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Left Lane: Charlie Musselwhite

Harmonica legend returns to Wheeling’s Bluesfest

August 5, 2011
By RICH GIBSON , Times Leader

I asked Charlie Musselwhite if he owned a ledger documenting his live performances over the years.

"That's something I'd have a pretty hard time keeping up with," he laughed. "I think last year (2010) I was home for something like 30 days."

Today, 'home' for the iconic Musselwhite is northern California's Sonoma Valley, ironically near the heart of that state's historic wine vineyards.

Ironic due to the fact Musselwhite, for a large part of his 67 years, was virtually wired each night he took the stage.

Some 22 years since declaring a moratorium from an escalating alcohol addiction, Musselwhite is enjoying unparalleled success as an acclaimed purveyor of the blues.

"Here's one thing about the 'blues,'" Musselwhite contends. "People who aren't familiar with this style of music consider it mellow and depressing. That couldn't be further from the truth.

"On the contrary. The blues - whether performing or as a listener - is a totally uplifting experience."

Those familiar with Musselwhite and who last witnessed his 'revival on the Ohio River' gig at Wheeling's Bluesfest were thrilled to learn he's returning for next weekend's festival at Heritage Port.

In fact, Musselwhite, a world-renown harmonicist, has been strategically scheduled as Saturday night's closing and headlining act. "We're gonna blow 'em out of the water," he assured.

Not exactly small talk from a true survivor who could rightfully pitch his AARP card off the nearby suspension bridge.

"I just got back from Europe and looking forward to returning to Wheeling," Musselwhite said over the phone. "I remember that great setting by the river. It's pretty special."

As is Musselwhite's latest and self-admittedly most personal album of his career now spanning an incredible five decades.

"(It's) something I'd been wanting to do. Just a matter of finding time which is always fairly difficult for me," he explained.

Over the course of 30 records, Musselwhite had never recorded one exclusively consisting of self-penned material.

"I think this one's worked out pretty good," he understated of "The Well," Musselwhite's triumphant return to Chicago's famed Alligator label.

"Great to be back on board with those folks. Feels like I'm truly back home," Musselwhite said.

His creative juices are flowing from the CD's mover and shaker of an opening track, "Rambler's Blues." "Even as a child, I wanted to roam and ramble...some dreams do come true," Musselwhite declares in the record's liner notes.

"Dig The Pain" is an ode to Musselwhite's drinking days gone by. "Back when I was drinking, if I was hurting, I would tell myself, 'Dig the pain.' It seemed however bad life could get I could ease the pain by just deciding to dig it."

Musselwhite's dark days resurfaced in 2005 when his 93-year old mother was a murder victim in her Memphis home during a robbery.

His touching epitaph is a unique collaboration with the equally-gifted Mavis Staples on a standout track entitled "Sad and Beautiful World."

The majority of 'The Well" as are Musselwhite's live gigs confirm the notion blues music is one of America's most inspiring art forms.

"It's (blues) popularity is probably now at its highest point," Musselwhite. "The amount of shows I play every year is a testament to that. Fans have told me once they've attended a festival, they can't wait for another. The blues is truly a beautiful thing."

MUSSELWHITE recently won two of the industry's most prestigious awards. He was named Traditional Blues Male Artist of the Year as well as Instrumentalist of the Year....

WHEELING'S 11th Bluesfest opens next Friday (12th) and is again filled with a diverse collection of the genre's premier talent.....Next week's Left Lane spotlights additional bands and artists....

LAST weekend, the Lane was in northeast Ohio (Kent Stage) to catch up with Steve Earle and his band, the Dukes, who played a two hour, 30-minute set before a full house.

Earle remains at the top of his game and is touring in support of his latest record, "I'll Never Get Out Of This World Alive."

Joining Earle was his wife, Allison Moorer, who performed three songs, including a moving cover of the classic, "A Change Is Gonna Come." The couple dedicated that song to their 16-month-old son, John Henry, who is accompanying mom and dad on their summer tour which also made stops in Columbus and Greensburg, Pa......

Gibson may be reached at



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