Saturday, July 7, 2018

Guitar slinger Jimmy Nick to perform July 14 at Itasca Fest


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

His wildly energetic shows have earned Jimmy Nick much acclaim in the Chicago area and beyond.

Nick, a Crystal Lake native, has headlined at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago and performed with the likes of John Mayall, Samantha Fish, Pat Travers and Los Lonely Boys. In 2013, he won the Chicago Blues Guitar Slinger Challenge.

Nick and his band, Don't Tell Mama, will perform from 7 to 9 p.m. July 14 at Itasca Fest, which will be held at Washington Park 350 E. Irving Park Road, Itasca. Nick and his band will also perform at 9:30 p.m. July 27 at The House Pub, 16 S. Riverside Drive, St. Charles. 

A full listing of his upcoming shows can be found at his website at jimmynick.com.

I had the chance to talk to him recently about his latest musical endeavors.


Q – I know that you grew up in Crystal Lake. Do you still live in the area?

Oh, yeah, I'm still in Crystal Lake. 

Q – It seems like you really play all over the place, which is good.

You got to, man. I have a great following in the Chicago suburbs and even in the city now. I headlined at Buddy Guy's Legends in March and I've played in different states. I'm trying to get out.

Q – The fact that you are now headlining at Buddy Guy's, how does that make you feel, given the caliber of the musicians that play at the club?

It's awesome, man. It really is. It's a badge of honor, because that's the top club, especially for blues, in the city of Chicago and I would day the country.

Last time I was there, he got on stage with me, which was an incredible feeling. We were doing our set, and then he started doing some Chess Records blues stuff. It was a great time.

I just kind of stood back and just played the chords with my rhythm section and just let him do his thing. I was very excited versus being nervous.

Q – Growing up, was he one of the musicians that you listened to? 


One of my favorite albums is probably Buddy Guy's "Sweet Tea." His playing and singing on it really stands out to me. I definitely listened to a lot of Buddy.

Q – It seems like you have been busy. In December, you released the album "Dangerous Decisions & Bad Things." What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?


There were all kinds of goals. There was kind of a time limit goal, because I had a show already booked for the Raue Center in Crystal Lake for New Year's Eve. So I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to release a new album on that date.

I booked the studio time, and we got in the studio in November. We did the bulk of the album in a day and a half. It was incredible.

It's hands down the best sounding CD I've put out. That was a goal that was accomplished. Another goal was to have a more mature sound from the last time I was in the studio, with more mature guitar playing and singing, which I think really comes through.

If you put on "Rare Breed," which was my 2014 album and then this new one, you're going to hear the maturity in my playing and my voice and even the songwriting. I also think it sounds really clean. I recorded it at Waysound Recording Studio in Fox River Grove, and owner and audio engineer Justin LeBreck engineered it and co-produced it with. He did a phenomenal job.

Q – You were talking about how it didn't take long to record. Were you trying to replicate your live sound at all? 

We basically did it pretty much live. We rehearsed two days before and then went in the studio. The drums, bass, rhythm guitar and a scratch vocal were all done live.

It was a pretty straight process, very live, very raw and a lot of one takes. What you hear on the CD is damn near live.

Q – It does seem like there are a lot of albums that are overproduced, where there is no warmth to the album or anything. 

I 100 percent agree. You want that grit and that soul to it. It's part of the art form, just that live energy. That's what people want.

Q – It seems like you like to roam through a lot of musical genres, including rockabilly.

We do some Johnny Cash stuff that people love. I have a bit of that old country in me, and like you said, rockabilly. I love that, too.

Q – You also put on an energetic show. It seems like you're really trying to energize the crowd through your music.

I think that is one of the most important things. People want to see something, and they want to feel a part of it, and you really have to cross that line when you are live.


You want to give it your all, all the time, and make them part of the show.

Q – Speaking of your shows, you've won several blues challenges. Does that make you feel good, being recognized by your peers like that? Is it kind of like a feather in your cap?

Oh, yeah. It's cool. In 2013, I won the Chicago Blues Guitar Slinger Challenge. That was pretty cool.

That was held at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted in Chicago. To win it in front of that crowd was really cool.

But I don't focus on winning blues challenges as much as trying to consistently put on the best show for my audience. That's the real thing to worry about.

Q – How would you describe your guitar playing?

