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Concert Review by Nick Morgan
 
CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE
The Jazz Café, Camden Town, London, June 24th 2007
As you may be aware it’s Glastonbury weekend and the rain has been falling persistently in the South West since the Festival began – that hasn’t stopped it receiving media coverage worthy of a major world event (quite the reverse), which frankly it isn’t. It’s pretty wet in London too. Yesterday we were supposed to see Peter Gabriel perform at this year’s Hyde Park Calling but continual heavy showers dampened our enthusiasm during the afternoon, and our last opportunity to leave coincided with a thunderstorm and torrential rain that lasted for almost an hour, so apologies, but we took the easy option. And tonight’s even better; we’re upstairs dining at the prematurely smoke-free Jazz Café in the company of blues harmonica maestro, Charlie Musselwhite and his band. Charlie Muselwhite
Musselwhite is the real deal – born in Mississippi of American Indian descent he moved to Memphis as a child and spent his most formative years in this musical hothouse before travelling north to Chicago. Here he became acquainted with, and performed with, the city’s musical giants such as Muddy Waters and Big Joe Williams, and harmonica greats such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Little Walter and Big Walter Horton. He was particularly close to Waters’ one-time band leader Otis Spann: the two, despite their difference in years, sharing a passion for women and alcohol. Booze killed Spann – Musselwhite battled with alcoholism for many years before drying out in 1987.
In 1966 Musselwhite released his first album, Stand Back, and shortly afterwards domiciled himself in California, persuading close friend and best man John Lee Hooker to move there too. In more recent years Musselwhite has been known for his many collaborations (notably the Blind Boys of Alabama, Tom Waits and most recently Otis Taylor) and two recent albums of the highest quality: 2004’s introspective Sanctuary, and 2006’s Delta Hardware.
Jaguar
He’s performing tonight with the Delta Hardware band, a tight and well drilled outfit with Chris ‘Kid’ Anderson on guitar (really first-rate playing but apart from the conceit, I couldn’t understand why he was playing a Fender Jaguar which didn’t really have the right sound for this), Randy Bermudes on bass, and an exceptional June Core on drums (he’s played with Robert Lockwood Jnr and Johnny Shines). Charlie’s got a sore throat, but if it makes his singing a bit hoarse it does nothing to reduce the quality of his harp-playing – he only misses a few notes and those are on the most demanding phrases he chooses to play. He’s got his case next to him – in it are not only his harps, but also, on scraps of note-paper, hand-written lyrics to all of the songs. He’s one of the most laid back artistes I’ve seen, very conversational and seemingly genuinely pleased with the response he gets from the not capacity crowd. The set features songs from way back – like ‘Nobody knows me’ and Eddie Taylor’s ‘Bad boy’ along with ‘You know it ain’t right’ and ‘Blues overtook me’. There’s also a brief exploration of Brazilian blues, reflecting Musselwhite’s work on his 1999 album ‘Continental Drifter’. And of course from Delta Hardware ‘Church is out’, ‘Blues for yesterday’ and ‘Black water’, a poignant reflection on the flooding of New Orleans.
Charlie Musselwhite
For anyone trying to learn the harmonica Musselwhite’s mastery is a tad depressing – he’s quoted as saying “I only know one tune”. If that’s the case then it’s a very long one, with a lot of key changes and a lot of complexity. That of course doesn’t stop the air-harmonica players at the fringes of the audience from playing along – but it’s not quite as hard for them. Anyhow Charlie’s full of words of encouragement as he takes time at the end of the gig to speak with fans and autograph CDs – and it strikes me that he’s not only one of the blues greats. He’s also a real blues gentleman. - Nick Morgan (photographs by Kate)



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