Celebrated blues guitarist Midge Marsden on why music is like therapy

Midge Marsden

Midge is a jazz and blues stalwart, acclaimed for his guitar and harmonica playing. In 1996 he gained a Diploma in Southern Studies from the University of Mississippi, and he has taught “bluesology” at the Waikato Institute of Technology. He has recorded extensively over several decades.

What I really enjoy when I want to relax is 80 percent instrumental music – probably because it means there are no people barking at you for any reason. The first name that comes to mind is The Shadows. Instrumentals dominated the radio waves pre The Beatles and I enjoyed them. I have a couple of Shadows greatest hits albums, and when you whack them on it takes you back to that turning point at the end of the 50s and the start of the 60s.

I also listened to quite a bit of classical. My mother used to listen to the Concert Programme and I picked up certain elements. Mozart is always pleasant, because it is light and bright.

One of the first things I liked in a folky or bluesy style was Woody Guthrie. He played harmonica. And I got interested in the harmonica and moved on to Sonny Terry and Brownie McGhee. Then there are people like Mississippi John Hurt, Skip James and sometimes Robert Johnson – though he is really harsh and angry. Of all the harmonica players I know, he defies us because he is so simple and direct but quite difficult to copy.

I’ve always kept my ears open to other music – a lot of people my age don’t. I love melodies. Burt Bacharach and Hal David’s songs were innocuous but cruisy and I loved the way they used that bossa nova beat. I’ve had a few periods of depression in my life – down and out stuff, when things haven’t gone so well.

There was a song that helped called “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass. But generally, when I felt like that I would turn to classical music. I stayed away from anything contemporary. I had problems with musicians – trying to sort them out, and then finding out they were injecting themselves with stuff. That is why I enjoyed living in Raglan for 30 years. You could escape all that. Music is wonderful therapy.

I’ve always kept my ears open to other music. Music is wonderful therapy.

Although, when I had a scan a few years ago they asked: “What sort of music would you like to listen to for an hour and a half?” I said: “Something light.” He put the Concert Programme on and after 10 minutes I said: “Can I have something else?”

Midge’s favourite music to relax to

  • Greatest Hits by The Shadows
  • Dionne Warwick Sings the Bacharach and David Songbook by Dionne Warwick
  • “Rescue Me” by Fontella Bass

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Listen to our relaxing Spotify playlist here.


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