December 03, 2021
Arts & Entertainment

Arts & Entertainment

Born to be wild

Crystal Lake’s Jimmy Nick hits the stage with some of the Blues’ best rockers

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His wildly energetic shows have earned Jimmy Nick much acclaim in the Chicago area and beyond.

Nick, a Crystal Lake native, has headlined at Buddy Guy's Legends in Chicago and performed with the likes of John Mayall, Samantha Fish, Pat Travers and Los Lonely Boys. In 2013, he won the Chicago Blues Guitar Slinger Challenge.

Reporter and music blogger Eric Schelkopf had the chance to talk to him recently about his latest musical endeavors.

Eric Schelkopf – I know that you grew up in Crystal Lake. Do you still live in the area?

Jimmy Nick – Oh, yeah, I'm still in Crystal Lake.

Schelkopf – It seems like you really play all over the place, which is good.

Nick – You got to, man. I have a great following in the Chicago suburbs and even in the city now. I headlined at Buddy Guy's Legends in March and I've played in different states. I'm trying to get out.

SCHELKOPF – The fact that you are now headlining at Buddy Guy's, how does that make you feel, given the caliber of the musicians that play at the club?

Nick – It's awesome, man. It really is. It's a badge of honor, because that's the top club, especially for blues, in the city of Chicago and I would day the country.

Last time I was there, he got on stage with me, which was an incredible feeling. We were doing our set, and then he started doing some Chess Records blues stuff. It was a great time.

I just kind of stood back and just played the chords with my rhythm section and just let him do his thing. I was very excited versus being nervous.

SCHELKOPF – Growing up, was he one of the musicians that you listened to?

Nick – One of my favorite albums is probably Buddy Guy's "Sweet Tea." His playing and singing on it really stands out to me. I definitely listened to a lot of Buddy.

SCHELKOPF – It seems like you have been busy. In December, you released the album "Dangerous Decisions & Bad Things." What were your goals for the album and do you think you accomplished them?

Nick – There were all kinds of goals. There was kind of a time limit goal, because I had a show already booked for the Raue Center in Crystal Lake for New Year's Eve. So I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to release a new album on that date.

I booked the studio time, and we got in the studio in November. We did the bulk of the album in a day and a half. It was incredible.

It's hands down the best sounding CD I've put out. That was a goal that was accomplished.

Another goal was to have a more mature sound from the last time I was in the studio, with more mature guitar playing and singing, which I think really comes through.

If you put on "Rare Breed," which was my 2014 album and then this new one, you're going to hear the maturity in my playing and my voice and even the songwriting. I also think it sounds really clean. I recorded it at Waysound Recording Studio in Fox River Grove, and owner and audio engineer Justin LeBreck engineered it and co-produced it with. He did a phenomenal job.

SCHELKOPF –You were talking about how it didn't take long to record. Were you trying to replicate your live sound at all?

Nick – We basically did it pretty much live. We rehearsed two days before and then went in the studio. The drums, bass, rhythm guitar and a scratch vocal were all done live.

It was a pretty straight process, very live, very raw and a lot of one takes. What you hear on the CD is damn near live.

SCHELKOPF –It does seem like there are a lot of albums that are overproduced, where there is no warmth to the album or anything.

Nick – I 100 percent agree. You want that grit and that soul to it. It's part of the art form, just that live energy. That's what people want.

SCHELKOPF –It seems like you like to roam through a lot of musical genres, including rockabilly.

Nick – We do some Johnny Cash stuff that people love. I have a bit of that old country in me, and like you said, rockabilly. I love that, too.

SCHELKOPF –You also put on an energetic show. It seems like you're really trying to energize the crowd through your music.

Nick – I think that is one of the most important things. People want to see something, and they want to feel a part of it, and you really have to cross that line when you are live.

You want to give it your all, all the time, and make them part of the show.

SCHELKOPF –Speaking of your shows, you've won several blues challenges. Does that make you feel good, being recognized by your peers like that? Is it kind of like a feather in your cap?

Nick – Oh, yeah. It's cool. In 2013, I won the Chicago Blues Guitar Slinger Challenge. That was pretty cool.

That was held at B.L.U.E.S. on Halsted in Chicago. To win it in front of that crowd was really cool.

But I don't focus on winning blues challenges as much as trying to consistently put on the best show for my audience. That's the real thing to worry about.

SCHELKOPF –How would you describe your guitar playing?

Nick – It's very straight ahead, not fancy, kind of a mix of rock 'n' roll and old Chicago blues – Chuck Berry, Angus Young, Elmore James, a lot of the Muddy Waters stuff and a lot of Bobby Rush's funky guitar licks and rhythm.

I'm really trying to focus on rhythms and riffs now and being tight with the band versus playing a million notes a second kind of thing. I like straightforward stuff.

SCHELKOPF –I understand you turned 28 in December. Do you see yourself as bringing the blues to a younger generation?

Nick – Yeah, definitely. My shows have been getting the younger audience. If you can get them to like it, that's really the goal, to get them dancing and having a good time.

They're getting it in their heads and they don't even know they're digging the blues, so it's a cool thing.

One of my favorite compliments is getting some younger people come up to me after a show and say, "Man, we don't even like blues, but we love you guys." That means a lot, that I'm kind of crossing over and getting more people on the blues stuff.

Eric Schelkopf writes about the arts and entertainment scene in Chicago at He also is an employee of Shaw Media.