Blue Notes

Head Nightcat Rick Estrin: "Sometimes I Just Want to Chill"

As one of the most dapper dudes in blues music (or any other genre), vocalist/harp player Rick Estrin has certain panache when it comes to his trademark hirsute upper lip.

"I don't groom it daily, I just shave around it. But yeah, just try to keep it from getting too long," he says. "I used to see guys that really have the real small perfect ones like Muddy [Waters] and John Littlejohn, and what they would do is take a razor blade in hand and edge it with that.

And that takes a real steady hand and skill!" he adds. "I've had a few times where I [messed up] and had to think, 'Do I leave it, or shave the whole thing off and let it grow back?'"

Estrin and his group, the Nightcats -- Chris "Kid" Andersen (guitar), Lorenzo Farrell (organ, bass), and J. Hansen (drums) -- will undoubtedly be checking out their looks in plenty of hotel room mirrors soon as they hit the road to support their new record, One Wrong Turn (Alligator).

It's the second disc under the billing of Rick Estrin and the Nightcats after the 2008 "soft" retirement of guitarist Little Charlie Baty. Baty and Estrin performed for more than three decades with a rotating lineup as Little Charlie and the Nightcats. Baty still performs occasionally with the group.

The change has allowed Estrin -- who writes the bulk of the lyrics and music -- to change things up a bit with the current lineup.

"We did some different things with both Twisted [the previous disc] and this record," Estrin offers. "This one is more of a realization of what's been happening since Little Charlie left. He was such a great swing blues player, and that was the focus then."

Estrin adds that the music on One Wrong Turn also features more of Farrell's Jimmy Smith-style organ playing.

"Everybody in the band now except me is young. They're from a different generation. So I was able to write some things that were more modern more updated stuff... all the way up until the '70s!" he laughs.

One Wrong Turn also contains a healthy dose of songs with Estrin's frequently humorous lyrics, in addition to more standard blues fare (i.e. "Lucky You," "Callin' All Fools" and "Broke and Lonesome").

In "Desperation Perspiration," a not-so-successful ladies man literally stinks up the dance floor as he attempts his sexual conquests. And in "(I Met Her On the) Blues Cruise," an Estrin-in-first-person is about to bed a comely seafaring groupie, only to find out that she has tattoos commemorating previous ship-based assignations with other (real-life) blues artists including Bobby Rush, Tommy Castro, Ronnie Baker Brooks, and Tab Benoit.

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Bob Ruggiero has been writing about music, books, visual arts and entertainment for the Houston Press since 1997, with an emphasis on classic rock. He used to have an incredible and luxurious mullet in college as well. He is the author of the band biography Slippin’ Out of Darkness: The Story of WAR.
Contact: Bob Ruggiero