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  • Writer's pictureJim Bessman

Rick Estrin & The Nightcats on a roll all the way to New York's Iridium


Rick Estrin & The Nightcats latest album Contemporary quickly showed its strength following its Sept. 20 release.

The Bay Area blues band’s fifth album for Alligator Records topped the NACC (North American College & Community) blues chart for the week ending Oct. 1, and debuted at No. 2 on the September 2019 Living Blues Radio Chart. For the week ending Oct. 5, it reached No. 10 on the Contemporary Blues Chart and No. 13 on the Blues Chart from the Roots Music Report.

Additionally, it reached No. 1 on the Sept. 2019 International Blues Music Charts, and debuted at No. 10 for the week ending Oct. 5, on Billboard’s Blues Album Chart. And UK music magazine MOJO has just placed Contemporary at No. 4 on its 2019 Top Ten Blues Albums list.

“It’s weird, man, being this old and feeling like you’re hitting your peak—but that’s what it feels like,” downplays Estrin, who turned 70 last month. “It’s crazy, at least in our little blues niche, imaginary market—being No. 1 on the charts and packing places. We’ve filled up every place we’ve played, and some fairly large rooms.”

But it’s only fitting, for the certifiable blues harmonica/vocal/songwriter legend Estrin, who in 2008 took over the band he co-founded with its retiring guitarist Little Charlie Baty (Little Charlie & The Nightcats), is arguably the best entertainer on the road today.

“The second-best entertainer, maybe,” he asserts, handing the top honor to new Nightcats drummer Derrick “D’Mar” Martin. “He’s amazing. He was Little Richard’s drummer for 17 years and does s**t I’ve never seen anybody do. He lifts everything up, and makes everyone step up their game.”

Remarkably, in fact, “the band right now is the most entertaining, most fun and high energy it’s ever been,” continues Estrin. And they’ve managed to stay active despite the comparatively small if not “imaginary market” for blues music in particular.

“We just did a little Northwest tour—four nights in a row, traveling all day and playing at night. And now we’re flying out to the East Coast, and will be at Iridium in New York Sunday night (Nov. 24). But what we did this year--which was a smart idea—is to have a guy who helps us out on the East Coast—selling merch and taking our equipment around--whom we could ship the equipment to. We shipped enough stuff to do the gig--drum kit and amps--so now we have all the gear we need permanently on the East Coast, and he’s cool with driving around and setting it up and we just fly out and rent an SUV. You just got to get creative in this market the way it is now.”

Estrin and the Nightcats will be “hitting it hard” on the East Coast, he says, especially on Sunday.”

“We’re in Pennsylvania that afternoon and switched slots with another band so we could make the gig at night in New York City,” he says. But he notes that the band has had to seek employment outside the U.S. as well.

“We were in Russia a few months back—a festival in Saint Petersburg and a club in Moscow,” says Estrin. “But we’ve been playing a lot more overseas the last couple years. You just can’t do a tour in the U.S. anymore: You can, but you have to get creative to make it work. It’s not like back in the old days, where you leave from home and start driving and work every night and drive every day and make an arbitrary cutoff point when you want it to be over. You could just keep going to so many venues.”

Now, however, “the audience is as old as me,” Estrin adds. “You know the deal: Half of them are dead, and a lot can’t remember how to get out of the house! The others couldn’t if they wanted to!”

On the bright side, “We got a good buzz going,” he concludes. “Audience numbers at the gigs have been uniformly good—and I’m enjoying it. I know the clock is winding down, but it feels like we’ve got something going.”

But sales chart-wise, Estrin again jokes that even though he and the Nightcats are indeed blues contemporary, “We’re not crossing over into pop. I guess we’re not ‘adult contemporary’!”



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