"...all (the tunes) somehow capture the feeling of the times I remember growing up in Memphis in the 1940s and '50s. They were the times I had—the sad ones and the happy ones—it was all I knew." —Charlie Musselwhite (from the liner notes)
In the hallowed blues lexicon, "crossroads" conjures up a dark and dusty trail with the Devil lurking in the shadows, waiting to strike up his next bargain. For veteran harpist Charlie Musselwhite it has taken on a different and much more benign meaning: a meeting ground where musical paths converge, one that has given birth to some of the most original and compelling sounds that we have come to identify as "american music." On his debut recording for Telarc, Musselwhite draws deeply from his own experiences of growing up in Memphis. The result is One Night in America, a collection of songs that reflect the feeling and spirit of perhaps this country's most vital musical center.
Blues, country, hillbilly, gospel and rock 'n' roll lived side by side in Memphis and for the young Musselwhite, he wanted to get to know them all. Living in a town with the likes of Johnny Burnette, Dusty Rhodes, Johnny and Tommy Cash, and Elvis Presley, Charlie had only to walk out the door and receive an education that would inform his musical style to the present day. Producer Randy Labbe and Musselwhite realized the potential that could be mined for the album and assembled a stellar cast of musicians including Marty Stuart (mandolin), Robben Ford (guitar), G.E. Smith (guitar), T-Bone Wolk (bass), Per Hanson (drums), along with guest vocalists Kelly Willis and Christine Ohlman. "It didn't take long after Randy and I first started talking about this concept that the pieces all fell into place naturally," recalls Musselwhite.
One Night in America moves effortless between styles, whether it is the country-flavored duet "In A Town This Size," which features Charlie sharing the microphone with singer Kelly Willis or the more traditional blues original "I'll Meet You Over There," a rollicking instrumental where Musselwhite's harp solo leaves no doubt as to why he has captured the W.C. Handy Award as Best Instrumentalist year after year. Other highlights include Johnny Cash's "Big River" and a cover of Jimmy Reed's "Ain't That Loving You Baby," featuring a guitar solo by longtime friend and collaborator Robben Ford.
No song captures Musselwhite's aim in making this album better than the Los Lobos tune "One Time One Night," a line from which One Night in America takes its name. "I've already been asked quite a few times why I chose the material I did for this record," Musselwhite says, "...but what I have been trying to get across to people is that blues is a feeling and not confined to a theoretical musical structure." This breadth of scope is what makes him one of our most engaging and entertaining bluesmen, and with this latest collection he continues to explore new musical terrain while never really straying too far from the banks of the Big Muddy.
Musselwhite was born in Kosciusko, Mississippi in 1944 and moved upriver to Memphis ten years later, his family tracing a familiar path of those seeking better employment opportunities. There he struck up friendships with Will Shade of the Memphis Jug Band and Furry Lewis, another old-time bluesman. By the time Musselwhite had moved to Chicago in 1962, he had mastered the rudiments of both harp and guitar, and soon was playing in clubs with the many of the city's legendary blues performers. In 1966, Musselwhite released his first album for Vanguard Records, Stand Back! Here Comes Charlie Musselwhite's Southside Blues Band, a classic recording of that decade. It was one of the first blues albums marketed to a rock audience and established Charlie as a worldwide touring talent.
In subsequent years, Musselwhite has released albums for Paramount, Kicking Mule, Capitol, Arhoolie and Paramount, and has recorded with the likes of John Lee Hooker, Bonnie Raitt and INXS. With the release of One Night in America, Musselwhite shows why after nearly 50 years of performing and recording, he remains one of this country's true musical treasures.