Q&A with The Cash Box Kings (Oscar Wilson & Joe Nosek), one of the blues world’s most beloved and honored bands

"Everybody has the blues at some point in their life. Everybody's blues is different. But blues music can help you deal with life's struggles. It can also be a way to express happiness and joy. Blues music is a celebratory music."

The Cash Box Kings:

A Glorious Celebration Of The Blues

The Cash Box Kings are bona fide blues royalty. Co-led by real-deal Chicago blues vocalist and songwriter Oscar “Mr. 43rd Street” Wilson and Madison, Wisconsin-based songwriter, harmonica giant and singer Joe Nosek, the band plays masterfully raw and unvarnished houserocking blues. Wilson’s huge, gritty vocals and Nosek’s powerhouse harmonica fuel their razor-sharp original songs. With their top shelf musicianship and trademark good humor, The Cash Box Kings are a one-of-a-kind blues band. With their latest release on Alligator Records, Oscar’s Motel (Release Date: March 17th, 2023) and tour dates scheduled throughout the USA, Canada and Europe, The Cash Box Kings have earned their own blues throne and are ready to hold court. For their third for the label and 11th overall, 11 tracks album "Oscar’s Motel", Joe and Oscar and their friends have composed nine fresh and fun new original songs. Their original songs range from the subtly lascivious title track to I Can’t Stand You, the hilarious duet with Chicago blues diva Deitra Farr, to Down On The South Side, Oscar’s true-life memories of the glory years of the Black community’s blues scene, with all the characters drawn from his own experiences.                   (Oscar Wilson & Joe Nosek / Photo © by Janet Mami Takayama)

In addition to the originals, they create exciting, true blue versions of Sonny Boy Williamson’s Pontiac Blues and Muddy Waters’ Please Have Mercy. Along with Wilson and Nosek, the crack band includes venerated guitarist Billy Flynn, Blues Music Award-winning drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, Japanese keyboard prodigy Lee Kanehira and in-demand bassman John W. Lauler, plus a host of guest players. Oscar’s Motel is a glorious celebration of the blues tradition, brought right up to date by memorable songwriting, and sparked by superb vocals and musicianship delivered by true blues masters. The album will be essential listening for any blues fan.

Interview by Michael Limnios       Special Thanks: Marc Lipkin (Alligator Records)

How has the Blues music influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?

Oscar: The blues has taken me to many places I never imagined I would go. The blues has influenced my life since I was a child. My father was a blues man who died two months before I was born. My mother played blues around the house for as long as I can remember. We had Friday night fish fry blues parties at my house. People like Elmore James, Junior Wells, and Honey Boy Edwards would come by and play guitar. The first time I ever sang the blues was with Honey Boy Edwards at one of those parties when I was only 8 years old. The blues has been a way of life for me.

How do you describe band's music philosophy and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?

Oscar: My creative drive comes from my life and my experiences as a human being. I've had the blues because I've gone to bed hungry at night with no food as a child. I've had the blues because I lost a woman who is the most important thing in my life. Every human being has the blues. But everyone's blues is different and unique.

Joe: We are dedicated to carrying on the musical tradition of 1940s and '50s Chicago Blues. There are a lot of "blues" bands today who are playing music that is much closer to rock than traditional blues. We want to celebrate the classic Chicago Blues that was popularized by people like Muddy Waters, the Howlin' Wolf, Little Walter, and Jimmy Reed. But at the same time, we want to bring our own voice to the music and bring attention to social issues that are relevant today. That's why the band records and performs a lot of our own original material. Oscar and I feel strongly that musicians should use their voice to make people aware of things in society that need to change. We've written songs about gun violence, poverty, affordable housing, gentrification, and police brutality. Blues music is a living music, and we want to make music that people can relate today.

"I miss hearing REAL blues on the radio. So much of what they call blues today isn't BLUES. It's ROCK. I wish festivals paid more attention to bands like ours who play REAL BLUES." (The Cash Box Kings: Billy Flynn, Joe Nosek, Kenny Smith, Oscar Wilson, John W. Lauler / Photo © by Janet Mami Takayama)

Are there any specific memories or highlights of your career that you would like to tell us about?!

Joe: For me, playing the Chicago Blues festival for the first time was a real highlight. I went to the blue festival every year since I was 14 years old. Then many years later I found myself playing the same stage that I saw people like Jimmy Rogers, Sunnyland Slim, Robert Lockwood and so many other legends play on. It was a dream come true. Another highlight for me has been the opportunity to play on stage with some of the musicians I idolized. People like Willie "Big Eyes" Smith, Billy Boy Arnold, and Buddy Guy.

Oscar: The first place I ever travelled to outside of America was Lucerne Switzerland to play the Blues festival there. That was a very important experience for me, and it began a long series of travels that have allowed me to bring my blues to the world.

What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of the past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?

Oscar: I miss hearing REAL blues on the radio. So much of what they call blues today isn't BLUES. It's ROCK. I wish festivals paid more attention to bands like ours who play REAL BLUES.

Joe: Like Oscar, I really miss the ability to go and hear real traditional blues. So many of the blues legends from the heyday of Chicago Blues have died. I miss the days when you could go out and see the original blues legends playing blues 7 nights a week in Chicago.

What is the impact of Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people?

Oscar: The blues is a very important part of the African American experience and came from the days of slavery. It has been a way for black people to express their sadness and sorrows as well as their hope. I want people to know that blues music is not sad music or depressing music. Everybody has the blues at some point in their life. Everybody's blues is different. But blues music can help you deal with life's struggles. It can also be a way to express happiness and joy. Blues music is a celebratory music. When I play blues music, I hope that it reaches people on an emotional level and brings them joy. It's really important for me that blues music gets passed on to the next generation and that it never dies.

"My creative drive comes from my life and my experiences as a human being. I've had the blues because I've gone to bed hungry at night with no food as a child. I've had the blues because I lost a woman who is the most important thing in my life. Every human being has the blues. But everyone's blues is different and unique." (The Cash Box Kings: Chicago blues vocalist and songwriter Oscar Wilson and Madison, Wisconsin-based songwriter, harmonica giant and singer Joe Nosek / Photo © by Janet Mami Takayama)

What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?

Joe: Being a musician has taught me the lesson of perseverance. We've had to work hard and grind to get where we are today as a band. But that hard work has paid off. When I was a teenager sneaking into Chicago blues bars, I never dreamed that I would someday be able to play the places that I have played and be a part of blues labels like Blind Pig and Alligator. Just last night, the Cash Box Kings played Buddy Guy's Legends Blues club in Chicago. An hour after we started playing, Buddy Guy jumped up on stage and started singing with us. He told me he wanted to come up on stage with us because the music we were playing reminded him of the blues music he heard when he first came to Chicago. He told me that my harmonica sounded just like Little Walter. I could have died and gone to heaven after hearing Buddy say that. Never in a million years did I think something like that would happen to me.  I have worked hard for 35 years studying and playing this music and when something like that happens, it's all worth it.

Oscar: Blues music is part of who I am. My father was a blues man and I'm proud to carry on the blues tradition. This music has brought me to places that I never thought I would go. I never thought that a poor boy from the south side of Chicago would be able to travel all around the world playing this music. I'm going to keep playing this music for as long as I can.

The Cash Box Kings - Home

"We are dedicated to carrying on the musical tradition of 1940s and '50s Chicago Blues. There are a lot of "blues" bands today who are playing music that is much closer to rock than traditional blues." (The Cash Box Kings: John W. Lauler, Kenny Smith, Oscar Wilson, Joe Nosek, Billy Flynn / Photo © by Roman Sobus)

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