THAN PLAYING EVERY NOTE YOU KNOW OVER AND OVER REAL FAST. SO, THERE ARE A LOT OF PLAYERS I ENJOY LISTENING TO FROM THE REAL PRIMITIVE TO THE REAL UPTOWN - JUST LET ME HEAR IT WITH HONEST FEELING - THAT'S ALL I ASK - AND I'M WITH YOU ALL THE WAY.

  
                          Charlie Musselwhite's Official Website

                       Thanks Pat Benny
Southbound Beat Magazine 

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