Nick " David
By Robert John, correspondent to BarrelhouseBlues.com
© 2004 BarrelhouseBlues.com - All Rights Reserved
Mr. Nick's Blues Mafia, winners
of the 2004 Boston Blues Challenge, feature Nick David on vocals and
Harmonica, Kevin Labrecque on guitar, and Fess Moore on bass. They
were also awarded 2004 “Blues Artist of the Year” by Jam
Magazine and crowned Boston's "Best Unsigned Blues Band" in
To put it another way, they are a devastatingly powerful
and seriously authentic Blues band.
To see and hear Mr. Nick's Blues Mafia is an exciting experience for
any true Blues lover.
It is seldom that one encounters such a cohesive combination
of authentic Chicago style Blues coupled with the kind of raw power
and drive that explodes from this amazing ensemble.
Nick David, the group's dynamic frontman, not only sounds, but looks the
part of the perennial Bluesman. His presence provides just
the right touch of classy but hard edged persona to this award winning
Barrelhouse Blues ("BB") recently had the opportunity
to speak with Nick David about his musical journey. Here is what
the man had to say...
BB: Let’s talk a little bit about your past. What
got you started on your musical journey and drew you into the Blues?
ND: The first thing I suppose would be my parents. One
of my earliest memories is sitting on my father' lap while he played
and sang "Fishin' Blues" to me. In addition to my father being
a musician, my mother had an incredible record collection. From James
Cotton's "100% Cotton" to Taj Mahal's "The Natch'l Blues",
from Roomful of Blues' "Hot Little Mama" to "The Genius
Of Ray Charles," I was exposed to this music at a very young age.
Not to say that I haven't gone through different stages of course, or
that is all I listen to, but Blues music has always been what's in my
BB: Who were your inspirations along the way?
ND: The fact that my father would sometimes sing and play
his guitar in the house and that I was always surrounded by these great
sounds coming out of the stereo may have been enough to inspire most
folks and may well have been enough to inspire me. But, I grew up in
Oregon. Which, believe it or not, has one of the heaviest Blues scenes
in the country. Not only that, but my parents took me to see a lot of
shows. I remember my father taking me to this smoky little college
bar called Taylor's in Eugene when I was about 5, to go see Robert Cray.
Along with Taj Mahal, Robert was one of my early heroes. One of my first
records was what was then released as "Too Many Cooks," Cray's
first album. It was released on Tomato records, and when they went
under it was rereleased under the title "Who's Been Talkin."
I knew every note, every word, every subtlety on that record before
I was ten. When I was a teenager I used to go regularly to see guys
like Curtis Salgado, Paul deLay, Terry Robb, the Lloyd Jones Struggle.
Salgado and deLay were both big influences on me.
BB: What are some of the musical highlights of your career
ND: This whole last year has been one giant highlight
as things have just been steamrolling for us. I'd have to say though,
that the greatest musical highlights of my career thus far all came
within two weeks of each other, and all in July of this year. The first
one happened in the second week of July when I picked up Paul deLay
from the Manchester Airport. When I found out Paul was coming over here
to do the North Atlantic Blues Festival with Mark Hummel's Harmonica
Blowout I called him up to see if he wanted to come a little early,
stay a little later and fill some of those open dates. He agreed, I
booked the dates and we (the band and I) started getting together to
rehearse some of Paul's original stuff. Not only did we end up doing
three shows together while he was here, I got to spend the better part
of a week just hanging out and getting to know Paul. I can say he is
as interesting and genuine of a person as he is a musician and it was
a privilege to hang out and play with him. Two weeks later came the
second highlight, winning the Boston Blues Challenge. That was a huge
boost to our morale, has done great things in the way of letting people
know who we are that didn't already and has just opened up a lot of
doors for us. Another major highlight of my career thus far came just
two nights after our win at the Boston Blues Challenge when I was asked
to sit in with Roomful of Blues. This band that so many of my heroes
like Duke Robillard, Curtis Salgado and Ronnie Earl have been a part
of over the years was asking me to sit in. Roomful is my dream band.
