Nebraska's rhythm section Josh Bargar & Casey Hodgin talks about Zoo Bar, Magic Slim and Lil’ Slim

"Blues music through its nature has a lot to do with troubles in life and suffering." 

Josh Bargar & Casey Hodgin: 

Nebraska's Rhythm Section

Josh Bargar (bass) and Casey Hodgin (drums) was members of Nebraska's band Cold in Hand. The band started out as a group of musicians that were enrolled in a blues class that met at the Zoo Bar. After being a part of the program for about a year and a half, they moved on and formed Cold in Hand. As a blues band, they felt it was fitting that Cold in Hand should be their name since it was an old blues phrase meaning penniless/broke/poor. They have been playing regular shows throughout Nebraska and recently played in front of thousands of folks at the Norfolk, NE Boomfest. 

In Zoo Bar's class, they had the opportunity to open up for Bernard Allison, Davina & the Vagabonds, and were selected to participate in the Youth Showcase at The International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn., in 2011.

While many teenagers play in bands, not many of them are blues bands. What makes Cold in Hand unique is that they play blues from Delta and Mississippi Bluesmen such as Robert Johnson and Magic Slim to Rock and Funk Blues from Stevie Ray Vaughan and Luther Allison. They released their debut album Walkin' Down the Alley in May of 2012. Cold in Hand was: Josh Bargar (bass), Ben Curran (Guitar), Casey Hodgin (Drums), and Michael Solberg (Guitar)

Todays, Josh Bargar and Casey Hodgin is Shawn “Lil’ Slim” Morris rhythm section. Also have played with such national blues greats as Magic Slim (on numerous occasions), and Janiva Magness. Regionally, they have performed with The Blues Orchestra, The Blues Messengers, The Lil’ Slim Blues Band and many others.

Interview by Michael Limnios

When was your first desire to become involved in the blues?   

Josh: I really started to get into blues music around the age of 13 or so.  I joined this blues program that met at The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, which really added to my appreciation for the blues especially looking at all the great artists who played there.  Buddy Guy, Junior Wells, Matt “Guitar” Murphy, Magic Slim, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison, and many more.  I remember the first national blues act I saw was Tommy Castro at the Zoo Bar and that concert just blew me away.  It was a very high energy show with a lot of soul and hearing that show really propelled me to keep playing the blues.   

Casey: I never really had a desire to play blues until about 2011 at around age 14. That's when my parents told me about a blues class that was being held at the Zoo Bar. Being a drummer, they thought it was a good idea to widen my knowledge of different genres of music.  I joined the class not really knowing much about blues music but very interested to learn. I never appreciated blues music until I was able to actually play it.

                                                                    Ben, Josh, and Casey with Mike Zito

What do you learn about yourself from the Blues, what does the blues mean to you? 

Josh: The Blues is one of those genres of music that everyone can relate to.  Most blues songs feature a theme of hardship or trouble in life.  Through listening to the blues, I’ve found that I can overcome difficult moments in my life.  Not all blues is about struggle though.  There are blues songs that are happy, funky, or even playful.  As a performer, the blues is the one genre where I feel like I can instantly connect with an audience.  I remember singing my heart out on an old standard (As the Years Go Passing By) and out of the corner of my eye, I saw an older woman crying.  Ever since that moment I’ve felt a strong connection to blues music that will stick with me for the rest of my life.

Casey: I understand the important of patience. You can't get in a rush when playing blues; you have be laid back, patient, and feel the music. You can't learn that playing any other type of music.

From whom have you have learned the most secrets about the blues? What is the best advice ever given you?  

Josh: Magic Slim and his son, Shawn gave me a piece of advice which holds true for a lot of traditional Chicago Blues.  They told me to keep it in the pocket.  In other words, focus on making that driving groove and keep it simple with the amount of notes and fills you play.  I’ve found that has been the key to playing bass in the Chicago blues style.

Casey: I learned the most about the blues when I first started during the blues class that I was in. Our instructor, Ryan Larsen (who was a drummer), taught me his perspective of blues music and how he plays. I learned the ins and outs of blues music during that class and it is what has provided me with so much knowledge so quickly.

Josh and Casey with Shawn “Lil’ Slim” Morris

Why did you think that the Blues culture continues to generate such a devoted following in new generation?

Josh: The heritage and structure of the blues has influenced so many different artists whether it’s rock, pop, jazz, or whatever.  I think you will see that people will always go back to the roots and continue to follow blues.

