Our Top 10 Charlie Musselwhite Songs list presents the best Charlie Musselwhite Songs like “No Mercy in This Land” “Help Me,” and many more. American electric blues harmonica player and bandleader Charles Musselwhite was a prominent figure during the revival Chicago Blues scene during the 1960s. Born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, on January 31, 1944, Musselwhite grew up with the influence of music that would dictate the path of his own career in the industry. His father was a guitarist who also played the harmonica while his mother was a pianist. When Musselwhite was three years old, his family moved to Memphis, Tennessee. While he was a teenager, he was influenced by a music scene that witnessed electric blues, rockabilly, and western swing ignite the genre known as rock and roll.
Before Charlie Musselwhite’s own career as a musician took off, he was making ends meet with construction-related jobs and selling moonshine. Because Memphis was a hotbed of activity for musicians, as a performer Musselwhite earned the nickname Memphis Charlie. Eventually, he hit the road and headed for Chicago, Illinois in pursuit of furthering his musical education as a bluesman. While there he met with some of the greatest legends such as Muddy Waters and Junior Wells, just to name a few. For him, they served as key influences that would have him completely dedicated as an aspiring musician. While there he formed a close friendship with John Lee Hooker.
While making ends meet in Chicago, Charlie Musselwhite worked at the Jazz Record Mark. While there, he met Sam Charters of Vanguard Records in 1965. That same year had him play harmonica as part of John Hammond’s lineup for the album, So Many Roads. The success of Chicago/The Blues/Today! Volume 3, which included Musselwhite’s performance earned his first recording contract as a solo artist. 1966’s Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s South Side Band would be his first taste of solo success. Despite the misspelling of his name on the album, Charlie Musselwhite still rose to prominence in the culture of blues music. Since then, he recorded two additional albums for Vanguard. In 1968 it was Stone Blues, then 1969’s Tennessee Woman.
The success prompted Musselwhite to move to San Franciso, California with hopes to further capitalize on his recording career. This resulted in him becoming the king of blues in what was an explosion of counterculture music. While there, Musselwhite managed to convince his friend, John Lee Hooker, to move to California as well. Over the stretch of time, Musselwhite has released several albums and has served as a guest performer for a long list of big-name artists such as Bonnie Raitt, INXS, and Tom Waits. In the process, he has earned fourteen Blues Music Awards and a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Monterey Blues Festival, as well as Spain’s San Javier Jazz Festival. He also received a Mississippi Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts.
As is the case with most stars who rise to the top in the entertainment industry, the experience is like a roller coaster ride. This was no different for Charlie Musselwhite as he rode the wave of stardom as a prolific blues musician that made an everlasting impression. At one point in his career, alcoholism served as a hindrance until he finally kicked that to the curb in 1987. This was a decision that not only steered his life in a more positive direction but his career as well. In the 1990s, Musselwhite made his big comeback after he signed with Alligator Records. Ace of Harps was a 1990 recording that earned Musselwhite his first Grammy Award nomination. Since then, the musician has become busier than ever which resulted in two more Grammy Award nominations, namely for 1991’s Signature and 1993’s In My Time.
Also in 1990 was Musselwhite’s harmonica contribution to INXS’s album, X. This was the album that featured “Suicide Blonde” and a number of other notable songs that treated the listeners with some of Musselwhite’s best work as a musician. In 1994, Bonnie Raitt invited Musselwhite to perform with her for the highly acclaimed album, Longing in Their Hearts.
For Musselwhite, the 1990s also witnessed further diversification in his musical style. Although blues has always served as the core of what defined his career, he also brought the influence of Americana and Latino styles.
The harmonica has been Charlie Musselwhite’s trademark as a musician. He learned to play the instrument, as well as the guitar when he was thirteen years old. Not only does he have forty-two albums to his credit so far, but he’s also collaborated with several artists in concert and other recordings. In 2010, he was inducted into the Blues Hall of Fame. In 2014, Musselwhite won his first Grammy Award for Best Blues Album for 2013’s Get Up!, a collaborated recording with Ben Harper.
In December 1999, Charlie Musselwhite was vacationing in Mexico when he was broadsided by a semi-truck while behind the wheel. After he was hospitalized for two weeks due to the injuries he received he was released. In October 2000, his third wife, Henrietta, was bit by a shark while snorkeling in Hawaii. Henrietta started off as a photographer before becoming Musselwhite’s wife in 1981. Since then she’s also been his manager and co-producer. John Lee Hooker served as Musselwhite’s best man at the wedding.
Top 10 Charlie Musselwhite Songs
#10 – Strange Land (featuring Harvey Mandel)
“Strange Land” was a 1966 Charlie Musselwhite original that was first featured on the debut album, Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s South Side Band. During a time when blues music was dominated by musical artists of color, Musselwhite’s performance served as a bridge that beautifully merged people together. When it comes to appreciating what matters most, no other form of entertainment can do it better than music. Musselwhite’s influence worked in harmony with other greats such as Buddy Guy, B.B. King, and Elvis Presley.
#9 – Crawling King Snake
“Crawling King Snake” was a John Lee Hooker tune that became immortalized after Charlie Musselwhite paid homage to one of his best friends. The album, Mississippi Son, featured a track collection of songs that paid tribute to a number of blues legends. It was also a recording that had Musselwhite add to his harmonica performance with the guitar and some vocals. This was a Delta blues classic that was first recorded by Big Joe Williams in 1941.
