After jumpin' and jivin' across America for decades, Rick Estrin wants to paint the rest of the globe a thick coat of royal blue.
Touring as ambassador of one of our most beloved musical artforms, the energetic pompadour-coiffed blues vocalist and harp player continues house rockin' as the longtime front man for his band, the Nightcats, a position he previously shared with former guitarist Charles "Little Charlie" Baty until his retirement four years ago.
Today Estrin continues blazing his own path while remaining loyal to his roots, with a new show he promises will get audiences shuffling on Friday when he stops by the DoubleTree Hotel as part of World Records' No Stinkin' Service Charge Blues Series.
"When Charlie first retired I knew I had to start positioning myself to keep working -- nobody really knew my name," said Estrin during a telephone interview. "The band was Little Charlie and the Nightcats, so people would just call me 'Charlie' or say 'Hey, Charlie,' everywhere we went."
With nearly 36 solid years of performing and recording under the "Little Charlie" name, Estrin was concerned over possible negative reaction to the band's name change.
Hoping to avoid confusion, Estrin stepped away temporarily from live performing to remind listeners of his skills, first producing an instructional CD on blues-harp playing, followed by a series of tours in Europe and South America, where he says the blues thrives.
"I booked myself a tour of Brazil and Argentina with a Brazilian band," said Estrin. "It was surprising to me that the bandleader would email me, asking what material I wanted to do, and I would email him back with names of songs and MP3s. He would email me back, 'Oh that's a classic.' Well, those were my songs, and if there were people like that in Brazil -- younger guys who learned how to play listening to us and from guys that we listened to growing up, then I assumed there's guys like that all over Europe. It took 'em awhile to catch on because it's a foreign culture, but over the last 10 to 15 years, all that's changed."
Estrin's discovery kept him busy, and soon his overseas connections began to match what he'd cultivated stateside, making him reconsider the future of the Nightcats.
"I decided I'd like to have different bands in different places, where I can just fly in and play. Kind of like a low-budget version of what Chuck Berry does and without the headaches of having a band to take care of."
But back home, remaining members of the Nightcats -- drummer J. Hansen and bassist Lorenzo Farrell -- were eager to pick up where they left off, this time with Estrin solely at the helm.
"They wanted to keep it going, but Little Charlie is such a unique guitarist and an exciting player. I didn't know anyone who could play like that. I didn't want the group to become a diminished version of what we had before. I wanted it to be something as exciting and different. I just couldn't think of who to get."
Enter Norwegian blues guitar slinger Christoffer "Kid" Andersen, whom Estrin had met while recording his solo instructional CD.
Andersen, who at the time of their initial meeting was a member of Charlie Musselwhite's band, soon injected his youthful flash and technical wizardry into the group's first recording as the newly revamped Nightcats, producing and performing on 2009's "Tempted." Hailed as a rebirth, the group's latest critically acclaimed CD, "One Wrong Turn," is affirmation of Estrin's mission.
Kicking off with "D.O.G.," a down-and-dirty electric romp, the meter continues simmering with the follow-up jump blues burner, "Lucky You," before scaling back to a mid-tempo shuffle on "Callin' All Fools." Estrin's soulful vocals are as sly as they've ever been, with a mix of big-city grit and Leon Redbone/Tin Pan Alley charm. Fans of the group's earlier works are sure to find "One Wrong Turn" a spin in the right direction for Estrin and his trio of valiant bluesmen.
"The recording process was exactly how I'd always wanted it to be. Everyone had these contributions to the vision I had for the record."
Despite Baty's retirement, Estrin said you may catch a glimpse of the guitarist on select dates next year. But don't avoid the current lineup, hopeful for a reunion. The new Nightcats can cook.
"We go all out, man. We don't mess around. Come and see us and you'll be thoroughly entertained."
Also appearing is blues vocalist and winner of the 2009 B.B. King Entertainer of the Year Blues Music Award, Janiva Magness.