By Michael Luis
After meeting in 1976 in Berkeley, California, guitarist Charlie Baty and vocalist/harmonica player Rick Estrin formed Little Charlie and the Nightcats. After taking their modern take on Chicago-style blues all over the world for over 30 years, Baty retired in 2008, but Estrin has continued to tour and record with his namesake. The award-winning group is visiting Vancouver’s FanClub on December 8th to play new tunes from their 2013 release “One Wrong Turn,” and to share some favourites from the back catalogue.
Coastal Spectator: Any notable experiences playing in Vancouver in the past?
Rick Estrin: Oh, man. I got lots of memories from playing all over Canada. For Vancouver specifically, we’ve been playing there since the 1980s. We were coming up there regularly in a time when blues had a little resurgence in popularity.
CS: For the past few years you’ve been the bandleader and namesake of the Nightcats. How has this experience compared to years past when it was Little Charlie and the Nightcats?
RE: Part of my job is still the same: writing the songs and fronting the band. But I just have more responsibilities now with taking care of all the parts of it that require feigning adult behavior (laughs). There was somewhat of a learning curve, but I’ve been around it so long. And with Little Charlie, if I ever needed to know anything, he would tell me. I don’t know if I’d call him a control freak, [but] he didn’t really feel comfortable relegating the responsibilities [like] I have.
CS: You guys recently released a record, One Wrong Turn. How did the creative process compare with past releases?
RE: Well, the creative process started the same way. It’s the same thing. I’ll write songs. J., our drummer, he’s always writing songs so that’s not a problem for him. I like to feature him on at least one song. The rest of the process is similar to the way we always did it. I write the song at home on the guitar, and I’m a primitive guitar player so in a way I have a better chance of coming up with something a little different because I don’t know what I’m doing (laughs). So I’ll come up with these things and show them to Kid (guitarist) or show them to the whole band and they would come up with ideas. On this record it seemed that every song they would come up with something that was on the same page— that was what I wanted but even better. They would add things to it that just worked and would make my vision for the song come into focus.
CS: Nice, so it was just naturally organic the way the songs all built up.
RE: Yeah, there was just a synergy in the studio this time. It’s not like I’ve never had that before, but the synergy dial was turned up to 10, man.
CS: You were recently nominated for the B.B. King Entertainer Award at The Blues Awards. Looking at its namesake, B.B. King, he’s still doing it and going strong at his old age, so is that inspiring to see as a fellow blues musician?
RE:(Laughs) Yeah, yeah. The guy that was my role model for that was a guy that actually said he taught B.B. King a lot of stuff on the guitar, Robert Lockwood, Jr. He was even older than B.B. and he was a great guitar player. He was a good friend of mine, and just a role model for me for how to be old. He would show up, and carry in his own amplifier at 90-years-old.
CS: To wrap things up, what keeps you playing the blues after all these years?
RE: It’s my life. It’s all I know. If I didn’t do that, I mean, it’s not like I have hobbies and stuff. That’s my life. I can’t imagine what I’d do without it and it’s been my life for close to 50 years.
CS: Great answer, man. Anything else you’d like to add for your fans in Vancouver or anywhere else who may be reading this?
RE: Anybody who can make the show, anyone within driving range of Vancouver, make it to the show. I guarantee you’ll be happy. I’ll personally give you your money back if you don’t leave there feeling great.
More about Rick Estrin and the Nightcats at www.rickestrin.com.
Michael Luis is a Victoria student, writer, filmmaker, and musician. Check him out at www.michaelacluis.wordpress.com.