I Got Dem Ole A-A-R-P Blues Again, Mama.
A small but loyal contingent of fans turned out to see Charlie Musselwhite Friday night at the House of Blues. They were there to see the master of the blues harmonica do his thing. I first saw Charlie at the Avalon Ballroom in San Francisco in 1967. I was already a fan of his music, having played "Stand Back" (his first album) to death. Young, raw and full of energy, Musselwhite made the stage his own, playing blues harmonica with a unique flair that sets him apart from all the rest. Paired with a young and brilliant guitarist by the name of Harvey Mandel, Charlie Musselwhite and the Southside Sound System blew me away at the tender age of 17 and I never forgot it. Forty years later, Charlie has cleaned up (sober since 1987), aged not well, but with style, and was gracious to his fans, shaking hands and chatting with the AARP crowd for several minutes prior to his set.
Giving credit where credit is due, there were a few of the "younger crowd" who have discovered the King of the Blues Harp, but for the most part we were all in our 50s and up. Not surprisingly, after 40+ years, Charlie puts on a kinder, mellower show these days, but still brandishes his classic solos and edgy vocals. On "Church is Out", an up-tempo piece with good energy, you can hear a little Ray Wylie Hubbard in Charlie's vocals. On Sundown, as classic a piece of Blues as you'd ever want to hear, Charlie's solo was a thing of beauty.
Departing from classic Amerrican Blues, Musselwhite gave us a Brazilian-inspired piece of Blues with a completely different rhythm. A very interesting treatment. Another nice touch was Musselwhite's explanation of the origins of most songs and his overall conversational rapport with the audience. While there are better singers, to be sure, no one can hold a candle to Charlie when he blows his harp.
Matthew Stubbs, Charlie's current guitarist, plays a mean strat, stretching out in the solos and producing some gorgeous phrasing for every break.
Review by Warren Paul Harris, staff writer
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