"The blues music has always been a barometer of socio-cultural implications in society. It will continue to always address the issues of our time. People are always going to write about what’s going on and how they’re feeling about what’s going on."
Nick Moss: The Spirit of Classic Blues
The third Alligator release by one of the world’s top blues ensembles—The Nick Moss Band Featuring Dennis Gruenling "It’s called Get Your Back Into It!" will be released on July 14, and it’s jammed with fourteen fresh, original songs inspired by the spirit of classic blues of the 1940s, ‘50s and ‘60s. Master guitarist/vocalist Nick Moss and harmonica giant/vocalist Dennis Gruenling have created new melodic concepts and contemporary lyrics that perfectly fit their vintage sound. In every song, you can hear the near-telepathic communication within the band, and feel the pure pleasure everyone had making this music. Get Your Back Into It! was co-produced by Nick and another vital member of the band, Brazilian bassman Rodrigo Mantovani, and recorded at Nick’s own studio. Throughout the album, the musicians joyfully create the classic Chicago “conversational” ensemble sound, where each player contributes spontaneous musical exclamations and interjections, rather than playing set, rehearsed parts.
(Nick Moss & Dennis Gruenling / Photo by Howard Greenblatt)
Nick Moss and Dennis Gruenling have long been recognized as virtuoso players and among the most deeply rooted purveyors of old school, raw, electric blues. Nick, a proud Chicagoan, is a crucial figure in carrying on the Windy City blues style and sound that he learned from playing in the bands of blues legends like Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins, Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and Jimmy Rogers. Nick is famed for the power and taste of his playing, getting to the essence of every song. He’s also a subtle, emotional singer who knows how to really deliver the story of the song. Dennis, growing up in New Jersey, didn’t have Nick’s apprenticeship with blues giants, but as his skills developed, he was counseled by harp icons James Cotton, Snooky Pryor and Sam Myers. Dennis is now known worldwide as one of the most exciting and powerful blues harmonica players, renowned for his huge tone and inventive improvisations.
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?
I’m not sure about other people, but I can certainly say that I’ve always been moved in some way by the messages written in blue songs. I’ve also, since a very young age, felt a very deep connection to the phrasing and tone of what was being played as well as being sung. So, in many ways, it has just made me more empathetic and acutely aware of mine and other situations, whether they’re emotional or societal.
The music itself has led to a career for me, of which I’m very grateful! And this career has led me to places around the world to places that I never dreamed that I would get to visit. I remember as a child in my classrooms, staring at a giant map behind the teachers’ desk thinking of all the places I would like to visit, never actually believing that I would get to see most of these places!
Now that I’ve been to many countries around the world, it has truly cemented the idea that we are all one on this planet. So many of the songs that are written, are universal to us as a species. It is unarguable that many of the early blues songs were written specifically about the hardships that the African-American endured, however, many messages about hardships in love, friendships, betrayals, society, economics, and even mental health IS universal. As I traveled around the globe for the last 30+ years the one constant I see is everyone wants love, wants health, wants prosperity. Everyone strives to find happiness in their lives. In general, the same things that saddens me or make me happy, are the same things that sadden or make others happy around the world. Basically, I believe we all just want to “be”, we all just want to live a good life, be treated fairly, be understood, leave something behind, we all want the best for our children… I think at the core these are the messages in many of the songs in Blues.
"The most important lesson that I learned is that when I step on the stage, plug in my guitar and sing into the microphone…I have to lose all barriers between myself and the audience. Honesty and sincerity is what I believe the people you play for respond to the most." (Nick Moss & Dennis Gruenling, two of the world’s top blues musicians / Photo by Michael Kurgansky)
How do you describe your sound and songbook? Where does your creative drive come from?
I have always been a fan of anything that is seemingly organically created. I love the sound of metal and wood and sweat and tears, and electricity blaring from old speakers and tubes! I want to hear the grunting and groaning of someone bearing down on their instrument! I want to hear the growl and screeches and raspiness in someone’s Vocals! Too much music is over produced to my ears. That’s not to say that I don’t enjoy some of that music, I am just drawn more to, for lack of a better word, an “analog” sound. I realize that statement can open up a lot of cans of worms. For the sake of transparency, I do use digital recording, but I generally don’t overdub very often unless it is so distastefully a glaringly really bad mistake. I love to hear the subtle flaws when making my recordings or other recordings, I listen to. After all, when you see someone live, they can’t go back and overdub or redo a mistake.
