Charlie Musselwhite

"Sleepwalk" by Charlie Musselwhite


BORN: January 31, 1944, Kosciusko, MS
Harmonica wizard Norton Buffalo can recollect a leaner time when his record collection had been whittled down to only the bare essentials: The Paul Butterfield Blues Band and Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite's South Side Band. Butterfield and Musselwhite will probably be forever linked as the two most interesting, arguably most important, products of the "White blues movement" of the mid-to-late '60s -- not only because they were near the forefront chronologically, but because they each stand out as being especially faithful to the style. Each certainly earned the respect of his legendary mentors. No less than the late Big Joe Williams said, "Charlie Musselwhite is one of the greatest living harp players of country blues. He is right up there with Sonny Boy Williams [I], and he's been my harp player ever since Sonny Boy got killed."


It's interesting that Big Joe specifies "country" blues, because, even though he made his mark leading electric bands in Chicago and San Francisco, Musselwhite began playing blues with people he'd read about in Sam Charters's Country Blues -- Memphis greats like Furry Lewis, Will Shade and Gus Cannon. It was these rural roots that set him apart from Butterfield, and decades later Charlie began incorporating his first instrument, guitar.

Born in Kosciusko, MS, in 1944, Charlie's family moved north to Memphis, where he went to high school. Musselwhite migrated north in search of the near mythical $3.00-an-hour job (the same lure that set innumerable Blacks on the same route), and became a familiar face at blues haunts like Pepper's, Turner's, and Theresa's, sitting in with and sometimes playing alongside harmonica lords such as Little Walter, Shakey Horton, Good Rockin' Charles, Carey Bell, Big John Wrencher, and even Sonny Boy Williamson. Before recording his first album, Musselwhite appeared on LPs by Tracy Nelson and John Hammond and dueted (as "Memphis Charlie") with Shakey Horton on Vanguard's Chicago/The Blues/Today series.


When his aforementioned debut LP became a standard on San Francisco's underground radio, Musselwhite played the Fillmore Auditorium and never returned to the Windy City. Leading bands that featured greats like guitarists Harvey Mandel, Freddie Roulette, Luther Tucker, Louis Myers, Robben Ford, Fenton Robinson and Junior Watson, Charlie played steadily around Bay Area bars and mounted somewhat low-profile national tours. It wasn't until the late '80s, when he conquered a career-long drinking problem, that Musselwhite began touring worldwide to rave notices. Today he is busier than ever. ~ Dan Forte

Biography courtesy of All Music Guide to the Blues - Paperback - 658 pages 2nd edition (1999) Miller Freeman Books; ISBN: 0879305487 - the most comprehensive guide to great blues recordings money can buy. The online version of the All Music Guides may be found at

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