As I have done for the last 25 years, I’m pleased to give you one of the main acts at the 26th North Atlantic Blues Festival happening Saturday and Sunday, July 13-14, down at Rockland’s Public Landing in Rockland. This time ’round, it’s harmonica master/singer/songwriter Rick Estrin who’ll bring his band, The Nightcats, to this award-winning blues gathering. For more than 30 years, Estrin provided his signature harmonica and lead vocals as he fronted Little Charlie & The Nightcats and when Little Charlie Baty

retired from the road in 2008, Estrin moved seamlessly into the leadership role along with The Nightcats: Kid Andersen (guitar, backing vocals); Lorenzo Farrell (piano, organ, synthesizer) and Alex Pettersen (drums). A week or so ago, I called his number.

Q: Where am I calling?
Estrin: I’m in California right now.

Q: On tour?
Estrin: No, I’m just home finishing up work on a new CD that should be out in mid-September or so.

Q: The follow-up to your fourth Alligator album, “Groovin’ in Greaseland”?
Estrin: Yeah.

Q: I’m not sure but I think we may have talked before.
Estrin: It’s possible, I’ve been around long enough (chuckle).

Q: Yeah, and I see we share the same birth year—1949.
Estrin: And we’re both still here — that’s even more important.

Q: (Laughter) Yeah, you got that right! I’ve got 50 years of music journalism under my belt.
Estrin: It’s great that you can keep doing it, man. I know I appreciate being able to still do what I do — still being able to get around and still being able to actually write songs and be happy with them.

Q: Well, you should be pleased as punch with this “Greaseland” CD.
Estrin: Yeah, I’m happy with that one, and I’m real happy about the next one. Every time I think I’m not going to be able to think of anything, and I constantly do. I submit to enduring the frustration of not having any ideas and just sitting with that for a while.

Q: Sounds like your muse might be a little fickle.
Estrin: Ah, it’s just that that’s how it works, you know. It’s always been that way, even though I know that now. And I’ve read a lot about it and found out that’s actually the process for a lot of people, like Yip Harburg — an old Tin Pan Alley guy who wrote “Over The Rainbow” and a bunch of stuff like that. Someone asked him how did he think of all that stuff and he said, “Well, nothing to it, I just sit there staring at a blank piece of paper ’til blood comes out of my forehead.”

Q: (Laughter)
Estrin: (Chuckle) I felt better when I read that.

Q: (Laughter) I can see where you would! And I’ve just got to say, sir, that your voice is — quite frankly — one of a kind.
Estrin: (Laughter) I know, I wish it wasn’t, but it works alright for me. It is what it is, and I think that it’s helped me develop my writing voice, too. I’m lucky that I’m just a little bit peculiar enough to carve out a little spot for myself in this scene.

Q: Now, I know you must have been up to our fair state before, because of the reference to Maine lobsters in “I Ain’t All That” on your latest CD, correct?
Estrin: Yeah, we’ve played the North Atlantic Blues Festival a couple of times at least, and we’ve played at the Time-Out Pub for Paul (Benjamin) a number of times, as well.

Q: Were you there with Little Charlie, too?
Estrin: I think probably so. It all blends together, man, and I can’t even blame that on age. I know I’ve been there a couple of times with this incarnation of the band, and I know we were there with Charlie, too.

Q: Are you out touring a lot nowadays?
Estrin: Yeah, but we don’t tour as much as we used to, because the work ain’t there. Unless you want to work for next to nothing. But we still do about 100 dates a year, and we’ll go overseas. And this thing in Maine starts with us flying to Oslo, Norway, for a couple of days, then we fly back to the U.S., and we have a date in Atlantic City, then a date in Sherman, Massachusetts — I think that’s by Worchester — and then we have the North Atlantic. We’ll fly home from there. So, we start this tour in Norway and end it at the North Atlantic Blues Festival in Maine.

Q: How does the blues go over, over there?
Estrin: Well, in Norway the blues is really popular. I mean, they have one of the biggest blues festivals in the world in Norway. For some odd reason the blues is really popular (there) and has been for a long time. I’ve been all over the world on all kinds of different continents, and whether people speak English or not, they seem to like it. I mean, we’re going to Russia later in August to do a couple of gigs there. I’ve been to Russia before. I’ve been to Turkey a couple of times, and I’ve been all over South America, Hong Kong and all kinds of places.

Q: Well, seeing you’re coming back to our neck of the world, is there anything, sir, that you’d like me to pass on to the folks reading this article?
Estrin: We know that the people will get a good show, man, we’re looking forward to being there. We’re performers, we’re not just guys standing up there playing, looking all introverted and deep (chuckle). I would also like to say that anybody who’s not aware should be appreciative of what Paul Benjamin does up there. He’s a hard-working, knowledgeable guy that really contributes not only with the North Atlantic Blues Festival, which is a pretty great event every year, but he also put on shows different times of the year. He does a great job up there, man, and people need to appreciate having someone like that in their region. And if that’s not enough, Paul Benjamin used to spar with Marvelous Marvin Haggler. Ain’t that something, man? It impressed the hell out of me!


Lucky Clark has spent 50 years writing about good music and the people who make it. He can be reached at [email protected] if you have any questions, comments or suggestions.

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