Casey: Honestly, for the most part, I don't believe the "new generation" is as devoted to blues music as older generations is (not in the US anyways). Kids my age want to listen to fast and aggressive music, because they can relate the most to it. Most kids live fast paced lives and they don't have the desire to understand a more mature, patient style of music. However, of the kids that ARE devoted to blues music, I'd say they're devoted because of the feeling you get when you play/listen to it. There isn't a genre out there, in my opinion that can impact you emotionally more than blues music.

Are there any memories from Magic Slim and Lil Slim which you’d like to share with us?

Josh: I played New Years Eve in Eureka Springs, Arkansas, when I was 16 years old.  I remember getting to the club and I took a bass solo and Shawn said on the microphone that I was 16.  I was told that I couldn’t legally be in the venue and then Magic and Shawn both said, “If the kid don’t play, we don’t play.”  I finished out that night and later on I had a discussion with Magic and he was asking me a series of questions.  He asked if I drank, then he asked if I smoked.  I replied with no to both questions to which he replied, “Then, what do you do?  You like girls right?” For once I had a question that I could answer yes too without feeling like the odd guy out.

Casey: Well as of now, I'm playing and traveling with Lil Slim, so I have many memories! I've only played with Magic a couple times, and I remember how nervous I was knowing that I was drumming for an international touring musician, and a legend, but they were good times and I enjoyed playing with the master! The Holt family has definitely been very inspirational to my musical career.

Cold in Hand with Samantha Fish

Which meetings have been the most important experiences for you?

Josh: That’s a really tough question as I have met a lot of fantastic musicians over the past few years.  I’ve had the pleasure of meeting many of the national acts in blues music today from the Royal Southern Brotherhood, Janiva Magness, Tommy Castro, Carolyn Wonderland, Samantha Fish, Trampled Under Foot, there are really so many that it’s hard to pick out the most important.  I’ve been lucky in that they all respect me as a musician and a lot of them have grown to become friends of mine which is really cool.

Casey: Meeting both Magic Slim and Lil Slim have been very important experiences for me. Also, it was very cool to meet Carolyn Wonderland, and of course Meena Cryle!

What’s the best jam you ever played in? What are some of the most memorable gigs you've had?  

Josh: Sharing the stage on several occasions with Tommy Castro and Janiva Magness were very memorable experiences.  As far as gigs, I’ve opened up for Carolyn Wonderland and got to hang with her band which was an amazing experience.  The New Years Eve show though that I played with Magic Slim was probably the most vivid memory as that was the one time I met the late Larry Boehmer.  Larry was the owner of The Zoo Bar in Lincoln, Nebraska, and was the guy who really turned that place into a thriving blues joint.  Also opening up the Playing With Fire festival in Omaha was really cool.  There I had the pleasure of meeting a fantastic blues singer from Austria named Meena Cryle and her band.  That I think always sticks with me because to see that blues music really reaches out all over the world is truly amazing.

Casey: The best jam that I've ever played has to be my first time playing with Lil Slim and Levi William. It was my first time playing with both in the same band, and it was personally one of the best performances I had. I think I showed a lot of people and musicians my talent and I turned a lot of heads, it was great. Also, I had the great honor of playing with Meena Cryle after the Playing With Fire festival. I really enjoyed listening to her band and after talking to them, I'd say they were some of the nicest people I've ever met! Some of the most memorable gigs for me have been the Playing With Fire music festival; Cold In Hand opened and it was probably the largest audience I've ever played in front of. Other than that, going to Kansas City with Lil Slim playing at BB's BBQ was really fun. Also, the Eureka Springs, Arkansas Blues Weekend festival I'm sure will be something I won't forget!

Cold in Hand: Josh Bargar, Ben Curran, Casey Hodgin, and Michael Solberg

Would you mind telling me your most vivid memory of Cold in Hand? 

Josh: While Cold in Hand only lasted a little over a year, there were a lot of very high energy shows.  My personal favorite was opening up for Carolyn Wonderland at The Waiting Room in Omaha, Nebraska.  Carolyn and her band watched our whole set and when I talked with her after the show, she kept saying how she was sitting in the back just smiling and cheering us on.  To have artists like Carolyn Wonderland support what you are doing as an artist really makes you believe you are doing something right.  Even though both guitarists left for Cold in Hand, I still kept composing and playing music.  I ended up being the bassist for The Lil Slim Blues Band and I also have been doing a lot of work with Josh Hoyer & the Shadowboxers.  I’ve had a lot better musical opportunities come my way so I don’t really miss at all what I was doing in Cold in Hand.

Casey: The most vivid memory for me would have to be the Playing With Fire music festival in Omaha, Nebraska. Definitely one of the highest pinnacles of my career thus far. It was the biggest crowd I have ever played in front of and I got to meet some great musicians including Meena Cryle and her band.  It was great meeting musicians from other countries.

