Jumping bluesmen are higher than the rest | TahoeDailyTribune.com

Jumping bluesmen are higher than the rest

Tim Parsons

After 20 years and 10 albums Little Charlie and the Nightcats just might be at its peak.

It would be hard to top the jump blues band Saturday when it plays at Squaw Valley’s Summer Camp, elevation 8,200 feet.

It will be the Sacramento band’s first show since returning Monday night from a week-long tour in Switzerland. But the loyal Nightcats’ fans know the band will be ready to rock.

Singer-songwriter Rick Estrin said he was unsure if he was even feeling effects of jet lag.

“When you do this so much you’re so used to feeling like (crap) it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “I just disregard it. I don’t even notice it.”

Estrin will earn his pay Saturday, singing and blowing harmonica at elevation.

“The worst I can remember was Breckenridge, Colo., and that was about 10,000 feet up,” he said. “You’ve got to have a lot of water and just be aware.”

Estrin followed up as if he were he was writing one of his glib verses: “I’m ready now, man; it just ain’t Saturday.”

The latest album from Little Charlie in the Nightcats, 2005’s “Nine Lives,” was the first with rhythm section players J. Hansen (drums) and Lorenzo Farrell (bass) joining Estrin and guitarist Little Charlie Baty.

“It’s the best band we’ve ever had,” Estrin said. “We’ve always had great musicians. We’ve had people who were as good but we’ve never had a team that’s had this kind of chemistry on the bandstand.”

Estrin and Baty both played harp when they met in the Bay Area in the 1980s.

“He had already played some guitar on the bandstand,” Estrin said. “When we met I wasn’t doing much and I was pretty discouraged and I think he felt sorry for me so he switched to guitar.”

While the rhythm section has changed, the band has been a consistent presence at Alligator, a blues label from Chicago. Estrin’s vocals make any song instantly recognizable as Little Charlie and the Nightcats.

“I was influenced by a lot of stuff but I just couldn’t do it,” Estrin laughed. “If I could sing like Bobby Blue Bland that’s what you’d hear, and if I could sing like Johnie Taylor I’d sound like that.”

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