It's very straight ahead, not fancy, kind of a mix of rock 'n' roll and old Chicago blues – Chuck Berry, Angus Young, Elmore James, a lot of the Muddy Waters stuff and a lot of Bobby Rush's funky guitar licks and rhythm.

I'm really trying to focus on rhythms and riffs now and being tight with the band versus playing a million notes a second kind of thing. I like straightforward stuff.

Q – I understand you turned 28 in December. Do you see yourself as bringing the blues to a younger generation?

Yeah, definitely. My shows have been getting the younger audience. If you can get them to like it, that's really the goal, to get them dancing and having a good time.

They're getting it in their heads and they don't even know they're digging the blues, so it's a cool thing.

One of my favorite compliments is getting some younger people come up to me after a show and say, "Man, we don't even like blues, but we love you guys." That means a lot, that I'm kind of crossing over and getting more people on the blues stuff.


Wednesday, June 27, 2018

Alternative art rock band Curious Grace & Black Rabbit releases new album, will play at Wire in Berwyn

Photo credit: James Caulfield

By ERIC SCHELKOPF

All bands should be as musically adventurous as Chicago band Curious Grace & Black Rabbit.

Featuring the work of husband-wife songwriting duo Tom and Mary Erangey, the alternative art rock band will celebrate the release of its new album, "World on Fire," with a show on June 28 at Wire, 6815 W. Roosevelt Road, Berwyn. Chicago band Wilde also is on the bill.

The music starts at 8 p.m. and tickets are $7 in advance, $10 at the door, available at www.ticketweb.com.

I had the chance to talk to Mary Erangey about the album and the upcoming show.


Q – Great to talk to you. Of course, you will be performing at Wire in celebration of your new album, "World on Fire." In sitting down to make the album, what were your goals and do you think you accomplished them?

We had this idea for a rock opera, something big and progressive. At the beginning, [co-band leader] Tommy Erangey called it "The Opus." We wanted to take our listeners on a journey, like a really killer road trip.

With scenery and sounds and textures that ran the gamut from beautiful to dark to hard-driving to lush and dreamy. And when we went into the studio with Rich Rankin of Mosaic Music,we told him we wanted these songs to hang together but to unfold organically – like an adventure – and they did.

We had so much fun making this album. Listen closely: you’ll hear us singing Russian, you’ll hear some Gaelic and you’ll hear our German Shepherd Anka and our guitarist’s daughter. 


Q – On the song "World on Fire," you address the president setting the world on fire. What can be done to help put the fire out? 

I think we need to start with really paying attention. At the beginning of our song "Fire Brigade," you’ll hear a little girl plead, “Mommy, wake up, it’s time to rise!”

Damn straight. 

Q – It seems like the album's title is appropriate given everything that is happening in the world these days. Why did you choose that title for the album and what are the main themes you wanted to address on the album? 

We called it "World On Fire" because it fit the moment and it fit the music. This album is big, bright, beautiful, dark and hopeful. Kind of like life.

It was born out of a desire to capture the madness and magic of living in a hyper-divided, digital screen- and Twitter-driven world; a world that flattens life into bytes and pixels even while we’re celebrating the ability to stay super connected.

And sometimes that feels kind of apocalyptic, you know? That’s why part of the Gaelic translates as...
 
“…this was the beginning of the dark times, when the whole world started on fire. The flames smoldered; smoke rose into the sky; and the Black Rabbit awoke…”
Q – How did you hook up with Swedish artist Mattias Gordon, who created the album cover? 

First off, we are thrilled with the original pop surrealism Mattias created for us. Working with Mattias is a great example of what’s possible through digital collaboration.

We’ve never even met him but we love working with him. We came across Mattias’ work on ReverbNation and were totally impressed by videos he made for an Irish band called Kila and a New York City blues-jazz-world music band called Hazmat Modine.



Mattias is wickedly clever, and he creates these rich visual layers. So we commissioned him to develop our 2013 music video Blue Umbrella by Curious Grace (an earlier formation of our band).

All you have to do is look at the Salvador Dali character in that video and you’ll know why we commissioned him again!

Q – Of course, immigration is a big topic these days. What are your views on what has been happening?

We are a band of immigrants. Ourselves, our parents, our grandparents.

We know the hard work and the depth of the sacrifices immigrants make to build new lives here in this country. Tom’s parents emigrated from Ireland and in the midst of U.S. turmoil, moved the family back there so that Tom grew up in Galway.

