Review: Charlie Musselwhite – Birkenhead – 11 Nov 2008

Posted on: Thursday, Nov 13, 2008

Charlie Musselwhite

Pacific Road Arts Centre, Birkenhead: 11.11.08

It may have seemed strange as part of the 20th International Guitar Festival of Great Britain to feature a gig by one of the greatest blues harmonica players of all time, but maybe here a brief history lesson is needed. Charlie Musselwhite was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi, but moved to Memphis as a youngster and learnt guitar from the likes of Will Shade (who was actually a harmonica player!) and Furry Lewis, and the instrument has featured ever since in his long career.

He then moved on to Chicago where he honed his harmonica skills, eventually sitting in with such legends as Howling Wolf, Muddy Waters and Little Walter, before relocating again to San Francisco, working in the city’s rock boom – eventually becoming a top draw live act again in the Eighties and Nineties – and releasing a string of fine albums on many labels such as Alligator, Blind Pig and Pointblank.

Accompanying Musselwhite, was British blues stalwart, Dave Peabody, on a second visit to Pacific Road this year, after playing with David ‘Honeyboy’ Edwards, and he started the show with a most entertaining 40-minute set, featuring his fine acoustic guitar work and strong voice. Highlights were the lovely opening traditional tune “Crow Jane”; Junior Wells “Early In The Morning”; and some audience participation on little known bluesman Oscar ‘Buddy’ Woods “Don’t Sell It, Don’t Give It Away”.

After a short break Charlie Musselwhite took to the stage alone, starting on electric guitar for some stripped-down blues with a distinctly Delta feel, including the ‘road’ song “Town To Town”, and with Memphis being a ‘river town’ the fine “Blues Up The River”. Introducing a rack harmonica holder he featured a couple of his best known songs, the brooding “In The Darkest Hour and “Stingaree”, and the great “My Road Lies In Darkness”.

We were also treated to a mini-harmonica masterclass as Musselwhite discussed different keys on various harmonicas with a brief demonstration with a cracking little instrumental piece thrown in for good measure.

Dave Peabody then returned and accompanied Musselwhite, with the rest of the show featuring his trademark amplified harmonica, which to be honest is why everybody was there – a very unique and instantly recognisable style and tone, from a friend of mine who knows these things! As a duo they kicked off with a rollicking “Blues Overtook Me”, followed by “Wild, Wild Woman” and a nice “As The Crow Flies”, with some top guitar work from Peabody, and Musselwhite’s vocals, that still contain a ‘Southern’ edge, despite all those years away.

A smashing hour ended with a much-demanded encore – blues legend Eddie Taylor’s “Bad Boy” – a great tune that has been often covered over the years, rounding off a most enjoyable evening in the company of two master musicians and all-round nice guys – yet another great gig at a top festival.


A couple other pics at

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