Source: Blueswax e-zine
by Brian J. Wilkinson, Bloomington, Illinois
Many blues fans' idea of heaven would be, upon passing through the veil, to find themselves about to step into the Club Zanzibar on the South Side of Chicago in the mid-nineteen fifties. Inside, the band of Muddy (Waters), Jimmy (Rogers), Otis (Spann), James (Cotton), Elga (Edmonds), would be just starting the first set. What is the Chicago Blues fan to do who is not yet ready to pass over to the other side? Luckily for us, there are some figurative sons of the blues legends who are carrying the torch. Two such sons are Nick Moss, who played in Jimmy Rogers band, and Barrelhouse Chuck, who Sunnyland Slim actually referred to as his son. Nick Moss and the Fliptops with Barrelhouse Chuck were appearing at Hardware House in Watseka, county seat of Iroquois County Illinois - "The Buckle on the Corn Belt". The concert was in the Wooden Boxes and Steel Springs series, promoted by Burt Kaper and James 'Sky Dobro' Walker. However, do not make the mistake of thinking that Nick Moss and company are some kind of a Chicago blues tribute band. Nick Moss is a talented and prolific songwriter. Out of a total of 46 tracks on his three CDs no less than 33 are Moss originals. Nick Moss and the Flip Tops dispense their own tough, ballsy, 2003 Year of the Blues flavor of the Chicago blues.
Lead guitarist and lead vocalist, thirty three year old Nick Moss was a wrestler in high school and would not look out of place on the set of the Sopranos. On bass was the slender Moonshine Kate Moss, the approximately one year bride of Nick. Greg 'Smokey' Campbell is the drummer. Keyboards were handled by a player prominent in his own right, Barrelhouse Chuck (Charles Goering) . It is interesting to note that Muddy Waters' sidemen were also often prominent, and none more so than pianist Otis Spann.
The set opened with a fast shuffle. The first several numbers featured Barrelhouse Chuck - "How Long", "Barrelhouse Woman" and "Hard Times". His last song was in the Otis Spann tradition, and Nick contributed some shimmering guitar leads. Mr Moss showed his hand just enough to convince us that he could be a blues guitar hero - if he wanted to be. Then it was Nick's turn in the spotlight with an original number "You're a Goldiggin' Mama" from his new CD "Count Your Blessings":
When this well runs dry
You'll be the first to say goodbye
This was followed by an Elmore James style number. The rock-steady rhythm section had the walking/loping/driving Chicago blues beat and tempo down cold.
Nick plays a 1966 red Gibson ES 345 for the most part, although he finished off the first set by switching to a Fender Esquire (looks similar to a Telecaster). I asked Nick who his guitar influences were. He said that he was an admirer of the ensemble style of playing of Chicago blues of the fifties, and that his brother Joe Moss, also a Chicago blues musician, was his first influence. I felt I could hear some Freddie King sound in Nick's playing. Incidentally, the young Freddie King, who was raised in Texas, had an apartment close to the Club Zanzibar, where he got his early musical schooling in the blues.
Barrelhouse Chuck is a virtuoso keyboardist who plays in a very impassioned way, and pays homage to the piano greats of the past with every note he plays. Chuck studied under Sunnyland Slim, Pinetop Perkins, Lafayette Leakey and Little Brother Montgomery. He moved to Chicago in 1979 by driving twenty four hours straight from Florida to B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted for the express purpose of meeting Sunnyland Slim. Barrelhouse was playing Rheem and Yamaha keyboards this evening.
In the second set some shape shifting went on. Nick played the harmonica on the second song, and played it well. In the next number Moonshine Kate swapped her bass for Nick's six-string, and played some solid lead guitar. Nick looked very comfortable on bass, perhaps reminding him of the four years he spent on the instrument with Willie 'Big Eyes' Smith. Chuck sang his own composition "Farewell to S. P. Leary" , one of the greatest of the Chicago blues drummers.
It is a tradition of Hardware House that a couple of local musicians get to sit in with the band for a number. First up was guitarist Jim Silk, who, although he claimed to be nervous, acquitted himself admirably on Nick's Gibson. Next was Joe Decanto on harp, with a very spirited and accomplished version of his own composition that may have been entitled "The Iroquois County Blues":
I was born in Crescent City (about 10 miles down the road from Watseka)
Raised in Watseka
They rode me out of town on a rail
To close out the set, everything went back to the original line-up, and Nick did the title cut from his third CD on the Blue Bella label "Count Your Blessings". It would have fit right in at Club Zanzibar.
Hardware House is becoming a venue. Nick said that friends of his "from all over the country" want to play Hardware House. When is the last time you heard the blues in a smoke and alcohol-free environment? The Hardware House gig was also a send-off for the May 24th Handy ceremonies in Memphis where the band are nominated for a Best New Artist Debut award, on the basis of the second CD "Got a New Plan". We wish Nick, Kate, Smokey, and Chuck all the best at the Handy's.
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