Our keyboardist, Bojan, emigrated to the U.S. from Macedonia. We respect the power of heart and spirit that immigrants contribute to this country.

They – we – are a huge part of what makes this country great.

Q – It also seems like there should be a story behind the band's name. Is there? It would also seem like people would be curious to find out more about the band because you have such an unusual name. Have you found that to be the case?

Yes, we have. Curious Grace & Black Rabbit is a groovy-beautiful name, right?

We started out with Curious. That was the root. And then the name Grace" kept coming up. We love strong women and we love our Irish roots.

So “Grace" stuck. But that sounded too nice, too simple-sweet.


We’re also steeped in psychedelic rock, so that’s where we brought in the black rabbit; he’s like a trickster playing with a D minor chord. We find that people either love our name or hate it.

Q – The band has a strong progressive rock sound in its music. Have you been influenced by any progressive rock bands? I detect a bit of The Moody Blues in your music.

Yes! That’s a great connection! We’ve definitely been influenced by progressive and art rock.

Muse. Dream Theater. Pink Floyd. David Bowie. And Blondie.

Progressive art rock means we get to explore and recombine rock with jazz and metal and symphonic arrangements and intense electric instrumentation. That’s part of what’s so great about working together as a big six-piece band; we’re a gorgeous melting pot of sound. 

Q – What do you think of the Chicago music scene and where do you see the band fitting into it?

Chicago’s got this incredible energy of musical experimentation and cross-generational live music experience. We go to shows and festivals and we see people of all ages out there making and soaking up live music.

That’s a beautiful thing! We’ve loved meeting other bands on the Chicago music circuit; there’s some incredible talent here. We met Wilde, which is opening our June 28 Wire show, playing a gig at The Elbo Room.

We know our fans in the west ‘burbs are going to love them and are going to love Wire, which is one of the best live music venues in the Chicago-area. 

Monday, June 18, 2018

This year's Blues on the Fox festival at RiverEdge Park in Aurora provides lasting memories


By ERIC SCHELKOPF

With Chicago being the blues capital of the world, it only makes sense that a Chicago musician would rule the day during the second day of the 22nd annual Blues on the Fox festival at RiverEdge Park in Aurora.

The sweltering heat on June 16 did not slow down Cannon, who also is a bus driver for the Chicago Transit Authority. He works just as hard on stage and probably won over many new fan that day.

His electrifying guitar playing was on full display during the song "John The Conquer Root," and was just another example of why his presence on the blues scene – both locally and worldwide – continues to grow.



But his storytelling skills are just as strong as his guitar playing. He used those skills to draw the audience in, and make them feel they were part of his show as well.



Slide guitar master Sonny Landreth also put on an impressive set. At the same time, he showed that sometimes less is more, such as on the haunting song "A World Away."





But for those who wanted some fireworks, he was happy to provide them, such as he did in covering the Elmore James song, "It Hurts Me Too."



At age 77, Aaron Neville is still an incredible force on stage and his vocals remain in fine form. It is not an exaggeration to say that Neville has a voice of an angel.



He ran through the hits and then some, delivering a tender version of "Tell It Like It Is," a song that remains vibrant and fresh years after Neville first recorded it in 1966.



Another high point of his set was a moving version of Sam Cooke's "A Change Is Gonna Come."


 

In closing his set, he drew upon his New Orleans roots and presented a rousing version of  "You Never Can Tell (C'est La Vie)." 


                                     

This year's Blues on the Fox festival provided many lasting memories. Let's hope the festival will keep on providing memories well into the future.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist Samantha Fish to perform at Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora



By ERIC SCHELKOPF

Samantha Fish's presence has only grown since she last played the Blues on the Fox festival in Aurora in 2014.

In May, she was named the Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist at the Blues Foundation's 39th annual Blues Music awards. Fish will return to the Blues on the Fox festival this weekend when she takes the stage at 7 p.m. Friday, followed by Grammy-nominated artist Elle King at 9 p.m.

The festival will take place Friday and Saturday at RiverEdge Park, 360 N. Broadway (Route 25), Aurora. Gates open at 2 p.m. for the second day of Blues on the Fox on June 16. Fourteen-year-old blues guitar prodigy Brandon "Taz" Niederauer will perform at 3 p.m., followed by Chicago blues musician Toronzo Cannon at 5 p.m., slide guitarist Sonny Landreth at 7 p.m. and the legendary Aaron Neville at 9 p.m.

