Ben Harper And Charlie Musselwhite Get Muddy by NPR Staff

Jan 31, 2013

Ben Harper grew up roaming the aisles and restoring guitars at his family's music store, the Claremont Folk Music Center. Going on its 60th year of business, the storefront in Southern California is where Harper first discovered the harmonica playing of blues legend Charlie Musselwhite.

"We had Charlie's records stacked high at my family's store and at my house," Harper tells NPR's Steve Inskeep.

Now, he can add another album to the stack. At 43, Harper has a dedicated following and two Grammy Awards, but he achieved a life goal on his latest release: collaborating with Musselwhite. The new album Get Up! is a collection of original blues and roots songs, heavily accented by Musselwhite's harmonica.

"To me, the harmonica is like a voice," says Musselwhite, who turns 69 Thursday. "And when I'm taking a solo, it's like I'm singing without words."

The songs on Get Up! draw on the great Chicago blues tradition that Musselwhite entered as a teen looking for factory work in the 1960s — a world of all-night jam sessions in smoky bars, where Muddy Waters was king.

But Harper and Musselwhite also work to modernize that sound, creating a blues record for today. Here, they discuss recording Get Up! and the resonating power of the blues.

Listen to the feature HERE.