Charlie Musselwhite on Ben Harper: "Every Time We Play Is Like Playing for the First Time"


I mentioned I saw videos of you and Ben performing, and one of them was in the White House as part of a celebration of Memphis soul music. Have you played there before? How cool was that?

(Laughs) That was grand. Just to be in the White House and be treated so nicely. All our friends were there; everybody knew each other. It was like old home week. It was like a family reunion. It was a tribute to Memphis music and Mavis (Staples) was there. It was just wonderful. It was just great to be there. It's such an historic place, all the artwork and paintings. It's the heart of America. So much history. It's just an honor to be there.

So, I have to ask this. I've been to the White House and we were served refreshments. I still have the cup with the presidential seal on it. Did you take anything as a reminder?

I have a napkin. (Laughs). It has the stamp on it. I didn't know I could take cups. Next time I go back I'll take a pillowcase and fill it up. I'll know better next time.

Looking back at your career, making it as blues harp player isn't the easiest thing in the world. You don't get the acclaim a singer or guitarist might, and often fill sideman roles. But you've done well with lots of albums out, played with some big names in many genres. Are you pretty satisfied with where you've landed?

Yes, it's been quite a story and it worked out pretty good. Life it good; I'm doing good. Things could always be better. I'm pretty happy with the way things have gone. It could have been another way, but I'm comfortable. I own my home (laughs); I'm not in debt to anybody. It just keeps getting better.

You're played with a who's who or musicians over the years, and not just blues guys like Muddy Waters or Howlin' Wolf, but also Tom Waits and Pearl Jam's Eddie Vedder. In your 50-plus year career, is there any one thing that stands out -- good or bad -- that's indelibly stamped on your brain?

Well, it's not one, there's just so many. Even just conversations with people. Just knowing Big Joe Williams and hanging out with him. Walking down the street with him and him talking about Charlie Patton because he knew him -- and Robert Johnson. And walking down Beale Street back in the '50s when it was really Beale Street and hearing blues played right on the corner. Being in Chicago and playing on Maxwell Street for tips; passing around the cigar box. It was rough times, but what a memorable time and informative time too.

I have to write my book someday and put it all in there. There's so much I can't pick one thing. Playing at the White House is at the top of all the special things that have happened, but it's a long, long list. I can't even remember them all at one time.

We'll have to look forward to the book then.

OK. (Laughs) I'll get started on it this afternoon.

Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite are scheduled to perform during McDowell Mountain Music Festival 2014 on Sunday, March 30, at Margaret T. Hance Park.

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Margaret T. Hance Park

1134 N. Central Ave., Phoenix, AZ

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