Tickets cost $30 each per day. Children 12 and younger are admitted free to Blues on the Fox, but must be accompanied by an adult 18 or older.


For tickets and information, visit RiverEdgeAurora.com, call the RiverEdge box office at 630-896-6666, or stop by in person at RiverEdge's satellite box office, the Paramount Theatre, 23 E. Galena Blvd., Aurora, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

I had the chance to talk to Fish about the upcoming show.


Q – Are you looking forward to coming back to the festival? Did you have a good time the last time?

I definitely did. It was a huge festival back in 2014 and I know it's only getting bigger.

Q – And you're opening for Elle King. Are you a fan of hers?

Oh, yeah. I like her. We just did a show at the Denver Day of Rock. She was the headliner on that, too.

I actually got to catch her set for the first time. She's a great talent.

Q – It's already been a big year for you. You were named the Best Contemporary Female Blues Artist in May at the Blues Foundation's 39th annual Blues Music awards. What did it mean to you to receive the award and what did you think of the other nominees in the category, including Chicago's own Shemekia Copeland?

Well, first of all, she's amazing. I was nominated for that same award with her a couple of years ago, and she took it that year.

I've always been a big fan of hers. She's always really deserving of those kinds of accolades, because she carries the blues forward. She's really amazing.


To be honest, I didn't expect it. I really didn't expect it. And it is nice just to be nominated. 

I know that is like a total cliche thing to say, but at the same time, we did put out two albums in 2017 and it was like, thank God. We've been working so hard, and it felt really good just to be recognized for that kind of hard work.

It was just like a little pat on the back and motivation that you're on the right path.

Q – And obviously a lot of people do think you are on the right path. This is your second Blues Music award. I know you received the award for Best New Artist debut in 2012. How do you think your music has grown since then?
 
It's obviously changed a lot. From "Runaway" to now, that artist back then is unrecognizable to where I am now.

I've grown a lot. My style has evolved. I think it's become more diverse and expansive. I think the records have gotten better, not just performance wise. The songs themselves are better.


There's more of a fluid thought process behind each record. It's less about random songs and stuff, which is kind of where I was at earlier on. There's just more of a concept.

I just feel like more of a well-rounded artist than I did back then.

Q – Your music does roam through a lot of genres. In November, "Rolling Stone" magazine named you one of the "10 new country acts you need to know." How does it feel to be called a country artist? Do you see yourself as a country artist, blues artist or something else?
  
I don't know, man. The whole genre thing is a little bit mind-boggling. 
  
My favorite kind of music is stuff that sort of pushes the boundaries of genres, and you don't know exactly what to call it. If you look back at the history of music, all the most legendary acts do that, put out something that was defining and new and innovative.
 
I don't mind not being put in a box, because it kind of pushes me forward to try and find my own sound and not try to make a record that's too stylized and something that's already been done.
 
I just follow my own muse.

Q – Who are your biggest musical inspirations and how have they influenced your music? How much did your sister Amanda influence you in wanting to become a musician?
 
We kind of found the profession independently of each other, but when I was growing up, she was one of the first singers I heard. She was so passionate about it when we were little kids.
 
Anytime my parents would leave, Amanda would run into her room and start singing. It was kind of like a secret that only I knew about for some reason.
 
 
I always thought it was cool. It was like a secret passion that she had. I think eventually, she would go up in her room and start singing, and I would hang out in my room and start singing.
 
It probably did have a lot of influence on me growing up. Her voice is powerful. She's really into blues and rock and roll. She goes out and delivers.
 
Q – A story on you ran under the headline, “Samantha Fish is breaking up the boys club of blues singers.” Has that been a goal of yours? Do you see yourself inspiring other women to get involved in blues music?
 
I think that anytime that you are a female and you do something to get some recognition, it's like there's some kind of threat to the boys club or something. I think it's wonderful, because I have women who come up at shows and they tell me that it is great to see a female up there.
 
Even now, it's not typical. The music industry is really hard to break through as a female. I think it's like that with a lot of industries.
 
It's nice to see young kids and little girls say, "Oh, man, I've never seen a girl play guitar like that." Hopefully there will be more kick-ass little girls coming up playing guitar, or playing whatever, just working and being bad asses in their own right.