Kings cash out on 'Download Blues'
The Cash Box Kings have rent to pay.
Friday night, when the Cash Box Kings are selling their new CD, “Holding Court,” during their CD release show at The Midway Tavern, feel free to buy a copy without threatening to “burn one” for free from an online site.
Otherwise, you might wind up in a song like “Download Blues.”
“People think music/On the net should be free,” Cash Box Kings vocalist Oscar Wilson sings. “It might as well, baby/’Cause they sure ain’t payin’ me …
“I got the download blues/I got the download blues/ MP threes/Is killin’ me/I got the download blues.”
Not that it’s not hard enough for even an acclaimed Blind Pig Records group such as the Cash Box Kings to make a royalty buck these days.
Cash Box Kings’ harmonica ace and songwriter Joe Nosek remembers the night a couple of years ago at Buddy Guy’s Legends in Chicago when a fan was eyeing one of their CDs at the merchandise table after the show and another guy walked up. “The guy says, ‘Don’t buy that, I’ll just burn it for you for free,’” Nosek says. “And I was like, ‘You couldn’t wait five minutes until you got out of my sight to say that?’
“It’s just about the digital affairs of piracy,” Nosek says of the song’s timely premise, which brings old-school blues up-to-date with the modern technology that robs the songwriter of hard-earned royalties. “It’s difficult anymore to make any money and not even break even. Things are lean, and a lot of those things are due to the download blues.”
Nosek, a spiritual disciple of Little Walter from Madison, Wis., and Wilson, the 6-foot-3, 300-pound multi-instrumentalist throwback to the heyday of Muddy Waters’ Chicago blues when Howlin’ Wolf made size a big deal behind any microphone, form the foundation of the Cash Box Kings 14 years and eight CDs now into the band’s existence.
“He knows old-school blues like the back of my hand,” Nosek says of Wilson, who sings and plays harmonica, guitar “and just about any instrument you lay in his hand. He can sing soul, R&B, and doo-wop, so he’s kind of a hidden gem in the Chicago scene.”
The rest of the band consists of a stable of rotating musicians made up of Chicago’s finest, most of whom are familiar figures around the city’s most popular blues clubs and staples of every stage at the annual Chicago Blues Festival.
Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith, son of Muddy Waters’ drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith and today’s hardest working drummer on the Chicago blues scene, anchors the rhythm section along with guys such as bassist and multi-instrumentalist Gerry Hundt, guitarist Joel Patterson, renowned Chicago mainstay guitarist Billy Flynn, bassists Brad Ber and Beau Sample, drummer Mark Haines, and one of the most prominent Chicago blues pianists in the world, Barrelhouse Chuck.
“What’s the secret?” Nosek asks in reply to the question of keeping a blues band together for 14 years in a modern world that downloads the blues into a license to steal.
“I think you got to love the music, and be respectful of each other musically. There are no egos musically in this band,” he says. “That’s how traditional Chicago blues should be played. Everybody’s got their own piece of the puzzle, and they play in the right place at the right time.”
It’s also a healthy band, with clean heads prevailing on stage.
“There’s no substance abuse in the band, no drug or alcohol issues that can hurt the band,” Nosek says. “And it’s Oscar and myself, and there’s these six guys who rotate through, and that keeps things musically fresh and energized.”
The new record, the band’s eighth release and a follow-up to 2013’s “Black Toppin’,” pays homage to the Chicago blues forefathers with Jimmy Rogers’ “Out on the Road” and John Lee Hooker’s “Hobo Blues,” with nods to Honey Boy Allen (“I’m a Real Lover Baby”), Willie Love (“Everybody’s Fishin’”) and Big Smokey Smothers (“I Ain’t Gonna Be No Monkey Man”).
But it’s the Cash Box Kings swipe at online piracy that steals the show on “Holding Court” with such lines as “Downloads don’t pay me/Not even half a cent/Not even enough/To pay the rent.”
“Sites are still giving it away for free,” Nosek says by phone a few days before the CD’s April 28 release date. “Hopefully, they’ll wait for after the 28th to buy it.”