I got up, we did a couple tunes from a couple different Roomful albums.
My voice never sounded better and it was just a Cinderella kind of night.
BB: Back to the present. You sing, play harp and drums.
Quite a diverse arsenal of talent. We’re guessing that harp and
vocals are your choice for a means of expression, allowing you to front
the band. How did you get into drumming and is it something you’d
like to explore more over time?
ND: I got into to drumming trying to show drummers how
to shuffle properly. Hehehehe. Actually, we used to do a tv show in
Concord NH called the Granite State Blues Bash. I started the show as
a means for regional blues acts to get some exposure and to expose more
people sitting in their living room to the Blues. Following the taping
of the show, we had an open Blues jam. During that time I used to get
up and fudge my way through a slow Blues every so often on drums. I
kinda got a bit of a bug about it. I would get together on occasion
with Ephraim Lowell or John Hoik and pick their brains about different
beats and feels. Now I do it sometimes when I go to jams or friend's
gigs, or sometimes at our Tuesday thing at the Black Brimmer in Manchester.
I'm not a real "drummer" but I can shuffle pretty darn good
and fake my way through some other things. I was taking lessons for
a while from this amazing drummer Brian Martin and would like to pursue
it more at some point for sure, but singing will always be my first
BB: Mr. Nick’s Blues Mafia has an extremely powerful
sound. Quite an impressive ensemble. How did you meet the other band
members and get started?
ND: Thank you very much. This actually is not the original
incarnation of this band. As most blues acts around here, we've gone
though quite a roster of folks over the years. I started the band in
2000 with guitar player Matt Smart, bass player Don Saviano and drummer
Thaddeus Lavelle. Just a year later, the band's first release "La
Bluesa Nostra" had Tom Wright on Guitar, Pete Carlson on Bass and
John Hoik on the drums. As for the current lineup, I met Fess Moore
when he came in to do the Granite State Blues Bash with guitar slinger
Mikey G. Not too long after that our bass player for the tv show (Erik
Thomas) had a baby and needed to leave the show. After a brief stint
with another bass player I called Fess and asked if he'd like to come
do the show every Wednesday. He agreed and and that soon parlayed into
playing with this band full time. That was over three years ago and
I couldn't imagine this band without him. I call him "My right
hand man that always stands to my left on stage". He is the anchor
of the outfit. He can play so many different Blues styles and is probably
the most intuitive musician I've ever known. I met Kevin Labrecque a
couple years before I started this band. He was playing in another band
called Blue Collar Blues. At that time, they worked quite a bit and
used to host a jam in Concord, which is where I met Kevin. He's since
then, been one of my favorite guitar players in New England and has
always been the guy I wanted as our guitar player. He listens to such
an eclectic selection of music and draws from all of it to make his
own unique sound that, while unique, is distinctly the Blues. Which
is something you can't say about many blues guitarists. He's been playing
with us off and on for the past three years and just about a year ago
expressed interest in joining full time. We talked off & on about
the benefits and responsibilities etc., for a of couple months. When
he finally decided to come on board, Fess & I couldn't have
been happier. The drum situation seems to be the New England Blues band
plague. There are so few talented Blues drummers and many just freelance.
The other faction of them tend to be rock/fusion guys who think they
can play Blues, but shuffle like Alex Van Halen. Producing what we refer
to as the "three cylinder stiffle." Our most notable drummer
and the one that was with us though the BBC is Ephraim Lowell. He knows
our material front to back and is rock solid besides. I met him years
ago when he was with the Kan-Tu Blues Band. He played on all the tracks
on our 2003 release "Uncut Gems" and we may have him on our next record.
He's with Mike Welch full time though, so we use him when we can get
him. Any solid Blues drummers who would like to travel long distances
for short money, e-mail me at email@example.com.
BB: How does it feel coming off your win from the 2004
Boston Blues Challenge?
