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June 2018 Relix Magazine Sampler: Slim Wednesday "No (So) Good"
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Track By Track: Ben Harper & Charlie Musselwhite No Mercy In This Land

Dean Budnick | May 26, 2018
Dan Monick

No Mercy In This Land is the follow-up to Ben Harper and Charlie Musselwhite’s 2013 release Get Up!, which debuted at No. 1 on Billboard’s Blues chart and won a 2014 Grammy for Best Blues Album. That record had been a long time coming—John Lee Hooker first introduced the pair back in 1993 when they both played a benefit gig for Mill Valley, Calif.’s Sweetwater Music Hall, which had hit some hard economic times.

“I got the opening gig,” Harper remembers. “So I showed up backstage—it’s one big room back there—and, lo and behold, there was Charlie with John Lee. Charlie was sitting in that night. And the way those guys embraced me as family, I’ll never forget. John Lee was best man at Charlie’s wedding because they were already as close as it gets, but I became friends with both of them to the point where, in 1997, John Lee invited Charlie and I to be a part of what would be John Lee’s last studio recording, Best of Friends.

“John Lee didn’t waste words,” Harper continues. “He spoke real low, real soft and when he said something, he meant it—and that was it. So after we recorded, he looked at Charlie and I and
he said, ‘You two need to play together. You two need to do something together. You’ve got quite a sound.’ When we met at Sweetwater, I was nothing. I mean, right now, I’m nothing, so in ‘93, I was less than nothing. And the way those guys treated me as family, again, is a great reminder to always lend a hand to a traveler.”

As for the songs on No Mercy in This Land, Harper explains, “When I write, I aim as high I can, and I listen to a lot of Willie Dixon, Robert Johnson, Skip James, Blind Willie McTell, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy Waters and Elmore James. I’ve got 5,000 vinyl records—I spin them all and half of them are blues. I inherited my grandparents’ collection of 500–1,000 78s. I’m a student of the blues, so the fact that I get to write for Charlie Musselwhite, when it passes his test, I know I’ve done something right. I write quite a bit, and it was more about pulling the best material out of what was there than writing to fill a record. And it’s been five years since Get Up!, so I had plenty of time to separate the good from the bad.”