That same year, Tony Hollins recorded a very different version. It would be the one from Hollins that would serve as a blues standard, serving as an inspirational favorite performed by a number of artists since then. When John Lee Hooker recorded “Crawling King Snake” in 1949 it became one of his signature singles. On the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop Songs chart, it peaked as high as number six.
#8 – Come On Up to the House (featuring Tom Waits)
In 1999, Tom Waits released the album, Mule Variations. Collaborating with him was Charlie Musselwhite and his harmonica performance. “Come On Up to the House” was the standout song that later triggered a collection of female singer-songwriters to record and release “Come On Up to the House: Women Sing Waits” in 2019. It also inspired a handful of other recording artists, including Willie Nelson, to present their own versions.
# 7 – Just Your Fool (featuring Cyndi Lauper)
The first time “Just Your Fool” was recorded was by Buddy Johnson and His Orchestra in 1953. The mix of jazz and jump blues was a big band hit that featured his sister, Ella Johnson, on vocals. This anthemic-style number was a big hit among on the US Billboard Hot R&B/Hip-Hop songs chart as it peaked as high as number six in 1954. Come 2010, Cyndi Lauper and Charlie Musselwhite perform this classic for her album, Memphis Blues. Instead of the harmonica, Musselwhite played the harp as it accompanied Lauper’s vocals. On the US Billboard Digital Blues Songs chart, it peaked as high as number two.
#6 – Help Me
When Charlie Musselwhite made his album debut as a solo artist, Vanguard Records spelled his name wrong. Released as Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s South Side Band, this 1966 recording featured his rendition of “Help Me.” This was the same Sonny Boy Williamson II’s 1963 original that would later be inducted into the Blues Foundation Hall of Fame in 1987 in the Classics of Blues Recordings category.
Musselwhite quickly made a name for himself as a blues newcomer that could perform just as well as the already-established legends at the time. Nowadays, he is one of those legends. The harmonica in the tune about a man learning how to cook and clean for himself was the standout performance of this bluesy number that won Musselwhite a fan base that included some of those very legends whom he looked up to as mentors.
# 5 – I Ride at Dawn (featuring Ben Harper)
As a vocalist, Ben Harper was nothing short of amazing in the ghostly performance of “I Ride at Dawn.” While this ominous song featured Harper at his best as a singer, it had Charlie Musselwhite at his best with the harmonica. Mixing the funk bassline with the expressive ride laid out by Musselwhite and Paul Butterfield, this song felt like it was going to send the listener clean off the track. “I Ride at Dawn” wasn’t just a song. It was a thrill ride from start to finish. As a whole, Get Up! is a ten-song experience that’s worth spending forty minutes listening to.
#4 – I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone (featuring Ben Harper)
Recorded in 2013, “I’m In I’m Out and I’m Gone” became a bluesy classic thanks to the team of Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite. There was a good reason why the Grammy Awards recognized Get Up! as the Best Blues Album. Ben Harper’s vocal talent is world-class and has a knack for blues music that would make the greatest legends of the genre proud. For Musselwhite, he was at his best as a performer, proving that he’s just like wine. He and his music simply get better with age.
#3 – Suicide Blonde (featuring INXS)
In 1990, “Suicide Blonde” was a single that started off with Charlie Musselwhite and his harmonica performance. Throughout the song, this was the instrumental standout that made this song such a big hit among INXS’s fans. On the US Billboard Alternative Airplay chart and US Billboard Mainstream Rock chart, it was a number one hit. This was also the case in Canada and New Zealand. In INXS’s home nation of Australia, it was a number two hit, as well as a certified gold hit. On the US Billboard Hot 100, it peaked as high as number nine. With the Recording Industry Association of America, “Suicide Blonde” also became certified gold.
#2 – Cristo Redemptor
Although Donald Byrd’s trumpeted original of “Cristo Redemptor” was a classic in its own right, Charlie Musselwhite’s performance made this a signature song. Fans are more likely to associate this tune with Musselwhite than Byrd as his instrumental version turned this jazzy number into a timeless experience. 1966’s Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s South Side Band was the album this musical treat featuring Musselwhite’s harmonica was recorded. It played a key role in its success, as well as earning a name for the solo artist despite the fact the label spelled his first name wrong.
“Cristo Redemptor” was already in fine form when it was recorded in 1966. When Tennessee Woman was released in 1969, it would be recorded a second time. The retake was extended to eleven minutes and also served as Musselwhite at his finest.
#1 – No Mercy in This Land (featuring Ben Harper)
In 2019, “No Mercy in This Land” won Song of the Year by the Blues Music Awards. The album with the same name was the second time Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite collaborated together on a studio recording. The first was 2013’s Get Up!, a Grammy Award winner for Best Blues Album. As a vocal talent, Ben Harper has been winning over the audience ever since he made his debut in 1992. “No Mercy in This Land” was a gem when it was released with the album in 2018. It still makes its mark as a tune that demonstrated why Harper and Musselwhite work so well together.
Top 10 Charlie Musselwhite Songs article published on Classic RockHistory.com© 2022
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