Mississippi-born, Memphis-raised, Grammy Award-winning music legend Charlie Musselwhite will release Mississippi Son, his new Alligator Records CD and LP, on Friday, June 3. Musselwhite is renowned worldwide as a master harmonica player, a seasoned, truth-telling vocalist and an original songwriter rooted deep within the blues tradition. As many of his fans know, he’s also a country blues guitarist of great depth, warmth and subtlety. On each of Mississippi Son’s 14 songs, including eight powerfully stark originals, Musselwhite’s straight-from-the-soul vocals and deep blues harmonica playing are the perfect foil to his deceptively simple, hypnotic guitar work, which he features on every track.
Having recently moved back to Mississippi from northern California, Musselwhite recorded Mississippi Son in Clarksdale, right in the heart of the Delta. His honest, soulful vocals, like his every-note-matters harmonica playing and idiosyncratic guitar work, overflow with hard-earned authenticity and lasting emotional intensity. Musselwhite calls his blues, “secular spiritual music,” a sound he’s been perfecting since he, as a young teenager, played his first E7 chord on his Supertone acoustic guitar. Upon hearing and feeling the chord’s blue note, the future blues master thought, “I have to have more of that.”
Musselwhite doesn’t just sing and play the blues; he is, in every sense of the word, a bluesman. Growing up, he not only learned the music first-hand from many of the genre’s most influential artists, he also absorbed the lifestyle. “It’s an attitude,” Musselwhite says of playing the blues. “A way of living life.” Musselwhite’s life story reads like a classic blues song: born in Mississippi, raised in Memphis and schooled on the South Side of Chicago. A groundbreaking recording artist since the 1960s, Musselwhite has never stopped creating trailblazing music while remaining firmly rooted in the blues.
Over the years, Charlie has released nearly 40 albums on a variety of labels, his exploratory recordings including straight blues but often mixing in elements of jazz, gospel, Tex-Mex, Cuban and other world musics. Four of those albums—1990’s Ace Of Harps, 1991’s Signature, 1994’s In My Time, and 2010’s The Well—were released on Alligator Records and remain among his best-selling titles.
In 2020, Musselwhite joined up with his friend Elvin Bishop and released the Grammy-nominated, Blues Music Award-winning 100 Years Of Blues on Alligator. The album debuted at #1 on the Billboard Blues Chart. DownBeat named it the Best Blues Album Of The Year. It was named the #3 Best Blues Album of 2021 by UK tastemaker magazine MOJO, who declared, “These are exquisite harmonica-guitar duets like Muddy Waters and Little Walter, or Johnny Shines and Big Walter Horton…mature, masterly, endlessly rewarding.”
In addition to his own albums, Musselwhite has been featured on recordings by Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, The Blind Boys of Alabama, INXS, Cyndi Lauper, and many others. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall Of Fame in 2010, has been nominated for twelve Grammy Awards (winning one) and has won numerous Living Blues Awards and Blues Music Awards.
Now, with Mississippi Son, Musselwhite has come full circle, returning home to Mississippi after decades in Memphis, Chicago, San Francisco and points in between. Amalgamating all he’s learned and absorbed throughout his years of worldwide touring, Musselwhite imparts sage wisdom in every song he writes, sings and performs. “Blues tells the truth in a world that’s full of lies,” he intones in Blues Gave Me A Ride, at once telling his own story and plainly summing up the genre’s timelessness. Through his evocative vocals, masterful harmonica playing, and note-perfect Southern country blues guitar, Charlie Musselwhite, on Mississippi Son, leans forward and delivers the blues’ honest truth.
*Feature image courtesy of Alligator Records