By Brian Tucker
The Nick Moss Band will be playing this weekend as part of the two-day Pleasure Island Seafood, Blues & Jazz Festival, an annual two day festival that will feature fourteen acts. ‘Mud” Morganfield Blues Band is this year’s headliner along with The Will McBride Group, Randall Bramblett Band, Carolyn Wonderland, and more.
Below is a Q&A with Nick Moss. In high school Moss had kidney surgery, keeping him from playing sports but led him to music. Before beaking out a solo artist, Moss played with some of the greats – Jimmy Rogers, Jimmy Dawkins, Buddy Scott, Pinetop Perkins, and joined the Legendary Blues Band.
Moss has been playing for thirty years, the last two decades spent with his own band. Influenced by rock and soul, funk, and R&B, largely found, 2016’s concept double album “From the Root to the Fruit” which has a little of everything across 27 songs – 60’s soul, garage punk, and Texas and Chicago styles.
Has it been two decades since you went out on your own? Are you still learning, and what period was the most fruitful?
Moss: Man, you’re making me old now. I started when I was 18. I’m around 47 now, so yeah. I think the minute you stop learning you might as well give it up. I don’t think there’s a moment when you go; I think I finally got it. At least for me, and for most musicians and artists.
My dad was in the trades, he was a pipe fitter, but he still went to a class every two years to learn about the new equipment they’re using. I’d ask him why, and he’d say, So I can keep learning, keep my job, so I can keep being relevant. That’s what you got to do, keep learning, keep moving. My dad is probably the ultimate example for me. He’s like a shark, if he stops moving he’s going to sink. I’m the same way in music, once you stop moving, progressing, you sink.
Is that what the album title “The Root to the Fruit” is about, the exploration of genres?
The guys I tried to figure out in my teens I’m still trying to figure out. There’s so much to these (blues) musicians and there are people that have come out since then, I realize just how minute my ability really is sometimes. I believe I’m good at what I do but I have so much more to learn and so much more out there ill probably never learn.
I grew up as a kid listening to my mom and dad’s record collection, doo wop, soul, rock and roll, Tony Bennett, Frank Sinatra, Benny Goodman, classical music. Everything that they listened to I listened to. My mom and dad and my uncle exposed us to so much music. My brother Joe is a player, he’s a fantastic player in his own right. Everyone influenced me, their tastes influenced many tastes. I was drawn to all that music. I grew up in the early 70s, early 80s, on a lot of great rock and roll.
You don’t realize early on how much it’s influenced by blues music. Mostly by my brother going, ‘mom has a lot of records in her collection that these guys are trying to copy.’ We would go back to my mom’s record collection and find these Muddy Waters and BB King records. That’s what turned us on to blues.
I’m deeply rooted in traditional blues but I’ve been influenced so much by rock and soul and funk and R&B that I veer off into that too. I still consider myself a blues player first and foremost, even when I’m playing the other stuff to me it still seems to me like I’m playing blues, I’m just putting the notes and chords in different positions is all. People enjoy music but not everyone feels it. That it moves them. It’s a spiritual thing not everyone gets. Can you speak to that, perhaps how it did when you were young and now as an adult.
You’ve got a special guest for this weekend’s show?
I’ve got a great guest to join us; he used to have a band in the 2000 when the swing era was real big – The Mighty Blue Kings (a wonderful blues band in the late 90’s and early 00’s) – Ross Bon, the singer. Ross was my roommate for about five years when we were young pups. I introduced him to blues, we both played in the Legendary Blues Band together. He’s an incredible harmonica player in addition to being a singer. My regular harmonica player is on vacation and I asked him to join us.
You’re from Chicago. Did you start with Chicago electric blues players first?
My uncle, who’s quite a bit younger than my dad, was more like an older brother to us. He would buy us all these records when we were kids. Rock was in but when my brother and I discovered the link to blues we started digging deep into blues. Then Stevie Ray Vaughn came out in the early 80s. We first heard of him because he recorded with David Bowie on Let’s Dance. He opened the door for everybody of our generation to go back and pay attention to what the guys in blues were doing.
I found (Vaughn’s) brother’s record The Thunderbirds, and the guy at the record store said if you like them you’ll like this band – The Blasters. The Blasters are doing “Shakin” on the album and my brother pulls out a 45 of Little Willie John who originally recorded it and says, see? That kind of opened my eyes.
That was a big thing for me, I was a twelve old kid. To me, blues was seeing BB King on Sanford & Son. That’s how I got exposed to blues. Because of my parents record collection. You rarely heard it on the radio. My mom loved BB King. I remember watching Sanford & Son once and my mom says, ‘there’s BB King.’ That was the first time I got to see him play live. So that’s what I equated blues to be. When I got these records I didn’t know you could be white and do this. And there are still some people that say you can’t but that’s another story.
What about introducing music to kids?
Be prepared for magic to happen because it will. My daughter is thirteen and I’m so fortunate she loves music the way she does. She’s teaching herself guitar, been singing since before she can talk. She can play piano and ukulele. She was making sounds and melodies before she could talk.
I was playing Ella Fitzgerald on the iPod. My daughter was about four years old in the backseat, the iPod was on shuffle. I can’t remember the song but it was a ballad. I looked in the rearview mirror as I was in traffic. She had a pained look on her face. I asked what’s wrong. She said, daddy who is that. That’s Ella Fitzgerald.
She asked why does my heart hurt? I had to pull the car over. I thought, how did you get that, how did you understand that? Understand that’s what she was doing when she was singing the song? She couldn’t have understood all the words of the song but the music and the melody and the way she was singing, my daughter got it.
Did playing bass first help make you a better musician? Learning to play rhythm section first?
It made me more aware, more of who a band should be. One of my biggest pet peeves is when I hear musicians play and each musician is playing their part and they’re not playing the song. They’re just playing their part. Not only does it make me angry but it makes me sad. They’re missing out on the most beautiful part of being a musician which is the interaction between you and the people onstage with you. And the audience too, because they’re feeding off of that.
When you audition a player, what’s the first thing you look for?
I manna make sure they’re listening. I know when someone is listening and not listening and in their own world. I can feel it, I can hear it. That’s a dead giveaway for me that I don’t know if this is going to work.
Would you still have sought out music if you’d played sports more, or not had kidney surgery?
I don’t know, I can’t answer questions like that. I believe things are done for a purpose; situations occur that put us where we’re supposed to be. I almost died and I ended up doing this. All I can say is I am grateful and blessed to be able to do this. If I had continued sports in college I may have, but I think this was just something that was greater and pushed me in this direction because it’s where I’m supposed to be.