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

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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.

Estrin says that when they perform at an upcoming Blue Cruise in October, it will surely be on the set list. So what's it like for him to get to mingle so closely with rabid (and often inebriated) blues lovers when escaping backstage is not an option?

"It can get a little overwhelming. Sometimes, I just want to chill. But the boats are pretty big and -- although I'm pretty easy to pick out -- there are people on there more well-known than me!" he laughs. "But everyone loves the music and is cool and it's about having a good time. And I'm grateful for that."

As for the Houston gig, Estrin says the he remembers the city well, reeling off the names of long-defunct clubs like Rockefeller's, Club Hey Hey, and the Bon Ton Room.

"I love Houston. It was always one of our favorite stops," he says. "We were always treated really nice there. Some places I remember, some I don't at all. But I remember Houston!"

Back back to that moustache. The question begs -- would Rick Estrin, the slick front man, still be Rick Estrin without it? Well, it's not going anywhere soon, as he has sported it continuously since he was 17. Save just one period of time.

"I shaved it off was when went to court at about age 23 to make me look more innocent," he recalls. And while not divulging the nature of the offense that put him before a judge, Estrin says it's all in the past.

"Well... I didn't go to the penitentiary. And I've long since served my probation! I'm in the clear!" he laughs. "I can travel internationally and vote and all that stuff. So I'm OK."

Rick Estrin and the Nightcats play 9 p.m. Saturday, June 22, at Dan Electro's Guitar Bar, 1031 E. 24th.

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