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Nick Alexander Interview


Nick Alexander releases debut CD, Lil Hoochie, an homage to his bluesman daddy, Linsey

Story and Photos: Peter M. Hurley

Photo: Peter Hurley

 

This, Ladies and Gentlemen, is the future of the Blues,” announced Buddy Guy’s Legends emcee Darryl Johnson in his introduction of the tall, thin young man behind him.


Considering the youngster’s club experience sitting in with his father Linsey from the age of 11 and substituting for him since the age of 17, Johnson most certainly hit the mark. “Give it up for Nicholas Alexander!” At just 23, Nick Alexander truly is the future of the Blues.


            “It has been a gradual thing,” says Nick. “At first, I’d just accompany my dad Linsey to his gigs, then I’d play with the band, then I’d play a song or two on my own. Before you knew it, I’d be playing whole sets. Now I book myself at all the clubs. But it feels like I spent half of my teenage years at Kingston Mines.”

 

            Born in Chicago on March 5, 2001, Nicholas Alexander lived with both of his parents, venerable Chicago Blues legend Linsey Alexander and his mom until the age of three. Owing to a difficult relationship, his mom took the boy with her to Ft. Meyers, Florida to be with her mom, a retired ex-cop. “I didn’t remember my dad much until I started visiting him and his wife Judy back in Chicago when we became reacquainted. Then, as I approached ten years of age, my mom was having a rough go of it. It was decided I’d be better off in Chicago with my dad. She was a good mom, but she wasn’t physically and mentally at her best; she was bi-polar.”

 

            At 69, night-owl Bluesman Linsey Alexander, known among his peers as “Hoochie Man,” found himself a full-time father to a 4th grader. “It was an odd dynamic,” says the soft-spoken and reflective Nicholas. “The age gap was extreme and he had an unusual lifestyle. As I was coming home from school, he’d just be getting up.” When asked if his father was willing to go along with it, Nick laughs and says matter-of-factly, “He’s my dad, he wasn’t going to say no.”



Nick will host his Lil Hoochie CD release party on April 27th at Buddy Guy’s Legends

 

PMH: Where was your dad’s home when you first came back?

 

NA: Hometown. It’s just a few square blocks at 87th and Cicero.

 

PMH: How was that adjustment: new family, “new” dad, new surroundings? Was it exciting to be in a new environment?

 

NA: No. Me and my mom had been real tight. I don’t like to go too much into it. There were hardships involved in Florida, but I wanted my mom. Not to disparage Judy or my dad, it just wasn’t what I was used to.

 

PMH: So, it was a tough adjustment.

 

NA: To be honest, I was bullied by my peers. Really bullied as a kid. You see, I couldn’t give a f*** about sports. I wasn’t that guy. I was never gonna run around for a ball. But my dad gave me an ultimatum. He insisted that I not “sit around the house all day. It’s either sports or music,” he said. I might have already become interested in guitar a little by then, but it was around this time that he gave me a choice. It was music for me and here I am.

 

PMH: Did your mom get to witness your development as a musician?

 

NA: Oh, yeah, my mom got see all that. Long story short, my mom ended up moving back here too, so from about 2013-2017, I moved back with her. I got to live on the Gold Coast, I got to live in Hyde Park. So, I was playing music when I was with her until about my high school sophomore year and moved back with my dad to Oak Lawn. My mom passed away in 2019.

 

PMH: So, she got to see you on stage and see your showmanship. You have that. Where does that come from? It seems natural, but have you modeled your stagecraft after others as well?



 

NA: Oh, I love performing, I’ve always loved it. This is the one thing I can do that no one else can, at least no one can be me on stage. I think every musician feels that, or should. After all, performing is an art form that is a personal expression like any art form. As for who I learned it from, I have my dad first and foremost. He can really work a crowd. My other great influences are Buddy Guy, Albert King and Carl Weathersby. I’ve absorbed the way Buddy Guy has that stage presence and rapport with the audience and the way King plays and sings. Oh, and Jimmy Reed too. I always include some Jimmy Reed in my shows.

 

PMH: And the Blues in particular— obviously, your dad’s Blues made a huge imprint, but did you have other musical interests?

 

NA: I loved everything. Let’s see, how do I get into that? I love Pop, I love R&B, the 2000’s R&B— but then you go listen to the Blues all day and now you’re playing guitar and whap! You’re a Bluesman. But, if it wasn’t for my love of the blues, I wouldn’t love all these other music genres too.

 

PMH: Your love of the Blues most definitely comes across. You have great chops and demonstrate great feeling for your music on stage.

 

NA: Guitar playing live, that’s—that’s my bread and butter. That will always be where I go for sustenance. That’s where my “emotions” really is.

 

PMH: When do you feel that the Blues really kicked in for you?

 

NA: When I started going to the clubs, seeing and hearing my dad play live. He’d just take me so I wasn’t sitting at home. I thought, ‘all right, I can do that.’ Kingston Mines (at 2548 N. Halsted where Linsey hosted the ‘Sunday Jams’ for years) first let me in when I was 11. And, yeah, I’d play there at age 11. So, for me, it’s been practically forever.


            Once I was established there, he’d take me anywhere they’d let me in. At Buddy Guy’s Legends they might say, “He can play here just this one night only.And Dad would go, “Nick, get ready, you’re on tonight.” It would get to the point where I could tell he was proud of me, but at the same time it became normal for him. To me, though, not everyone’s dad has their son sit in with him and sometimes for him. But that’s how I learned and got my stage experience. And the elder Bluesmen have always accepted me and, for that, I am very grateful.


