Rules of the Blues |

Rules of the Blues

BRECKENRIDGE – The blues are not about limitless options – there’s some rules to playing, at least according to blues players Memphis Earlene Gray and Uncle Plunky.

First of all, most blues begin with “Woke up this morning.”

“I got a good woman” is a bad way to begin the blues, unless she has the meanest dog in town or another nasty flaw in the second line.

Teen-agers can’t have the blues – the pain has to come from somewhere deeper than hormones.

Good places to get the blues are on a long, dark highway, behind bars and in an empty bedroom. You can’t get the blues in ashrams, gallery openings or the shopping mall.

And, it helps if you shot a man in Memphis, or at least have a wicked drinking problem.

The culture of the blues – and its “rules” – influenced Charlie Musselwhite at an early age.

He grew up in Memphis, hanging around downtown street singers, and when he was 13, in 1957, his father gave him his first guitar, and he taught himself to play an E chord, then an E7 chord. Then he taught himself to play harmonica – because you can’t see how anyone else is playing it anyway.

Around that time, Musselwhite met Memphis musician Will Shade, who passed on the blues in the same tradition he learned it – Shade met an old man who taught him to play guitar and harp when he was a teen-ager, so he passed it along to another child of the blues. Ever since, Musselwhite has had a deep attachment to the old style of acoustic country blues.

His first album, “Stand Back! Here Comes Charley Musselwhite’s Southside Blues Band,” released under the Vanguard label in 1967, was one of the first critically acclaimed blues albums by a white guy.

After its release, he became a standard on San Francisco underground radio, played at the Fillmore Auditorium and shared the stage with such great guitarists as Harvey Mandel, Freddie Roulette, Junior Watson and Robben Ford.

But by the 1970s, the blues got the best of him – he struggled with a growing drinking problem that stressed his family life and music career. He signed with Alligator in the mid-80s and recharged his career, releasing three critically acclaimed albums and winning six W.C. Handy Awards for his blues harmonica playing. He also won the Howlin’ Wolf Award, presented by the Blues Foundation and the producers of the Chicago Blues Festival in honor of blues pioneer Howlin’ Wolf.

Musselwhite’s passion for the blues kept him going, even through his darkest times.

“Blues can take you through your whole life – through good times and bad times – with the right attitude,” Musselwhite said in a March 22 interview this year for the Daily Bruin at UCLA. “A lot of people who don’t know what the blues is, they hear the word and they think, “Oh I don’t want to hear that, that’s just sad music.’ But they don’t know that it’s actually happy music. It’s feel-good music.”

“I think people that like blues and roots are open to any kind of music that has feeling,” he said in an interview with CDNow. “Some people listen to music on the level of like, what’s the latest trend, like the latest hairdo, and it’s all disposable. Other people listen to music with their hearts, and music with feeling appeals to them. It’s something that resonates inside them when they hear that, and they’re not locked into, like, “only listen to this, only listen to that.’ Those are my people.”

Musselwhite wails on his harp at 8 p.m. Sunday at the Riverwalk Center in Breckenridge. Tickets are $17 in advance, $20 the day of the show and may be purchased by calling (970) 547-3100.

Kimberly Nicoletti can be reached at (970) 668-3998 ext. 245 or by e-mail at

Charlie Musselwhite

– When: 8 p.m. Sunday, July 6

– Where: Riverwalk Center, Breckenridge

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