June 23, 2005
by BOB DORAN
CHARLIE MUSSELWHITE [photo at left] COMES FROM THE LAND OF THE BLUES. Born in Mississippi, he was raised in Memphis, Tenn. When he first made his mark as a musician, it was in the thriving Chicago blues scene.
Calling from his place outside of Healdsburg, where he has lived since '91, Musselwhite recalled his move to the Windy City as a young man.
"I'd been working 'round Memphis, just regular work like laying concrete floors for cotton warehouses and stuff. The future didn't look too bright. And I'd see friends of mine leavin' town in these old jalopies heading north up Highway 51 -- we called it `Hillbilly Highway' -- and they'd come back to visit like a year later with a brand new car. They had that big factory job up north. I figured I'd better go on up there and get me one of them factory jobs.
"What I ended up doing was getting a job as a driver for an exterminator. That was just perfect because I didn't know anything about Chicago; I didn't know there was a blues scene there. I didn't know nothin' about it. But driving this guy all over Chicago I got to know the town real fast. I saw posters and flyers and signs up about all the people playing: Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, Elmore James, all those guys. "
Musselwhite played harmonica and guitar, but not professionally. "I never really thought there was any way to make a living playing blues. At that time  blues was such a small -- I guess you would say depressed -- market. There weren't blues festivals; there weren't blues magazines. You heard a little blues on the radio. It was hard to find blues records. It never occurred to me that playing music was a way I could make a living."
Kicking around Chicago, learning from masters like Waters, Musselwhite learned how to make a living with the blues. By the end of the '60s, he had migrated west, settling in the San Francisco Bay Area. Decades later he still lives there part time (he has a second home in Mississippi) and he is still singing the blues and wailing on his harp.
While the music he plays has deep roots in the classic blues form, it's also completely contemporary. In fact, his most recent album, Sanctuary, was deemed "Contemporary Blues Album of the Year" at this year's W.C. Handy Awards. Musselwhite also took home Handys as "Contemporary Blues Artist of the Year" and "Best Instrumentalist" (harmonica), bringing his career total to 18 Handys.
Catch Charlie Musselwhite and his band in concert next Wednesday, June 29, at the Blue Lake Casino's Sapphire Palace.
Wednesday is a busy night in Blue Lake. On the other side of the casino in the Steelhead Lounge, wild and crazy saxophonist Skerik plays with his Syncopated Taint Septet, a horn-heavy combo out of Seattle exploring what Skerik terms "punk-jazz."
"I find that a very useful term, which is also something that Jaco Pastorius used to use to describe his music," Skerik explained. "I was very influenced by the way he could play the shit out of bebop and then turn around and interpret a Jimi Hendrix tune just as deeply. Even though people consider them to be two different genres, I've always felt they were very closely related. Charlie Parker and Jimi Hendrix were both coming from the same place, the same roots, and they were both making music that was revolutionary and radical, politically and musically."
Skerik and company are pausing in Blue Lake on their way to the supremely eclectic High Sierra Music Festival. Another very different band on their way to High Sierra, Larry Keel and Natural Bridge, are also stopping in Blue Lake, playing a show Wednesday at the Red Radish.
You may recall that the last time Keel came to Humboldt it was with a band called The Larry Keel Experience. The flatpicking guitarist from the Blue Ridge Mountains of Virginia chose that name with a nod to Jimi, and the band's variations on traditional mountain music often included covers of Hendrix tunes, reggae and rock classics. With Natural Bridge, Keel returns to straight-ahead bluegrass, working with his wife, Jenny, on standup bass, Mark Schimick on mandolin and Andy Thorne on banjo. Of course Larry still has the jamband crowd in his pocket. Last weekend at Bonnaroo, Larry and Jenny join forces with jammy guitar wizard Keller Williams as Keller and the Keels, and they do the same at High Sierra.
The thriving Thursday night dancehall DJ scene at Mazzotti's makes way for the roots reggae band Bambu Station on Thursday, June 23. Bambu Station comes fresh from playing the roots-heavy Sierra Nevada World Music Fest. They're another in a growing circle of reggae outfits from St. Croix in the Virgin Islands that includes Midnite and Iba.
While we're talking reggae, the latest from Reggae on the River is that more than 70 percent of the tickets are sold. And regarding the move away from French's Camp: It's looking like it's not a bluff after all. According to a reliable source (who shall remain anonymous) organizers have lined up a new Humboldt County location. Expect an official announcement as soon as the deal is signed.
As you may recall from last week's column, this is the final weekend in Manila for Placebo, who are also looking for a new location. On Thursday, June 23, there's a show featuring noise and insanity from Chicago with Rotten Milk vs. Bubblegum Shitface, Carpet of Sexy, Safety Pin and Brotman and Short.
The Mormons and 8 Bit have been dropped from the bill for Saturday, June 25, the last Manila show; instead it's an all local blast with young punks, The Dean, those stars from Rural Rock, Eureka Garbage Co., This Hospital Earth (with members of Datura Blues), Dean spin-off Sars From Mars, Strix Vega with members of MooM, semi-locals Brotman & Short and yes, the semi-official Placebo house band, Pubic Zirconium.
Those who want to experience a full weekend of indie/alt rock may also want to catch the show Friday, June 24, at the Eureka Veterans Lounge with SF-based one-man-band Ezee Tiger, self-described "synth-doom juggernaut," Le Flange du Mal and The Drinks, plus The Daytime Minutes and Brotman & Short.
Still want more? Sunday, June 26, head over to the Alibi, where local garage rockers The Ravens (also featured in Rural Rock) share a bill with The Apes, a dark psyche-rock quartet from Washington D.C.
As you might have heard, the Arcata Bay Oyster Festival scheduled for last Saturday was postponed until this Saturday "due to inclement weather," as Arcata MainStreet's Michael Behney put it. (The Trinidad Fish Festival was also called for rain; it's postponed until Sunday, June 26.)
The plan for the O. Fest is to have the same vendors slinging oysters and the same bands playing music, which is to say: Pan Dulce Steel Orchestra, The Bayou Swamis, The Eileen Hemphill-Haley Band, Ponche!, The Delta Nationals and The Rubberneckers, presumably in that order.
While all that other music is happening in their home town on Wednesday, June 29, The Rubberneckers head for the bright lights of Eureka for a punk rock extravaganza at Rumours with San Pedro's Toys That Kill, The Soviettes (just signed to Fat Wreck Chords), and from Gainesville, Florida (former home of at least some of the 'Neckers), Grabass Charlestons.
I will miss all of the above shows since, by the time you read this, I will be far, far away on vacation. A few friends have agreed to fill in for me while I'm gone to let you know what's happening on the music scene. See you when I get back, or as they say in France, au revoir.
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