Harmonica master, vocalist, songwriter and guitarist Charlie Musselwhite returns to Alligator Records — where he recorded three successful albums in the late 1990s — with The Well, set for an August 24 street date. The album is an authentic slice of Charlie’s deep blues roots with musical flavors from Mississippi to Chicago to California, including help on one song from legendary vocalist and friend Mavis Staples. Rolling Stone calls Musselwhite “compelling and original,” and says, “His harp playing is superb, exhilarating and forthright. His unabashed excellence sets the standard for blues bands everywhere.”
The Well is the first full-band recording in Musselwhite’s almost 50-year career in which he wrote every track on the album, and it is the most personal and emotionally open cycle of songs he has ever created. The Well was recorded at Los Angeles’ legendary Sunset Sound, with guitarist Dave Gonzales (Paladins, Hacienda Brothers), bassist John Bazz (The Blasters) and drummer Stephen Hodges (Tom Waits, Mavis Staples), and was produced by Chris Goldsmith (Ruthie Foster, Grammy-winning Blind Boys Of Alabama). The revealing, autobiographical songs recall specific events and places in Musselwhite’s amazingly colorful life. His worldly-wise vocals and masterful harmonica work are perfectly matched with the stories he tells. Simply put, The Well is Charlie Musselwhite at his very best.
According to Alligator president Bruce Iglauer, having Musselwhite back on the label is pure pleasure. “I’m thrilled to welcome Charlie back to the Alligator Records family. He’s a true icon of American roots music, a brilliant harmonica player and a true storyteller as a vocalist and songwriter. Charlie’s a great guy to work with, a real road warrior who is out there pleasing the fans night after night. We’re looking forward to renewing a great relationship.” And Musselwhite couldn’t agree more, saying, “I don’t think anybody is happier than I am being back in the Alligator family. It feels good to be home.”
Born into a blue collar family in Kosciusko, Mississippi on January 31, 1944 and raised by a single mother, Musselwhite was surrounded by blues, hillbilly and gospel music on the radio and outside his front door. His family moved to Memphis, where, as a teenager, he worked as a ditch digger, concrete layer and moonshine runner. Fascinated by the blues, Musselwhite began playing guitar and harmonica. He attended parties hosted by Elvis Presley and hobnobbed with many of the local musicians including Johnny Cash and Johnny Burnette, but the celebrities young Charlie sought out were Memphis’ veteran bluesmen like Furry Lewis, Will Shade and Gus Cannon.
Following the path of so many, Musselwhite moved to Chicago looking for better paying work. While driving an exterminator truck as a day job, Charlie lived on the South Side and hung out in blues clubs at night, meeting – and developing close friendships with – blues icons Little Walter, Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. Before long, he was sitting in at clubs with Muddy Waters and others, building an impressive word-of-mouth reputation. Soon after, Charlie was being paid to play in the same South Side neighborhood. His first recording, under the name Memphis Charlie, was with Big Walter Horton on the famous Vanguard Records series, Chicago/The Blues/Today!. Signing with Vanguard, Musselwhite (along with Paul Butterfield who was as urban as Charlie was rural) brought the blues to a new audience of young, white rock and rollers, who discovered that Charlie personified the sexy counter-culture icons they found relevant.
With 30 solo albums to his credit, Musselwhite has also appeared on numerous recordings as a featured player with Tom Waits, Eddie Vedder, Ben Harper, John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt, Blind Boys Of Alabama, INXS, and most recently, Cyndi Lauper, and has shared stages with countless blues and rock musicians. He was inducted into the Blues Foundation’s Blues Hall Of Fame in 2010, has been nominated for six Grammy Awards and has won 23 Blues Music Awards. DownBeat calls him, “the undisputed champion of the blues harmonica.”
With The Well, Charlie Musselwhite returns with the strongest, most intimate album of his career – a powerful, personal collection of songs. Musselwhite’s blues, imparting his hard-won knowledge and working class wisdom, are a window into the deep well of his Mississippi soul.