How do you describe your contact to people when you are on stage? How do you describe your sound and progress? 

Josh: I try to interact with fellow band members on stage as much as possible.  If you can show the audience that you are having a good time on stage, that translates to the audience and they in turn will have a much more enjoyable experience at your show.  As for my sound, I’m all about getting that groove with the drummer.  A driving rhythm section is what gets the people on the dance floor.

Casey: Anybody who has seen me play live on stage knows that I try to be as attentive as possible. I always pay attention to the front man with my eyes, but when I'm playing; my ears are tuned to the bass. I can feel when to drive the song, or when to play more laid back based on what the bass is doing.

Cold in Hand at Zoo Bar, Nebraska

Do you have any amusing tales to tell from the Zoo Bar?  Make an account of the case of the blues in Nebraska?  

Josh: I’ve been playing the Zoo Bar since I was 13 and there have been many humorous experiences.  One that seems to happen to every new person that enters the Zoo Bar though is finding the restroom.  The men’s restroom is located in the very back of the bar and the door blends in with the side wall.  Watching a bunch of guys struggling to find where it is or entering the women’s restroom on accident can be very entertaining.  As for the blues scene in Nebraska, I feel the Zoo Bar is really what got the state on the radar for blues.  The Zoo Bar started out as a stop in between tours for many blues artists so over time it eventually became a venue that nearly all of the regular touring blues acts play now.  Omaha has also really been increasing their blues scene and music scene in general.  The Omaha Blues Society and the larger number of music venues out there has really improved the blues scene in Nebraska.

Casey: I don't really have any amusing tales to tell about the Zoo Bar, but I've probably played there around 100 times by now. It's just kind of strange to think that a bar that is in such bad shape has been around for so long and is considered to be a legendary venue. The blues in Nebraska I feel is lacking. The Zoo Bar is really one of the few blues venues we have in Lincoln. There are more in Omaha but the environment in Omaha is something that I still haven't gotten use to. I prefer to play in Lincoln over Omaha, but it'd be great to get some more places to play at. Which is why I've done so much traveling lately.

What do you miss most nowadays from the Blues of past? 

Josh: I think what I really enjoyed most about some of the older blues styles especially on live records, is that it’s not perfect.  What I mean by that is the vocals may not be perfect note for note or the guitar might be out of tune, but the groove from the rhythm section or the soul in the singer’s voice can be so powerful.  I think mainly of Howlin’ Wolf in this regard.

Casey: I miss the popularity! Blues used to be such a popular style of music to listen to, but now I feel like good blues bands are getting rarer to find.

Josh and Magic Slim

Some music styles can be fads but the blues is always with us. Why do think that is? 

Josh: Blues music through its nature has a lot to do with troubles in life and suffering.  Hearing the blues can help people overcome their problems in their life.  Blues music is very easy to relate to and I think that’s why it will never die out.

Casey: Blues music is about soul and feeling, which is why it has been around so long. People love the way they feel when they play blues or when they listen to blues.

What mistake of Blues business you want to correct?  Give one wish for the BLUES.  

Josh: I feel that blues artists feel like they have to change their sound to appeal to a wider market.  If the artist wants that old school raw blues sound, I feel like the artist should be able to do that.  Even if it doesn’t appeal to as many people, it’s good to keep some of that traditional blues sound alive.  I am a huge supporter though of contemporary blues and that’s because I believe that more and more artists are taking elements of the blues and putting their own spin on it, and that is what is making the blues genre more relevant to the younger crowd in society.  Gary Clark Jr. in particular has really brought his own style of blues to a younger generation.  While the traditional blues should always be there and be remembered, the more contemporary blues is making the genre readily accessible to a younger audience.

Casey: If I had to correct one thing of the blues business, I'd make it so it is more appealing to younger audiences. There are very talented youth musicians out there that have no guidance and no support on where to go. I'd like blues music to be something a lot of younger musicians get into. That's also my wish for the blues; for it to continue, grow, and valued more by younger people.

Let’s take a trip (!) with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?  

Josh: I'd love to go back to the days of Stax Records and hang with Booker T. & the M.G.'s.  They were the top studio musicians for soul and blues music at the time and getting to watch history happen and learn from Duck Dunn, one of the greatest soul bassists of all time would be amazing. 

Casey: I'd like to see what it'd be like when blues music was at it's peak in popularity. The Chicago Blues Fest would be a great way to see some of the greatest blues musicians alive, so I'd want to listen to the best!

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