Chicago-style blues coming to the Red Room
The words Chicago blues conjure perhaps the most powerful and evocative images in the history of American music. Think smoke-filled taverns on the South or West Side nearly ablaze with tremendous displays of electrified Delta beats from dignitaries named Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Jimmy Rogers, Little Walter, Elmore James, Buddy Guy and Junior Wells. Imagine sidewalk curbs and street corners on busy Maxwell Street where storied performers like Hound Dog Taylor and Robert Nighthawk wailed the blues for spare change.
Chicago blues is now also synonymous with guitarist Nick Moss. Though the golden era of Chicago blues is long past, this young Chicagoan stands tallest in the current generation of blues performers that honor the letter and spirit of the great urban African-American music. No less than Jimmy Rogers saw Nick as a protégé, a torchbearer, and a colleague. Leading Chicago-style guitarist Buddy Guy sanctions his talent: “Nick Moss is one of the local favorites at my club, Legends. I always enjoy the way he plays and works hard to please our audience.”
Nick Moss & the Fliptops play the Red Room at the Crystal Bay Casino on Wednesday, Sept, 26 at 9 p.m.
A musician of consummate skill, Nick fully understands the debt he owes his predecessors and how important it is to carry on tradition in an honorable fashion. “I’m not trying to re-invent the wheel,” he says with characteristic modesty, “or trying to bring things into the new millennia. I’m just playing what was handed down to me and do it justice.
“I have a lot of respect for the guys who taught it to me – I played with Jimmy Dawkins, I played with Willie Smith, I played with Jimmy Rogers – and in my heart I love [this music] and I don’t feel it has to be changed much.”
Passionate blues fans around the country gravitate to Nick’s playing in live performance and on recordings because of that stylistic link to the Chicago blues past. But Nick’s music also holds enormous appeal for casual fans of blues and even novices.
“I’m trying to find that fine line of not compromising the integrity of that classic music,” he says, “and yet still make it a little fresher-sounding and contemporary-sounding where I can get across to the element of the crowd that isn’t hard-core.”
For Moss, the rise to the top tier of blues musicians out of Chicago had its beginnings right in his boyhood home.
“If it wasn’t for my brother Joe, I wouldn’t be playing,” he said. “I used to watch him play guitar growing up, and still today he’s one of my favorite guitarists, a musician’s musician, playing blues, jazz, funk, soul, and rock. He pointed me in the right direction.”
Too young for legal admission into clubs, aspiring teenage blues man Nick literally sneaked into local blues dens and soaked up the classic ensemble sound played by the venerable elders.
“My first influence was Jimmy Dawkins because he gave me my first real gig playing bass for him,” Moss said. “I just happened to be at a blues jam when I found out he needed a bass player. I really didn’t know who the guy was. I found out how heavy he was after I started playing with him and doing research.”
How heavy? Dawkins was one of the true stars of electric blues in the 1970s, an acclaimed star in Europe but always criminally undervalued in the U.S.
Nick’s schooling began in earnest when he hooked up with the Muddy Waters-styled Legendary Blues Band that featured Muddy Waters Blues Band alumnus Willie “Big Eyes” Smith on drums.
“That was one of my favorite bands,” he recalls. “I still love Willie. He is like my second father. He basically taught me two things: One, to take pride in myself right now, and two, the timing and feel of blues, how it’s suppose to be.”
With his blues graduate studies completed by the late-’90s, Moss started fronting his own band, the Flip Tops. Their first album, “First Offense,” was followed by second effort “Got a New Plan” in 2001 and then two years later a third album, “Count Your Blessings.” The latter two received W. C. Handy award nominations, and all bear the imprint of Nick and Kate Moss’s Blue Bella label. (Not incidentally, “Count Your Blessings” included ace contributions by several of his famous friends, among them Sam Myers, Anson Funderburgh, Willie Smith, Curtis Salgado and Lynwood Slim.)
A fourth album, “Sadie Mae,” named after his baby daughter, arrived in June, ’05. Among the 16 tracks on the latest release are his wise and heartfelt interpretations of Jimmy Rogers’ “Crazy Woman Blues,” Earl Hooker’s “You Got To Lose” and Lefty Dizz’s “If I Could Get My Hands On You.” Nick says of his growing discography, “I think slowly but surely with each CD I’ve grown a little bit more confident in the ability to add the contemporary element. If people go back and listen to all four of the CDs, they’d see a growth with each disc of more contemporary elements. My first album is straight-up ’50s-style blues, and the next two are a really good mix [of classic and contemporary blues styles of the ’60s and ’70s]. The new one, Sadie Mae, is a clearer picture of what we do live.”
Gerry Hundt, who teamed with guitarist John-Alex Mason in Colorado before joining the Flip Tops, usually plays second guitar and harmonica but sometimes bass. Bob Welsh, whose previous credits include three years working with harmonica ace Charlie Musselwhite, ordinarily plays piano and organ yet switches over to bass or guitar on occasion. Valuable to the ensemble sound, too, are Dave Wood on bass and Victor Spann on drums. In addition to his guitar playing, Nick ably handles the singing duties.
Information: http://www.crystalbaycasino.com or (775) 833-6333.
Johnny Sketch and the Dirty Notes
Since it’s inception in 2001, Johnny Sketch & The Dirty Notes has gained a loyal following in a competitive New Orleans music scene. Their unique Funk/Rock style blends guitar, violin and harmonica with a hard driving rhythm section reminiscent of the Radiators’ swamp funk added to the punchy horns of Tower Of Power.
Johnny Sketch & the Dirty Notes play the Red Room at Crystal Bay Casino on Tuesday, Sept. 25 at 10 p.m. There is no charge.
JSDN’s debut album, “Bandicoot,” was voted by Offbeat Magazine as 2003 Best Rock Album by a Louisiana Artist. This followed the 2002 Best of the Beat Award for Best Emerging Roots Rock Band. JSDN was also voted Best Rock Band in 2003 for The Big Easy Entertainment Awards.
Information: http://www.crystalbaycasino.com or (775) 833-6333.