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Harmonica Hero Goes (Mostly) Solo For Blues Festival

Of the Oakland Press

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It’s been nearly 40 years since Charlie Musselwhite pulled up stakes from Chicago and moved to the San Francisco Bay Area — where, he notes, he was in short sleeves outdoors throughout the month of December.

So coming back to the Midwest for this weekend’s Anti-Freeze Blues Festival “sure will put me in my place,” he says with a laugh.

Then again, Musselwhite has nearly five decades’ worth of diverse music to bring plenty of heat to the Magic Bag on Saturday night.

The Anti-Freeze audience also will get to see Musselwhite in a rare light — performing solo. Although he’ll be backed for part of the evening by Doug Deming & the Jeweltones,

he’ll play the bulk of his set alone, playing guitar in addition to his trademark harmonica.

“That’s how I started playing when I was a kid in Memphis, hanging around Beale Street,” recalls Musselwhite, 62, who was born in Kosciusko, Miss., and began his northern migration with his family when he was in high school.

“When I got to Chicago, there were tons of guitar players and not that many harmonica players, so I gravitated to playing more harmonica. That kept advancing, and the guitar-playing stayed at that country blues level. But it still works, I think.”

Harmonica certainly wasn’t a bad Plan B, of course. It got him gigs with Little Walter, Sonny Boy Williamson, John Hammond, Shakey Horton

and others, and his 1967 debut album, “Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite’s South Side Band,” is considered an all-time classic harmonica album. He’s refi ned and broadened his style over the years, hitting the charts with albums such as 1999’s Cubanfl avored “Continental Drifter,” 2002’s “One Night in America” and 2004’s hard-driving “Sanctuary.”

And on last year’s “Delta Hardware,” Musselwhite even recorded some of his own guitar parts as the album hit the Top 5 of Billboard magazine’s blues chart.

“I constantly keep saying, ‘What’s the fuss about?’ ” Musselwhite notes. “It’s just amazing to me. I just do what I do. I don’t know how I got here. I had no plan to be a musician; I always loved music, but I always thought I would play just for myself, as a hobby or something.

“So this whole thing is something that just happened to me. The door was there, and I went through it.”

The 13th annual Anti-Freeze Blues Festival takes place Friday and Saturday (Jan. 5 and 6) at the Magic Bag, 22920 Woodward Ave., Ferndale. Tonight’s bill features James Cotton, Thornetta Davis, Grand/McCarty/East, Harmonica Shah and Christy & Jeff Howard. Saturday’s show features Charlie Musselwhite, Doug Deming & the Jeweltones, Alberta Adams & RJ’s Rhythm Rockers, the Alligators and Rusty Wright Blues. Doors open at 8 p.m. and tickets are $25 each night. Call (248) 544-3030 or visit www. themagicbag.com.

Web Site: www.themagicbag.com

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