Chicago blues phenom Nick Moss will return to Tacoma to headline Jazzbones on Nov. 22, and recently we gave him a call as he was cruising our way, somewhere near the Mexican border. Among other topics, we discussed the role stereotypes played in pushing his band deeper into the genre-blurring brand of blues they'll put on display next week. Here are outtakes from that chat.
Tacoma Weekly: For those who missed you last time, who is in your band, and what should we expect from your live show?
Moss: We’ve got my drummer Patrick Seals. From Chicago, my keyboard player is Taylor Streiff. On bass, I have Ronnie James, who is a former member of Jimmie Vaughan’s band and also the Fabulous Thunderbirds, and played with Booker T and countless great names. And, on vocals and guitar, I have a young man named Michael Ledbetter. Michael is a great vocalist. In fact, he has some bloodlines back to Leadbelly.
TW: Okay, that's a good pedigree.
Moss: That is a very cool pedigree. We’re not your average blues band. I started out playing with a lot of the old timers in Chicago. My history is more traditional, Chicago blues. But that’s not what this band is. This band is kind of an amalgam of all the stuff that I learned; and then having these young guys around me, playing soul, funk and even some rock elements in there. We kind of mix it up. It’s almost on the jam band side, but with a heavier blues influence.
TW: Your sound is very eclectic, especially on your last CD (“I'm Here”). Tell me about the evolution of your style and what pushed you in the direction you’ve gone in.
Moss: In my late teens, early 20s – almost up into my 30s – there was a point where I rarely listened to any kind of modern music. I was pretty adamant about learning Chicago blues the right way. And for me it was diving head-first into learning everything about it, and learning the guys who came before me and the guys who came before them and the guys who came before them; all the nuances, the timing and the feeling.
It just kind of occurred to me that there was so much great music from my childhood and stuff that really, actually, influenced my choice to play blues. … There was a lot of music, especially the early rock bands in the ‘60s and ‘70s, that were strictly influenced by American blues. They just took it their way. I guess you could say I went back to my roots ass backwards. So later in my blues career I kind of went back to the early rock stuff that kind of led me to the blues.
TW: Can you point to a time, later in your career, that kind of took you back to your roots?
Moss: A lot of it was just the experience of being out on the road so long and playing the type of music that I was playing, and finally coming to the sad realization that I wasn’t being taken serious as a blues musician because of the color of my skin.
I think your core audience (doesn't) perceive the music being played the same way when a white guy plays it as when an African-American plays it. I really saw first hand when I took Larry Bell out on the road with me. He’s a great Chicago blues man. We would do a bunch of numbers before we brought him out, and a lot of shuffles and slow blues. We would get over. The audience liked it. Then we would bring Larry out, and Larry would basically do the same tunes we were doing - more shuffles, more slow blues - and just completely get over in a way that I couldn’t get over.
And right around that time I had some songs that I was working on that were not strictly straight blues. They were more (like) rock-blues. I was already toying with the idea of making the album “Privileged” (released in 2010.) I was just a little leery about trying to do that. So one night I decided to try a couple of tunes out. ... It was amazing to see the audience reaction because they were going as wild for these tunes as they were for Larry when Larry was doing his blues tunes. It was almost like they were telling me, ‘Yeah, that’s what you’re supposed to be doing.’
TW: It sounds like you felt the push to be more of a Stevie Ray Vaughan type.
Moss: Yeah, I think it’s kind of that. A lot of it has to do with the fact, too, that the blues generation is 50s, 60s. Between 40s and 60s, that’s your demographic for blues. And a lot of those people grew up in an era where white rock bands were playing blues-influenced music. So I think they can relate to the more Stevie Ray Vaughan, Eric Clapton, Zeppelinish type of tunes when a white band does it before they’ll relate to me playing Muddy Waters. ... But they also understand, when an African-American plays it, they get it; which, I guess, sometimes confuses me, too, because Jimi Hendrix was black. (chuckles)
TW: Did that inspire you to try to break down the barriers?
Moss: No, it didn’t. I don’t sit and constantly think about this every day. It was just like a thing that came to me and amused me. (I thought) All right, well, let me try this. I recorded that album and it was like, oh, hey, people like this. It was more amusing than anything. Okay, if that’s what they want, I’ve got no problems. I grew up on this stuff, and I’ve never really showed this side of myself. So why not give this a shot? I did, and it was amazing to find out how many people really enjoyed it. I kept most of my hardcore blues fans, then I gained a (lot) more people that would have never bought one of my records before or never come to one of my shows because they saw that tag “traditional blues.”
One of those things that’s great about my band is we can go from a straight up gut bucket alley blues to some of the funkiest stuff you ever heard, and then play some crazy ass rock and soul (stuff) and then right come back to a B.B. King shuffle, and seamlessly make it work.
Nick Moss Band
8 p.m. Nov. 22
Jazzbones, 2803 Sixth Ave., Tacoma
(253) 383-9169 or http://www.jazzbones.com