Blue Note

Michael Henningsen
2 min read
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Since the mid-'70s when guitarist Little Charlie Baty and harmonicist Rick Estrin first teamed up, Little Charlie and the Nightcats have been spreading their unique combination of Chicago blues, Texas swing, rockabilly—even surf music—across the States and Europe. And since the release of All the Way Crazy, their Alligator Records debut in 1987, the band have garnered raves from critics and fans alike, as well as a handful of Grammy nominations and a W.C. Handy award along the way. They've served as backing band for contemporary blues legend John Hammond on two phenomenal blues recordings and have toured with everyone from Robert Cray to the Allman Brothers.

And the hard work and lonely road have paid off enormously. Eight records into their career—a good place to start is with 1988's stunning release Disturbing the Peace (Alligator)—Little Charlie and the Nightcats have emerged with another in a long line of jump blues masterpieces that includes 1998's Shadow of the Blues (Alligator). The band's 2002 Alligator release, That's Big, boasts a new line-up, and the fresh blood has added new fire to the Nightcats already blistering sound. Estrin continues to go largely unsung as a phenomenal harp player, but his wry, satirical lyrics have long set Little Charlie and the Nightcats apart from the proliferation of the tried and true pain and heartbreak bands. Coupled with Baty's versatility and impressive mastery of the guitar, the band never fail to sound deeply inspired. The latest version of the Nightcats rhythm section, including Frankie Randall on upright bass and Joey Ventittelli on drums, help preserve the stripped-down sound of Chicago juke bands past, but when the collective peak (usually 25 steamy minutes into a show), there's no mistaking them for revivalists. As with any magnificent blues troupe, the music is simply in their blood. And they're guaranteed to get yours pumpin'.

Little Charlie and the Nightcats perform Sunday, April 18, at historic El Rey Theater at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $14 in advance, $16 at the door. Call 242-2353 to purchase.

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