Rick Estrin and the Nightcats to unveil new album
The flamboyance that Rick Estrin exhibits on stage more or less equals the thoughtful reflection he maintains off it.
The world-renowned harmonica virtuoso came up under the wings of entertainers who believed in putting on a show. They also believed in the integrity of the music they made. Estrin took those lessons to heart, living them still, even as the music world has changed around him.
Estrin’s new album with the Nightcats, “One Wrong Turn,” displays his thoughtful and entertaining sensibility. While recording the album with the blues band he has belonged to for 30 years, Estrin tapped the collaborative spirit and musical curiosity that has marked his career.
Rick Estrin and the Nightcats will celebrate the new CD’s release Saturday night at the Palms Playhouse in Winters. “One Wrong Turn” is his second album as leader of the Nightcats after more than 30 years and nine albums as the band’s singer and harmonica player. Guitarist Charlie Baty formerly headed the group, then known as Little Charlie and the Nightcats.
The album was recorded at the San Jose studio of guitarist Kid Andersen, who replaced Baty in the group when the founder entered semi-retirement. The other members are drummer J. Hansen and bassist and keyboardist Lorenzo Farrell.
Estrin, who co-produced the record with Andersen and wrote or co-wrote nine of the 11 songs, said it’s one of the best records he has made.
“When I’d bring in a song, everybody seemed to really get my vision, and they’d contribute things I’d never thought of, making it sound better,” Estrin said.
Though Estrin schooled himself on blues legends such as Sonny Boy Williamson, Percy Mayfield, Little Walter and Detroit’s Baby Boy Warren, he’s carefully broadened his own music on the new record.
“We were able to introduce some other elements musically to perhaps make it a little more accessible to a wider audience, but it still feels true to who we are and who I am,” Estrin said.
The band often identified various source elements in songs after they had recorded them.
The album’s opening tune “D.O.G.” falls in line with any number of Estrin’s popular satiric songs, this one concerning an ethically challenged acquaintance.
“I came up with the guitar figure for it, something like Bo Diddley, then when J. the drummer heard it, he put a beat to it that was more like a cha-cha or like War,” Estrin said. “The bridge reminds me of the Kinks. There’s some pretty radically different things you wouldn’t think fit together.”
Another tune on the record “(I Met Her on the) Blues Cruise” is a comic vignette, detailing a disappointing sexual escapade, that Estrin calls “G-rated Rudy Ray Moore.”
“The hook seems pretty infectious. It could even be annoyingly infectious. Hopefully not, but people have told me they can’t get it out of their head.”
That Estrin even references rock ‘n’ roll now comes as something of revelation, since he was so completely immersed in the blues as a young artist growing up in San Francisco.
“I first heard blues when I was about 12 years old – Jimmy Reed, Ray Charles and Champion Jack Dupree,” Estrin said. “My sister had these records – she was kind of a beatnik – and I started listening to them. Jimmy Reed and Ray Charles, both of them really got to me.”
Estrin felt the vibe and groove of Reed’s music and identified with the soul in Charles’ voice.
“I was naive enough to think nobody could really understand me, but I could identify with the emotion in Ray’s songs, what was in his voice.”
A neighbor who had a rock band gave Estrin a harmonica, and the directionless teenager suddenly had a goal in life.
“I decided I can learn how to do this, and it kind of gave me a purpose,” he said. “My father had just died. I was pretty rebellious and not interested in school and soon after, I quit going.”
Making music became Estrin’s life, and he soaked up all he could about the culture and the lifestyle.
“It gave me something positive to do along with all the fun-loving negative stuff I was into,” Estrin said.
“I had goal in mind – I really, really wanted to be great. I wanted to be able to scare people when I played.”