Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Blues siblings gather no 'Moss'



An old proverb says: "A rolling stone gathers no moss."

Alluded to in bluesman Muddy Waters' composition, "Rollin' Stone," that statement may well hold true for Nick and Joe Moss.

The Chicago-area brothers have played memorable gigs in the hinterlands of the Upper Peninsula during separate careers which have brought them well-deserved recognition in the blues world.

My wife Sue and I have seen the siblings perform close to home during the last decade.

When our friend and fellow blues enthusiast Wendy Pepin told us Nick had scheduled a solo appearance nearby, we decided to take a little road trip last Friday, Aug. 28.

Our destination was Bomber's Clubhouse of Blues, a bar and BBQ restaurant, just outside Norway.

Bomber's tavern area provides an intimate setting for a blues show with a tiny stage located behind a "U"-shaped bar.

A large man with an equally-sizable talent, Nick introduced his first set saying, "I'll play some blues tonight. That's all I got for ya."

The audience included Nick's wife Kate and their five-year-old daughter Sadie Mae.

Just a few songs into the program, Nick performed his composition,"Sadie Mae," a tribute to the little girl who just entered kindergarten, and the title song to his fourth album.

"Look how you make your daddy smile. You're my first-born baby child," Nick sang.

Sadie Mae, meanwhile, coyly hid behind a table as her father sang her praises.

Armed with an electric guitar, Nick played an entertaining mix of originals and well-chosen cover songs from a variety of blues greats.

First set highlights included Nick's interpretations of mythic bluesman Robert Johnson's "Ramblin' On My Mind" and "Louise" by John Lee Hooker.

During a break, we reminisced with the musician about a gig his band, Nick Moss and the Flip Tops, played at Gladstone's Sand Bar not long after their first compact disc was issued in 2001. Nick remembered that piano player Barrelhouse Chuck Goering caused him to fall to the floor laughing at one point in the show, but he continued to play his guitar in the prone position.

Nick also recalled stopping by Escanaba's Record Rack where he came across a few old 45 rpm singles. He completed the cashless deal by trading a copy of his debut CD, "First Offense," for the dusty discs. The singer-guitarist collects records as a hobby.

A tasty slide instrumental opened Nick's second set. He followed with "Black Mattie Blues," by Sleepy John Estes and B. B. King's "Woke Up This Morning (My Baby's Gone)."

Nick saluted his wife with "Katie Ann," an original slow blues number from the "Got a New Plan" CD, released in 2003. Besides being Mrs. Moss, Kate is a musician herself. She played bass on Nick's "Live at Chan's, Combo Platter No. 2," released earlier this year.

The music continued with Nick's instrumental version of the traditional tune, "Frankie and Johnny," another guitar workout.

Other standout performances included "Wine Headed Woman" by Sonny Terry and Hound Dog Taylor's "Gonna Send You Back to Georgia."

Nick's playing demonstrates his affection for the old blues players. Born in 1969, Nick has paid some dues himself.

He started on bass while a teenager, but switched to guitar later. He scored a job with Jimmy Dawkins and also played for Jimmy Rogers, a long-time compatriot of Muddy Waters, a founding father of modern blues.

Nick's resume includes time with the Legendary Blues Band which featured Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, a Chicago blues mainstay and another of Muddy's bandmates.

After a ten-year stint as a sideman, Nick started the Flip Tops. The band today includes Gerry Hundt (bass, harmonica, mandolin), Willie Oshawny (keyboards) and Bob Carter (drums).

During his time as a band leader, Nick and the Flip Tops have impressed audiences across the United States and around the world.

Joe Moss

Still, Nick credits his older brother Joe with inspiring him to play Chicago-style blues.

The brothers grew-up in Chicago's northwest suburbs, where their mother exposed them to blues and soul music.

Joe began playing the blues seven days a week beginning when he was just 15 years old. He learned early blues lessons as a member of Buddy Scott and the Rib Tips.

When Scott died in 1994, Joe continued as a sideman for other blues acts before starting his own band in 1997.

The Joe Moss Band traveled to the U. P. in 2004. They were the featured entertainment at an annual fundraising dinner and auction for the YMCA of Delta County held at Danforth Place.

The elder Moss led his crack Chicago band through a number of well-known cover songs to satisfy an audience not particularly savvy in the blues idiom, even though he could have performed more original material.

At the time, the band was promoting their debut CD, "Monster Love," released on 212 Records. Joe composed all but two of the tracks on the disc, "Have You Ever Loved a Woman," by Billy Myles and B. B. King's "Please Love Me."

Keeping it in the family, the CD's packaging was designed by sister-in-law Kate Moss, Nick's wife.

Just like Nick, Joe's a devoted family man, married to Sandy, and the father of Maricela. In fact, Joe titled his 2008 CD "Maricela's Smile."

The Moss brothers play together occasionally, Nick says, but their touring schedules often put them in different parts of the country.

Joe is currently on an east coast tour, while Nick recently returned from traversing the same territory.

Last week, Nick traveled from his home in Elgin, Illinois, for the solo gig at Bomber's, located near the Menominee River, which separates Wisconsin and the Upper Peninsula. It was a working vacation, mixing blues with fishing.

Like the old proverb says, "A rolling stone gathers no Moss."

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