Charlie Musselwhite spreading the blues

Blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite returns to the region on Wednesday, Feb. 17, when he performs with the North Mississippi Allstars at Gallo Center for the Arts.
Blues harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite returns to the region on Wednesday, Feb. 17, when he performs with the North Mississippi Allstars at Gallo Center for the Arts. Courtesy of Charlie Musselwhite

Double your blues when harp master Charlie Musselwhite and Southern rockers the North Mississippi Allstars team up in Modesto.

The two Mississippi artists are joining forces for the Home Cookin’ tour, which stops at the Gallo Center for the Arts on Wednesday, Feb. 17. Musselwhite, who has performed a number of times in the region, returns for the first time since picking up a Grammy for best blues album for his 2013 collaboration with Ben Harper, “Get Up!”

The North Mississippi Allstars have also played in the area before, with Musselwhite. Musselwhite and the band will play their own sets, as well as perform together for the show.

At 72, Musselwhite continues to tour regularly and has also released two of his live shows as his last two albums, 2013’s “Juke Joint Chapel” and 2015’s “I Ain’t Lyin’.” The latter was recorded at the Valley Of The Moon Festival in Sonoma County, where Musselwhite also calls home. The blues man spoke with The Modesto Bee recently about his music, his love for the blues and what keeps him performing from his wine country home.

Q: So are you working on any new music?

A: I’m always thinking about it, got something going on. In the next year or so would be good to put something out. But there are always a lot of irons in the fire. I don’t know what will happen next in this business.

Q: In your off time, what do you like to listen to?

A: All kinds of music. I have a radio show where I play all kinds of music, called “Charlie’s Back Room” on KRSH out of Santa Rosa. On that show I play everything from world music to hillbilly music to jazz to folk music, Brazilian, Cuban, blues. Anything that seems like it is from the heart and makes you feel good, that’s what I like.

Q: You’re, of course, known for your blues harmonica. What first attracted you to the instrument, and what continues to challenge/intrigue you about it today?

A: Well, it’s an interesting instrument. It’s the only instrument you breathe in and out of; all others you blow out of only. It’s also the only other instrument where you can’t see how it is played. With other instruments you can see hands or fingers moving. It’s a blind man’s instrument.

Harmonicas were always around when I was a kid; it was a common toy. As a kid I’d just tooted on it, made kid stuff. I had always been listening to blues – I loved old (blues harmonica player) Sonny Boy Williamson. I loved how it sounded. It occurred to me that, ‘Hey, you have a harmonica; why not take it into the woods and make up your own music?’ It made me feel good to listen to it and even better to play it. One thing led to another, then I was sitting with Muddy Waters (whom he played with and learned from in Chicago) and people started paying me money to play it. That got my attention.

Q: Do you think it’s an instrument that gets the respect and attention it deserves?

A: I think it could use more recognition, but it seems like more people than ever are playing it. All around the world, everywhere I go, I run into more and more people playing blues on the harmonica. In Brazil, lots of young women are playing blues harmonica really well. It’s a fascinating world.

Q: For you, being such a music veteran, what continues to excite you about playing live?

A: Oh, nothing beats seeing all the smiling faces and people dancing. Now when I play festivals – compared to where I started out playing in little bars – you see whole families come to see me. After the show, people say, ‘I met my wife at your shows’ or ‘Here are my grandkids.’ That’s really rewarding.

Q: Has the crowd that comes out for the blues changed over the years?

A: When I first started out playing, it was just in rough little bars and things. You couldn’t even read about blues – you might find a little about it in a book about jazz. Now there are festivals, societies, blues cruises all over the world. It has spread all over the world. You hear blues bands in other cultures – China, Brazil, New Zealand, Scandinavia, all over the world. Once someone hears it, they’ve got to hear more of it. Even if they don’t understand the words, they understand the feelings. It’s a universal feeling.

Marijke Rowland: 209-578-2284, @marijkerowland

Charlie Musselwhite and The North Mississippi Allstars

When: 7:30 p.m. Wednesday, Feb. 17

Where: Rogers Theater, Gallo Center for the Arts, 1000 I St., Modesto

Tickets: $29-$69

Call: 209-338-2100

Online: www.galloarts.org