McDowell Mountain Music Festival

Charlie Musselwhite on Ben Harper: "Every Time We Play Is Like Playing for the First Time"

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How did this album come about? I know you and Harper have collaborated together over the years, but what was it that finally allowed you to sit down together and record?

It was timing. We've been talking about it for years and years. I've played on some tunes of his, and he's played on some tunes of mine. But we just never has enough time really because we were both just touring all the time. We were too busy. It finally came about that we both had the time off at the same time.

We got into the studio and all that music was like horses just trying to bust out of the corral. It poured out of us it had been pent up so long. It was just a magical session. It was hardly anything more than one or two takes, and no overdubs at all except for the girl singing. It was just ready to happen [laughs], and it happened! It was natural and spontaneous.

Both of you seem to have equal rolls on the record, and you're been around a long time -- longer than Harper. But in many ways you're again the sideman. The titling on the album reads "Ben Harper with Charlie Musselwhite." Yet, your influence in shaping much the album seems vital. Do you think perhaps you're not getting fair recognition here? Or does it even matter?

It never even occurred to me whether I got fair recognition. I feel like I got plenty of recognition -- more than I had coming. It was just such a pleasure to be a part of this event, and then go on the road and tour with Ben and the Relentless 7. What a great band. We all get along so well, there's no ego problems or anything. We have so much fun playing together it comes right off the stage. People feel it too. They can't help but have fun witnessing us having so much fun. [Laughs]

In fact, that's where my next question was heading. I've seen some videos of you guys performing and it really does seem like you're having fun -- even after having performed these songs now for more than a year.

Every night, every time we play is like playing for the first time again. There's a lot of improvisation going on. It keeps it really alive. We look forward to it. We can't wait to have fun again -- and the audiences pull right into it as well.

Since you've been together and touring so extensively over the last year, have you also been working on new music together, songs we might hear at the festival?

Oh yeah. There's new tunes. We've been trying out new material. There will be another one (album) coming doing the line. I can't say when we'll get in the studio, but it will happen.

I suppose it won't take as long as the last one.

[Laughs] It won't take as long to get too. But when we recorded (Get Up!) it only took a couple days. Some people spend months in the studio. We play from that point where it's real spontaneous.

And how about for you? You've put out plenty of albums over the years as a bandleader. Do you have anything new going on right now?

I have an album out right now called Juke Joint Chapel (Henrietta, 2012). It was recorded live in Clarksdale, Mississippi at a place called Juke Joint Chapel. It's just with my own band.

Isn't Clarksdale considered the birthplace of the blues? It must have been fun playing there?

I'm very familiar with the area around Clarksdale. Spent a lot of time there as a kid; have relatives in the area. I have cousins there I haven't even met. I have property there now. Some of my earliest memories are of Clarksdale.

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Glenn BurnSilver
Contact: Glenn BurnSilver