Chicago area blues veteran hits the road in support of new album

December 28, 2018

Powerhouse Chicago blues group, The Nick Moss Band featuring Dennis Gruenling, touring in support of its first Alligator Records release, “The High Cost of Low Living,” will perform at 8 p.m. today at Hey Nonny in Arlington Heights.

The album, which debuted at No. 3 on the Billboard Blues Chart, is a classic Chicago blues ensemble sound that guitarist-vocalist Moss and harmonicist-vocalist Gruenling know, live and love.

Moss, who played a Friends of the Blues show in The Longbranch Restaurant in L’Erable in 2015 among other area performances, wrote eight new originals for “The High Cost of Low Living,” and Gruenling wrote two, all deeply rooted in the blues tradition with a touch of old school rock ’n’ roll.

It was produced by guitarist Kid Andersen and Moss and recorded at Rancho de Rhythm in Elgin. According to an Alligator Records news release, the album is a joyous sonic blast of pure blues power.

Although Moss and Gruenling had known each other for 20 years and had jammed together often, it wasn’t until 2016 that they decided to team up full time. Moss’ deeply rooted yet fully modern guitar playing flawlessly meshes with Gruenling’s monster harmonica chops.

On stage, the two communicate well, as Moss lays down the blues licks and Gruenling’s harmonica wails and howls in response, with Moss’ band adding their energy and expertise to the ensemble.

Moss, a guitarist, vocalist and songwriter, is a bluesman down to his soul, a 30-year veteran of the city’s take-no-prisoners blues scene, according to the news release. Moss paid his dues, playing gigs in Chicago’s West and South side blues clubs under the tutelage of some of the city’s greatest blues luminaries.

New Jersey’s Gruenling is considered among today’s best blues harmonica players.

Growing up in Chicago and standing tall at 6-foot-2, Moss dreamed of playing both music and sports. When kidney surgery sidelined his athletic hopes, he dove headfirst into the blues.

His mother was a huge blues fan, even taking a young Nick to see bluesmen such as Muddy Waters live in concert. Originally a bass player, Moss got his first professional break touring and playing bass with legendary West Side Chicago guitarist Jimmy “Fast Fingers” Dawkins.

He next toured with Willie “Big Eyes” Smith (longtime Muddy Waters’ drummer), leader of the Legendary Blues Band. Finding himself in need of a guitarist, Smith insisted Moss switch instruments.

Combining his natural talent with non-stop playing every open jam session, Moss quickly became one of the Chicago’s most highly sought-after players. Bluesman Jimmy Rogers (famous for his pioneering guitar work with Muddy Waters and for his solo it Walking By Myself) hired Moss to join his touring band and became his mentor.

Moss’ other influences include B.B. King, Freddie King, Earl Hooker and Magic Slim.

Moss formed his own band in 1997 and released the first of his 12 solo albums a year later on his own independent Blue Bella label. He’s received 22 Blues Music Award nominations and gained fans around the world, playing more than 100 shows a year.

Moss has shared stages with Buddy Guy, Kenny Wayne Shepherd, Gary Clark, Jr., David Hidalgo and many others.

As a teen, Gruenling heard the Alligator recording Harp Attack! (a summit meeting of James Cotton, Junior Wells, Carey Bell and Billy Branch) and decided that blues harmonica was his life’s calling. Gruenling was inspired by blues harp masters including Cotton, Little Walter and George “Harmonica” Smith as well as by saxophonists, including Lester Young and Red Prysock.

A self-taught player, he has seven solo albums to his credit. Gruenling’s harp work, raw-boned singing and energy are a perfect foil for Moss’ guitar playing and blues vocals.

“When the band and I get on stage, the music takes over,” said Moss in the news release. “We can’t hold back and the energy just comes pouring out. We get carried away and the audience gets carried away with us.”

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