Elvin Bishop and Charlie Musselwhite celebrate “100 Years of Blues”

And it’s quite a celebration.

Two revered elder statesmen of the blues — guitarist Elvin Bishop, 77, and harpmaster Charlie Musselwhite, 76 — have joined their skills, experience and talents to celebrate a huge amount of blues. probably even more than 100 years worth.

Each one, on his own, could easily have contributed enough great blues to create an exceptional album. In fact, they already have. So once they realized a few years back that they needed to join musical forces, they were destined to produce an album worthy of their prodigious talents.

“100 Years of Blues” is that album.

Both Bishop and Musselwhite took similar routes out of their Southern roots to travel deep into the heart of Chicago blues in the early 1960s. Bishop made his early mark as a cofounder of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Musselwhite sat in with Muddy Waters, according to Charlie, because Muddy insisted.

These two young white musicians were encouraged by the veterans of the Chicago blues scene — “Elvin and I were not only welcomed but encouraged by the blues giants of the day,” Musselwhite says.

They then took their considerable young chops to California, where they became part of a new scene, turning rock audiences onto the history of their own music.

Their busy and productive careers flowed from those years into a body of work — nearly 40 albums from Musselwhite and 30 from Bishop — that sits atop the blues stage with that of the giants at whose feet they learned.

This set is filled with tough cuts loaded with the spirit of Chicago blues, swapping vocals and instrumental leads. They have a relaxed, front-porch or back-room vibe (take your pick; they both work) , but still come out sounding like they’ve been driven hard and put away wet.

They add a contemporary lyrical feel to ’60s Chicago with “What The Hell?” a sharp nod to 2020 politics. But in the main, they move through a sturdy blues set, from the furiously harp-laced “West Helena Blues,” stinging guitar-based “Old School,” the elegantly plaintiff “Midnight Hour Blues,” the shuffling “Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?” and concluding with a fitting “100 Years of Blues.” And there’s a lot more great music in between.

Musically, it’s an outstanding production by Christoffer “Kid” Andersen, featuring Bob Welsh on guitar and piano, and Andersen on upright bass. It all sounds like it’s fresh from a South Side basement. And not incidentally, it’s all available on Alligator Records.

Here’s a video interview with Charlie and Elvin, conducted by Andersen. It’s almost as much fun as the music.

Libation (and stogie) notes: In addition to the fine music, this post has been partially inspired by a smooth Cragganmore single malt Scotch, accompanied by a hearty Ave Maria Reconquista cigar.

Here’s the set list. There’s nothing here to disappoint.

  1. Birds Of A Feather
  2. West Helena Blues
  3. What The Hell?
  4. Good Times
  5. Old School
  6. If I Should Have Bad Luck
  7. Midnight Hour Blues
  8. Blues, Why Do You Worry Me?
  9. South Side Slide
  10. Blues For Yesterday
  11. Help Me
  12. 100 Years Of Blues

And just in case you missed them, the links in the first paragraph provide biographies of Bishop and Musselwhite.

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