If you were lucky enough to get advice from the late blues legend John Lee Hooker, you should probably follow that advice – even if it takes more than a decade. That’s the lesson Ben Harper and harmonica player Charlie Musselwhite recently learned.
The duo just released their first joint effort, Get Up!, but they’ve been planning on working together since they did a session with Hooker for his 1997 album The Best Of Friends (recording a new version of “Burnin’ Hell”). But once Hooker saw Harper and Musselwhite working together in the studio, he gave them some advice.
“John Lee said, ‘You and Charlie have something special,'” Harper told Radio.com. “He chooses his words carefully, it stuck with me for sure.”
The pair have intended to do an album for a long time (and Musselwhite cameoed on Harper’s 2006 album Both Sides Of The Gun). Conflicting schedules delayed the project until finally, last year, they got together and cut Get Up! Musselwhite has played with many of the greats, from Hooker to Tom Waits (he plays on the latter’s GRAMMY-nominated Bad As Me) but says he loved playing with Harper and his backing band.
“They’re really great, I like their attitude,” Musselwhite said of Harper and his band. “I like the way they play. Like, some guys know all this technique and they just play stupid. But these guys play with such taste, it’s wonderful to play with them!”
The duo will be playing a limited amount of shows to support Get Up!, and will perform most of the album at their concerts. Other than that, they’re throwing in some songs from each artist’s catalog, as well as a cover of Led Zeppelin classic “When The Levee Breaks” (which Harper points out was originally by blues singer/guitarist Memphis Minnie).
The album is Harper’s first on the historic Stax label (home to Otis Redding, Sam & Dave and Booker T & The MGs), and Musselwhite has a connection to the label that will also impact their set lists.
“This lady, Estelle Axton was one of the owners of Satellite (Records) which became Stax, and she was a friend of my mothers, and she used to bring over the latest releases on Satellite, and one of them was a song called ‘I’m Going Home’ by a guy named Prince Conely,” Musselwhite explains. “So I thought well, this would be a good tune to do. I learned it from Stax, It had an influence on my life from way back. It was a chance to show that influence.”
Harper interjects: “The fact that Estelle Axton was bringing you 45s, and you’d be on Stax, I’d be on Stax… talk about a musical journey!”
Musselwhite responds: “It’s almost on a mystical level. Wow!”
Get Up! is out now, Harper and Musselwhite have a few select tour dates planned, and will hit the festival circuit later this year. Check Harper’s official website for details.
— Brian Ives, Radio.com