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Iconic bluesman Charlie Musselwhite comes to Mammoth's Bluesapalooza

July 27, 2012

It’s not often you can walk around Mammoth and rub elbows with a legend.

At least one who’s not running, skiing, snowboarding or dirt-biking.

Yet at this year’s Mammoth Festival of Beers & Bluesaplooza (Thursday through Sunday, next week), concert goers at Sam’s Woodsite can run smack into Charlie Musselwhite, and that’s about as close to legendary as it gets in the blues world.

Musselwhite, a native Mississippian with 30 solo albums, is touring in support of his new recording, “The Well.” It is a highly autobiographical collection of songs that won a Grammy nomination this year.

His performance is scheduled for Saturday, Aug. 4, at 5:45 p.m., and is sure to feature many of his songs from “The Well.”

It is a stirring, upsetting album, featuring one particularly haunting tune, “Sad and Beautiful,” inspired by the murder of his 93-year-old mother in her Memphis home in 2005.

In a recent interview, he said the song was emblematic of what blues music is all about.

“That’s the nature of the blues,” he said in an interview with the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s all about how to deal with life. It can get you through anything.”

Most music is like that, from classical to country to rock ‘n’ roll, but blues is special to Musselwhite.

Asked the distinction between blues and, say, country music, Musselwhite said, “A country and western song would be: ‘My baby left me and I’m gonna jump off a bridge.’ In the blues, it’s: ‘My baby left me and I’m gonna find a new baby.’”

That’s a subtle distinction, to be sure, but it works in his lyrics, as well as in the way he blasts his instrument—blues harmonica.

Denizens of Sonoma County and San Francisco have been the particular beneficiaries of Musselwhite’s resurgence.

Now living in Sonoma among the vineyards, he is clean, sober and as musical as he was in his younger years. Then, he said, his musical inspirations were Memphis bluesmen such as Furry Lewis, Will Shade and Gus Cannon.

After moving to Chicago, he fell in with artists like Little Walter, Big Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, Big Joe Williams, Muddy Waters and Howlin’ Wolf. He himself first started performing as “Memphis Charlie” and got his first big break on the famous Vanguard Records series “Chicago/The Blues/Today!”

It is an impressive pedigree by any standard, and an impressive body of work.

For Bluesapalooza, it is an impressive booking, by any standard.

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