By Danny Coleman
“I think it’s actually the third time we’ve played there but it’s the first since the pandemic hit that we’re coming back; it’s a great little room. I love that place, it’s probably the most intimate venue I’ve ever played in and the sound is great and the people come to listen and they are really gracious to have us there so I’m really looking forward to it,” said Joe Nosek of The Cash Box Kings as he discussed their October 22 show at Tuckerton’s Lizzie Rose Music Room.
With deep roots in Chicago style blues and a “Dedication” to keeping the traditional sound of Chess and Sun Records alive, The Cash Box Kings have created a perfect recipe for upbeat, juke jointing, fun time boogie woogie nights and their latest album “Oscar’s Motel” is all of that and more.
Vocalist and harmonica player Nosek elaborated on the how, the why, his thoughts on blues music itself and his partner Oscar Wilson as well as what we can expect at the Lizzie Rose.
“We’ve been hitting the road the last five or six months here doing little runs to promote the new album from Alligator Records that came out officially in March. The kind of cornerstone for the band is old school Chicago Blues. We’re dedicated to carrying on that classic ’40s/’50s Chess DJ sound and we use that music as our main inspiration but the majority of the music that we record and play live is original and we try to use that traditional sound and spirit of that music but also try to keep the things we write about current and relevant.”
“We wrote most of the music for this record during the pandemic because we had nothing much else to do because we weren’t gigging,” he continued. “Oscar and I connected through Zoom so, instead of getting together with guitars we got online with guitars. He had such a rich childhood and upbringing on the Southside of Chicago; people like Elmore James, Junior Wells, Honeyboy Edwards and people like that would come to his house on Friday nights for fish-fry parties that his mom would hold before they went out to their regular gigs and they’d sit around and play. He would tell me stories about the music scene and what the blues meant to his community growing up in the ’50s and ’60s in Chicago. I just started taking notes because the characters and memories that he talked about were so rich that I said, man, you know, we need to make a record that’s gonna make people feel better. I don’t want to write the COVID blues or blues about the political situation; we’re all kind of so sick of that, we need to write something that’s gonna make people put their troubles behind. So, “Oscar’s Motel” which is the title cut and the lead track and then the second track, “Down On The Southside” are both kind of celebrations of the music scene that Oscar grew up in in Chicago in the ’50s and ”60s and the richness of it; he said every corner had a different venue, some were jazz, some were blues, some were R & B that you could just bop back and forth to all night long and relish the joy of that music. So, that’s what we kind of tried to recreate for this album. Funny thing,” he said with a laugh, “Bruce Iglauer the founder and president of Alligator Records, he and I often discuss the question; how many years of your life would you give off the back end to have seen Elmore James live? Oscar got to see him in his living room on a regular basis growing up.”
Blues music is often maligned as “Simplistic” or “Depressing” but the reality is; not all of it is such; is all rap music the same? Pop? Jazz? One only needs to dig “Deeper” to uncover the diamonds in the proverbial rough; something Nosek says he and Wilson do when assembling their material.
“I think because, on the surface, blues is such a straightforward and perhaps; I don’t want to use the word simple but it’s not brain surgery playing the blues,” he admits readily. “There’s an old joke; how do you get a blues musician to stop playing his instrument? Put a piece of sheet music in front of him (laughs)! So, there is this idea that it’s not sophisticated but I think the beauty of the music is that it’s so emotionally raw that it draws people in and I think hits a nerve at a deeper level than just about any other genre of music that I know and that I have played and I love all kinds of music. So, I think, for us, what we try to do to avoid being repetitive or getting into a rut; we delve into some of the other genres that have come out of the blues. Rock-a-billy, Soul, early rock ‘n’ roll, a lot of New Orleans music; the blues is kind of the mother of all of that. That’s one way we kind of avoid a rut and the other way is to write our own music and topics like the struggle of musicians in the age of streaming and download services, gentrification, gun violence, racism and things like that; issues that are current and relevant today. I think that’s how we avoid kind of getting bogged down in perhaps the “simplified” nature of blues music itself.”
“The material is written by me and my co-leader Oscar Wilson and there are a couple of important things he always says about the blues. He grew up on the Southside of Chicago, his father was a blues musician who died several months before he was born. I grew up in a middle-class white suburban background and he grew up in the Southside just down the street from Muddy Waters’ house. We had very different upbringings but what we share in common is a love of the blues and the Chicago White Sox; which, that will give you the blues right there (laughs). The thing Oscar always says about blues music is number one, it’s not sad music, it’s celebratory music and if you’re feeling sad, it’s a way to express that sadness and try and get beyond it but it can also be a way to express joy. The other thing he always says is that everybody has the blues no matter who you are or where you’re from. He says, his blues are different from your blues or my blues and if you live long enough you’re gonna have the blues about something because that’s the nature of life. So, blues music has always been a way to help the soul with the struggle of sadness that often accompanies life; not to brood or wallow in that sadness but to uplift yourself. So, I think that is why blues music is so powerful.”
“White suburban?” So; how does a kid from white suburbia develop such a love of blues music and the traditions from which it came?
“I had an older cousin who wasn’t a musician but he loved blues;I don’t know why. He was about five years older than me and he started going to all of the downtown clubs and I also got into the music itself through my dad’s Stones records. I’d see Jagger/Richards, Jagger/Richards and McKinley Morgenfeld and Chester Burnett and was like; who are these guys? I went down to the library and found out who Muddy Waters and the Wolf were. Back in the day when I was a kid, the Chicago Blues Fest was four days every June and I would go there from the first note to the last note and I saw Jimmy Rogers, Otis Rush, Willie Dixon, John Lee Hooker; I could just ramble on about all of the people I saw and it just blew me away. Then this cousin of mine started sneaking me in the back door of different blues clubs around Chicago. I was a big Bob Dylan and Neil Young wannabe with my little harmonica rack and acoustic guitar; which I still love that stuff but once I started seeing the blues stuff up close and personal, it was like, yeah, I’m gonna figure out what Little Walter is doing on harp; it was just the music I gravitated towards as a musician and wanted to play the most. There were guys, eventually some of the old cats would start letting me come up on stage and to this day if there’s a young cat that comes up or his parents come up who say they can play and wants to sit in, I let them sit in because that’s how it was done in the past and like we said, it’s about the tradition.”
It has been said that blues music is “The root of all rock ‘n’ roll and of most other styles of music” and if one thinks about it; no statement has ever been more true. So, combining the intimacy of The Lizzie Rose Music with their desire for upholding tradition; what can we expect on Sunday evening?
“You can expect some really lowdown traditional Chicago blues played in a beautiful intimate setting that is just a wonderful listening room. It’s small, the sound is great, you’re up close to the musicians; you can feel the music, it just hits you coming right off the stage. This will be the third time we play there, it’s such a good vibe in that room; it’s a small room but what Oscar always says too is, “The smaller the room, the bigger the party.” So, it’s gonna be fun, a lot of energy and up close and personal.”
To discover more about The Cash Box Kings or purchase tickets to the October 22 show; please visit www.CashBoxKings.com
More about Danny Coleman and Rock On Radio on https://dannycolemansrockonradio.com/danny