Debut of California's jumping-est blues band, featuring wild guitar, tough harp and vocals and terrific songwriting. "Explosive guitar, cool harmonica and soulful singing--a tough combination to beat"--ROBERT CRAY
CHARLIE BATY, Guitar RICK ESTRIN, Harmonica and Vocals JAY PETERSON, Bass and Background Vocals DOBIE STRANGE, Drums, With NANCY WRIGHT and MIKE AMAT0, Saxes on Suicide Bl...
CHARLIE BATY, Guitar RICK ESTRIN, Harmonica and Vocals JAY PETERSON, Bass and Background Vocals DOBIE STRANGE, Drums, With NANCY WRIGHT and MIKE AMAT0, Saxes on Suicide Blues J J. MALONE, Background Vocals on TV Crazy
Produced by Bruce Iglauer Engineered and mixed by Justin Niebank Recorded at Music Annex, Menlo Park, CA Mixed at Streeterville Studios, Chicago, IL Cover design by Skip Williamson Cover photo by Kent Lacin Photo session and location production by Mary Dangerfield Actors: Jim Myers and Lillian Wilder
Mastered by Tom Coyne at Frankford/Wayne, New York, NY
Special thanks to Tom Mazzolini, Dianne Estrin, Raia Kasim Sabire [Rodger Collins], Buddy Akacich, Toshi at Zenbu Guitars, Dave Wellhausen, the late Travis Phillips, Gerry Edelman, Bill LaRock, Liz Peel, Alec & Monica Jenkins for use of their house, Keith Hatschek, Mindy Giles, Hilton Weinberg, Bill Wokersin, Pam Hall, Jay Whitehouse, Nora Kinnally, Lolita Ratchford, Lisa Shively, Eric Charles and Sharron Scott.
This is Little Charlie and the Nightcats' first album. But in the Sacramento Valley and the San Francisco Bay area, this four-member band ranks as an institution. Sold-out clubs, their dance floors packed with sweating dancers, attest to the fact. The jumping blues, skillful musicianship, wild stage show and off-the-wall humor of Little Charlie and the Nightcats have earned them a fanatical cult following that just keeps growing.
At the core of the band is the team of Charlie Baty, a gifted guitarist who jumps from hard edged blues to swinging jazz to bopping rockabilly with ease, and Rick Estrin, a world class harmonica player whose hilarious lyrics and soul-drenched vocals are as much a part of the Little Charlie magic as the crazed Baty guitar.
Charlie and Rick have been a team since 1976. Before that, Charlie led his own blues bands all over central California, while Rick honed his chops in the ghetto clubs of San Francisco and Oakland, working with Rodger Collins and Lowell Fulson, when he wasn't hanging out in Chicago playing with Sam Lay and jamming with Muddy Waters.
Little Charlie and the Nightcats have played everywhere in California, from the bars of Davis and Folsom to the San Francisco Blues Festival to the most popular local television shows. Their music has evolved from straight blues to include swing instrumentals, rocking R&B novelty tunes from the '40's end '50's, plus a taste of rockabilly. "We're a people's blues band," says Charlie. "We play for dancing and partying."
Watching them on stage is a study in contrasts. Charlie, almost always silent, appears locked in a trance, his toot tapping furiously as he slashes his way up and down his fretboard. He never plays a song the same way twice, throwing fretboard runs into down home blues and country licks into swing tunes. Once he warms up, and begins to jump on a jazzy number -- "that's the Charlie Christian influence," he says -- his hands and fingers are a blur. Listen to Right Around The Corner and Eyes Like A Cat and just try to visualize the speed at which he's playing!
Rick is the front man of the band, dressed in his flashy draped suits, keeping the audience in the palm of his hand with a steady stream of tongue-in-cheek hipster jive talk. But he's also a major league musician. Tom Mazzolini, the founder and director of the San Francisco Blues Festival, calls Rick, "undoubtedly one of the most important blues harmonica players in the country". And Hohner, the largest harmonica manufacturer in the world, sought out Rick for his endorsement. Rick writes most of the band's originals, like T.V.Crazy, Poor Tarzan, and Short Skirts, and they're filled with his slice-of-life humor. But he can handle straight blues singing, too -- take a listen to his richness and range on I'll Take You Back .
In the decade they've played together, Charlie and Rick tried out a lot of different combinations of rhythm players before finding the near-perfect team of Jay Peterson and Dobie Strange. Jay is a blues veteran who has played back and forth between California and Chicago, working with Otis Rush, the Dynatones and Charlie Musselwhite. Dobie has worked with dozens of jazz and rock bands, and even toured with The Platters, before settling down in Sacramento. His early idol was Gene Krupa, and you can hear the big-band swing style in the way his rolls and fills crank up the band's energy level.
Little Charlie and the Nightcats have earned their fanatical following because they cut through the lines between rock 'n' roll, blues, swing jazz and rockabilly. If you have to call their music something, call it "Jumping Blues." It carries on the tradition of those little jump combos of the late 1940's and early '50's, who many people say invented rock 'n' roll -- bands that laced their blues with plenty of humor, swung like maniacs, and played until the dancers dropped.
A word about this recording: the band, the producer, and the engineer have come as close as possible to conveying what a live Little Charlie and the Nightcats performance is like, especially those tunes that Rick introduces by saying, "and now, we're going all the way crazy -- we're gonna bust the locks on the nuthouse tonight!"
Now, people, do you know where your dancing shoes are?
-- RICHARD BAMMER Richard Bammer is a regular contributor to the San Francisco Chronicle and the Sacramento Bee.