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Chicago bluesman Nick Moss strides the generation gap

Moss and his band the Fliptops play the Fort Wayne Blues and Soul Food Bash

By Jim Fester

Fort Wayne Reader

2011-01-09


If there’s a generation gap when it comes to playing the blues, you can’t hear it when you’re listening to Nick Moss.

Nick Moss was about 13 when Chicago blues legend Muddy Waters died in 1983, but the fact that Moss came along maybe a generation too late to experience Waters or many of the greats that came out of Chicago in the 40s or 50s first hand hasn’t stopped him from embracing that music and staking his own ground in that tradition.

And why not? After all, Moss — who with his band The Fliptops headlines the annual Fort Wayne Blues and Soul Food Bash, a fundraiser for The League for the Blind and Disabled — grew up in Chicago, and learned the blues playing alongside some of the same people who played with Waters, Otis Rush, Little Walter and many other musicians of the era.

The Blues and Soul Food Bash recreates the atmosphere of a Chicago blues club circa 1957. Like we said above, it’s a fundraiser for the League for the Blind and Disabled, an organization that provides and promotes opportunities that empower people with disabilities to achieve their potential.

The menu features authentic “soul food” of the era, and the music is just as authentic — Moss is steeped in classic Chicago blues, though he says it was the rock bands of the 70s that turned him on to the musical heritage in his own city. “Growing up, I listened to a lot of music, and I just knew I loved it,” Moss says. “Let’s say you collected baseball cards, and you wanted to know everything about the guys on those cards. It was the same thing with me as a musician reading Circus or Rolling Stone, and Jimmy Page was talking about some guy named Otis Rush or Muddy Waters. Well, who are these guys? Hey, I live in Chicago, how come I don’t know about these guys? It was people like Jimmy Page, Hendrix, the Allman Brothers, Billy Gibbons who told me that in my own backyard there was this music that inspired them.”

In Moss’s own words, learning about this music became an obsession, and a little later on, when Moss and his brother started playing at Chicago blues jams and open mics, they found themselves in some pretty impressive company. Moss built up a reputation as a solid player. “My first real gig was playing with Jimmy Dawkins, a pretty famous west side blues guitarist who played with Earl Hooker and had his own career,” Moss recalls. He did that for about six months, and then got the call to play bass for Willie “Big Eyes” Smith, Muddy Waters’ drummer, who at the time was heading up the Legendary Blues Band. “That was basically Muddy’s band that kept going without Muddy,” says Moss. “One of the guys they played with, Melvin Smith, was going on the road with Koko Taylor, and he recommended me.”

“It was a lot of networking,” Moss says of landing these earlier gigs. “Like in any other business. Just playing out and getting to know people.”

Moss had the musical skills, and learned all he could from the older musicians, but he says he doesn’t think he really “got” who those guys were until recently. “Now I realize just how ‘heavy’ they were,” he says. “It’s taken me 20 some years to have the proper respect for this music. As a young man, I knew I loved it, but respect was a different thing. All I wanted to do then was learn it. I guess that’s respect in its own way…”

Moss estimates he spent about a decade touring, mostly playing guitar with other people — and including a stint with Jimmy Rogers. But though he had built up a good reputation with other musicians, he couldn’t find any record labels interested in his own material. “I heard ‘oh, you’re just a sideman’,” he says.

Rather than spend ages waiting for record companies to notice, Moss decided to form his own record label, Blue Bella Records, with help from his wife. “My wife works in graphics and design, and from that business she knew a little about marketing,” Moss says. “She knew the right questions to ask, and we sort of learned as we went along.”

Blue Bella records started as a vehicle for Moss to get his own music out, and now has a small roster of artists (including Bill Lupkin). Moss himself has eight albums to his credit, and he’s garnered a long list of awards and nominations for his brand of Chicago-style blues. His most recent studio release, Privileges, is a bit of a departure; Moss describes it as more of a blues-rock album, similar to the 70s bands he was into when he first began listening to music. “I’m paying respect to the guys who taught me that I had blues in my backyard.”

And having respect for the music is important to Moss. Sadly, he thinks there’s not enough of it when it comes to the blues. “Next to jazz, it’s one of the only true American art forms that we have,” he says. “There’s an argument as to what inspired what, but most jazz guys will tell you that to play jazz, you have to know the blues first. But a lot of people still think of it as ‘old people’s music,’ just some guy with a guitar singing about his woman…”

“If for nothing else, it’s such a strong American art form, and we’re losing a lot of heritage in this country. It’s just a sad thing that we have something so simple and beautiful that a lot of people just aren’t aware of.”

Moss plans to bring guitarist and singer Jimmy Johnson — who has worked with Otis Rush and Freddie King, among others — along with him when he plays the Blues Bash in February. Though Johnson has been ill recently, Moss is hopeful that he’ll still be able to join them.

Fort Wayne Blues Bash
A benefit for the League for the Blind and Disabled
Saturday, February 12. Doors open at 6 PM; show starts at 7 PM
Arts United Center
303 East Main
Tickets: $20; $50 VIP Pass
There will also be a silent auction.

For tickets, call (260) 441-0551
fortwaynebluesbash.com

For more on Nick Moss, visit nickmoss.com

For more on the League for the Blind and Disable, visit the-league.org

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