ND: Well, we're pretty damn excited about it. We were
surprised we won, but after taking some time to digest the whole thing,
I think we deserve it. We've worked very hard the last couple years
and to have it acknowledged by people in our industry is a great feeling.
Not to say that all of the other bands there deserved it any less then
us, it just happened to be our night. We are honored to have won the
BBC and to have the opportunity to represent Boston in the International
BB: Let’s talk about the future. As a result of
your Boston win, you’re competing in the International Blues Challenge
in Memphis. What must it feel like to have this challenging opportunity
looming on your musical horizon?
ND: We're hoping for the best, but not putting any expectations
on it. These things are completely subjective. One set of judges is
looking for ABC and the other set may be looking for XYZ. One of the
reasons I say that we were surprised at the win at the BBC is this:
On our semifinal night of competition we put on the best set we felt
we've ever done. It was as close to perfect as we could get, being who
we were, doing the material we were doing. That night we tied with another
band (Adam Connelly Band) for a wild card slot and the J Place Band
won the night. Now, on the night of the finals we put on a good set.
Although none of us felt is was nearly as good of a set as we had done
the semifinal night, but we won nonetheless. That's why I didn't put
any expectations on the BBC and I'm not putting any on the IBC. We went
into the BBC with hopes of winning, but the attitude that it would be
perfectly fine to just have a good time and make some new friends. We
did both, so we had already won. We are going into the IBC with the
same sort of attitude, knowing that it is another great opportunity
for us although we are optimistic about our chances.
BB: Do you plan or set musical goals for yourself and
the band? If so, what’s your current short list?
ND: Right now I've been writing some new material and
hopefully in the not too distant future we'll do some more recording.
Our fans are itching for a new record. As I said before, we are currently
looking for a full time drummer. That is a big priority right now. Also,
we're trying to get some representation and have been talking to some
talent agencies and a few record companies, although we can't sign anything
until after the IBC. The hope is to have a record deal and be touring
by next summer.
BB: You’ve shared the stage with a large number
of industry performers, both regional and national. If you could share
a stage with someone you haven’t yet performed with, your dream
gig if you will, who would it be?
ND: Well, right now I'd have to say, it would be to perform
with Taj Mahal. He is still one of my biggest influences. If you're
asking me what would be my ultimate steady gig, I would love to front
Roomful some day.
BB: What would you like to share most with your fans about
yourself and your music?
ND: Hmmm.....that's quite a broad question. I guess I'd
like to take the opportunity to share my thoughts on the importance
of a couple things. Actually, just one thing really; support. Unfortunately,
the word "Blues" has become a dirty word to a lot of club
owners and booking agents. Many venues are closing down (Yardrock, House
of Blues) and many more that were once Blues rooms (Harper's Ferry,
Johnny D's) are now, no longer having Blues acts at all or are doing
so very little. That's not necessarily the venue's fault as they have
to do what's best for them in order to stay alive. There are always
trends in what people listen to, etc. There's a reason that they were
Blues rooms. Because the folks that started them were Blues lovers.
And now, the reason they are closing down or not having Blues is due
to the lack of people coming out. That being the case, I can't stress
the importance of getting out to support your local Blues scene. Your
local Blues scene. YOUR LOCAL BLUES SCENE. That's not just addressed
to fans either, it's important for other musicians to support their
peers. Many times when I have a night off I'll go out to see some friends
play. Here's a note to club owners and booking agents too....if you
don't know what good Blues is then find someone who does and have them
do your booking. There are too many clubs settling on the lowest common
denominator. There's a time and a place for every band and I encourage
everyone to play music. I think it's an extremely important and often
overlooked facet of our culture. But I think it's equally as important
for a venue to do their best to put the best acts in there, not just
any band that will show up for $200. Now that I'm done ranting, I'll
step off my soapbox and say, if not for our fans, we are nothing. You
are the people who allow us to do what we do. Thank you.
© 2004 BarrelhouseBlues.com - All Rights Reserved
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