As far is my songs and creativity go… I tend to write about what I know, and what I feel. I get my ideas from everyday life. I get my ideas from news stories, or from situations that I am involved in, or I’ve heard my friends or others talk about. I’ll think about a certain phrase that someone said or a word that is in my mind or that I read, and I try to think about how that pertains to me personally and my thoughts on it and try to write a narrative. So many of my songs are about love, emotion, temptation, doing what’s right, and some social commentary.
Why do you think that the Blues of the 40s/60s continues to generate such a devoted following?
I think it’s because there’s a certain percentage of the population that feels, as I do, that there was just an honesty and sincerity in music in the way that it was played and sung and recorded in general from those eras.
What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
My hopes and fears, for the future of Blues? I hope that we will always remember the past…Of course, I believe that everything should evolve and grow, but not to the point that we forget the roots, that is what I fear.
"The music itself has led to a career for me, of which I’m very grateful! And this career has led me to places around the world to places that I never dreamed that I would get to visit. I remember as a child in my classrooms, staring at a giant map behind the teachers’ desk thinking of all the places I would like to visit, never actually believing that I would get to see most of these places!" (Master guitarist/vocalist Nick Moss and harmonica giant/vocalist Dennis Gruenling / Photo by Karo Achten)
What has been the hardest obstacle for you to overcome as a person and as artist and has this helped you become a better blues musician?
All of the artist that I’ve ever been drawn to seemingly have this ability to let go of their fear of vulnerability. Whether it’s intentional or not, it just seems so natural to me when I listen to them.
For many years, I was focused on my technical proficiency, or if I was playing it exactly “the right way”. But I eventually realized that without having an intent emotionally I would never “play it the right way”, or find my own voice.
Learning to allow myself to channel emotion through my guitar and my voice is something I am constantly aware of, and I feel has made me a better musician.
What´s been the highlights in your life and career so far?
I’ve had many highlights in my career, but none tops highlights in my life of marrying my wife, and seeing my daughter born.
I have been very fortunate to play with so many elder statesman of the blues, such as Jimmy Rogers, Willie “big eyes” Smith, Pinetop Perkins, Jimmy Johnson, Bob Stroger, Ted Harvey, Jimmy Dawkins… and so many others! But one of the most gratifying things I’ve been able to do is pass on this knowledge to young up-and-coming Blues talents. The most notable being the late Michael Ledbetter. But I’ve also had some other great sidemen that have gone on to do great things like Gerry Hundt, who’s put out many fine recordings of his own and recorded with Corey Dennison for Delmark Records. Matthew Wilson who’s gone on to record and tour with John Nemeth and developed into a well sought after sidemen because of his abilities on bass, drums and guitar! And most recently, my longtime former drummer, Patrick Seals, who is currently on the road with Curtis Salgado.
What is the impact of the Blues on the socio-cultural implications? How do you want the music to affect people? (Nick Moss & Dennis Gruenling / Photo by Chris Monaghan)
As I’ve already stated, in some of my previous answers above… the blues music has always been a barometer of socio-cultural implications in society. It will continue to always address the issues of our time. People are always going to write about what’s going on and how they’re feeling about what’s going on.
I feel like the songs that I write or how I’m feeling, and they affect me in a personal way as I write them and sing them. I’m not sure how they’re going to be affecting others. As I stated before I believe, we all have similar circumstances and emotions in our lives, and my hope is that people will understand my message, but if it means something after them, that’s all right too. And I think receiving it in any way is good for all.
What are some of the most important lessons you have learned from your experience in the music paths?
The most important lesson that I learned is that when I step on the stage, plug in my guitar and sing into the microphone… I have to lose all barriers between myself and the audience. Honesty and sincerity is what I believe the people you play for respond to the most.
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