Blues fans have John Lee Hooker to thank for the recent collaboration between Ben Harper and the legendary Charlie Musselwhite.
Harper, a longtime fan of Musselwhite, who has collaborated with everyone from Howlin' Wolf, Muddy Water and Big Joe Williams to contemporary artists including Eddie Vedder, was introduced to him about 15 years ago. Soon he and Musselwhite struck musical magic in a session with Hooker.
"Charlie and I have been looking to make this record for over 10 years, and now that we've gotten to it, I can't wait to play it live," said Harper of the duo's just released album, "Get Up!"
The recording -- Grammy Award winner Harper's 12th studio album -- surveys gospel, roots, country and R&B. The marriage's fluid chemistry helps expand the classic blues into contemporary sound. The music came together naturally as the two played together through the years.
|Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite|
|» When: 9:30 Club, 815 V St. NW|
|» When: 7 p.m. Thursday|
|» Info: Sold out as of press time, but tickets may still be available through resellers; 800-955-5566; 930.com|
Harper and Musselwhite teamed up on sessions for Musselwhite's 2004 Grammy-nominated album, "Sanctuary," where they recorded Harper's "Homeless Child," as well as on a limited-edition bonus disc of Harper's "Both Sides of the Gun" from 2006. The two have performed live together a dozen times, with each concert lightning in a bottle.
"Blues is a feeling," Musselwhite said. "It doesn't have to be a certain chord change. You could have 1-4-5 chord changes without that feeling, and it wouldn't be the blues. B.B. King could sing 'Mary Had a Little Lamb,' and it would be the blues."
There's plenty of defiance on "Get Up!" and also tender heartache. Case in point, the poignant acoustic guitar and harmonica duet of "You Found Another Lover (I Lost Another Friend)." Featuring poetic lyrics, the song's three short verses detail a painful breakup, vividly embodied in Musselwhite's brilliant accompaniment.
"I've played with John Lee, Solomon Burke and Taj Mahal, and one of my greatest musical moments is playing that song with Charlie," Harper said.
Reviewers have noted that not only is the music an amazing blend of talents, with Harper putting a very individual stamp on the format, but it is akin to the passing of the baton between generations of performers.
"Harper has sold far more records, and plays to much larger audiences, than Musselwhite. Yet he was consistently deferential to the elder statesman, even asking Musselwhite's permission to introduce him," wrote a critic for the New Orleans Times-Picayune. "Being back at Jazz Fest was an honor," Harper said. Sharing the stage with Musselwhite was "an honor amongst honors."