On the subject of much beloved Linsey Alexander’s current state of health, it’s a deeply personal subject for Nicholas. In a reply on Facebook, Nick expressed his reluctance to answer the many inquiries that had been coming his way on the social network. “It doesn’t help either of us to answer that question,” he posted. “My thought to friends who ask is to visit my dad with your well wishes. That will be the best way for him to get the message.” Nicholas does, however, speak of his father’s illness in the following.

 

NA: My dad started to get ill around 2017. It wasn’t always evident, but he would have bouts. It would get to the point that he would get tired. So that’s when I’d step in. I would suggest he lay down or whatever he’d need to do. And I’d say, “Whenever you’re ready, you come back.” And that would help him a lot. But there’d be sometimes where he’d say, “Get off the stage. I’m feelin’ good tonight, I want to do my thing!” And he was off and running. It was an ongoing back-and-forth thing like that.

 

PMH: So, to carry this out, would you be singing too?

 

NA: I always sang along when I played, but I started singing at the shows when I was about 16. It became like a co-working thing, a co-existing relationship. We’d eventually work it out for me to do a whole set. Then, at a certain point, I was suited to do my own thing and I’d get booked at Buddy Guy’s on my own. I’d use Dad’s band but I’d be billed under my own name.

 

PMH: This brings us to your new CD, Lil Hoochie, an affectionate nod to your Dad, Hoochie Man. Is this your first recording?

 

NA: Yes, my first. Two singles were released first—covers of my dad’s “Mona Lisa Was A Man” and “Popcorn,” the James Brown classic. They’re currently available on all music platforms, as they say. The whole Lil Hoochie album itself has been out since April 1st!

 

PMH: Did you record this with your regular band?

 

NA: Yes, I use my band and some of my father’s band members. And I’ve got David Forte on bass, Pooky Styx on drums, Brian Lupo on additional guitar, “Hatter” Purifoy on organ and Dan Souvigny on keyboards and guitar. And we’ve got a horn section of Derrick Tate, Ryan Nyther and Royce Harrington-Turner. We cut tracks at Berwyn Recording with my agent Connor Korte producing.

 

PMH; Any particular concept?

 

NA: Yes, I’ve recorded material from my father’s never-officially released album, You Ain’t Got It. It’s one of the CDs he would sell at his live gigs and can’t be found or bought online.

 

PMH: That’s a great tribute.

 

NA: Yes, I love the material. These are the Blues and Soul-infused songs that I grew up with and that hold up so well to this day. It’s self-expression while at the same time paying tribute to great artists of the past—my father and the songs’ originators. I’ve got three James Brown cuts on it, “Popcorn”, “Make It Funky” and “Soul Power!”



PMH: Are you writing now too, any originals included?

 

NA: For now, I’m sticking to the Blues canon as is. There is such a vast wealth of material to interpret and re-interpret. I want to further cut my teeth on my forefathers’ expressions and go deeper into it. I feel like, for now, I’m more of a vessel to carry on my Dad’s stuff. Like, for instance on the CD “I’m Tired” (and who hasn’t felt that?) is a song of my Dad’s that he first cut in the early ‘90s but re-released later. He’d do that at times, he’d recycle recordings and re-release them after they were remastered. I also covered the Jimmy Reed song, “Outskirts of Town.” And that’s exactly how I feel sometimes, I just want to disappear and go away. So, I’m lettin’ the predecessors have their say through me for this period of my musical career.           

            I’ve got a Ray Charles song on it too, “I Believe to My Soul.” I went back and listened to the original and it is basically straight Blues, not what you usually hear from Ray Charles. We’ve got another of my Dad’s “Mona Lisa Was a Man” from his “My Days Are So Long” album that we chose as the first single. “Movin’ To the Country” is from You Ain’t Got It too. Lastly, the intro is special: it’s my Dad introducing me at Johnny’s Blitz out in Westmont. It was a very cool moment to capture and include.

 

PMH: Magnificent! The “Intro” by your Dad is a riot; a little brusque but affectionate. I’m listening to the cd at home and loving it. It’s funky, bluesy, upbeat and tight. I love the overall sound and material. Tell us more about the recording experience, how was it?

 

NA: I’ve learned so much and I’m thinking ahead. The wheels are turning - I have an active imagination! My focus now, though, is on my current cd and spreading the word. We’re having our official Lil Hoochie CD Release Party on April 27th at Buddy Guy’s Legends and I’d love for everyone to come!

 

PMH: Your father has a legacy, of course, and you’re coming into it. But it’s also evident that you have a strong sense of self and your own personal attachment to the Blues; your way of going about it.

 

NA: My Dad has just so much stuff—he’s a unique person, his brain is just—well, he’s hilarious. And I think it’s cool what he’s done. He worked all these years and managed to be a self-taught Bluesman and make it. And, like I said, my goal right now is to carry it on. Even when he’s not here, I represent him. So, if I could do that for myself, my Dad and everyone else, then I’ll have carved out a deeper notch in the Blues Belt. But it’s not a matter of my Dad “overshadowing” me; I won’t let that be the case. I’m my own person and I’m respected for my own artistry. I won’t let it be any other way. Not that I haven’t made mistakes. I’ve made plenty.

 

PMH: Such as?

 

NA: I’ve made them before and I’m making them now. That’s how you learn. I’ve made them on stage, off stage. But I’m running my own business and they’re bound to happen. Like double-booking as an example

 

NA: Too many gigs?

 

NA: No, double-booking mishaps for me; same night, same time, one gig only! Being professional means owning your responsibilities, and I'm all about that. Sure, I bring the fun on stage, but punctuality and dedication are my jams!

 

Listen, when I say the seasoned Bluesmen and venue folks have been my rock, I'm dead serious. In my early days, I was a bit timid, you know. But then came Daryl and Johnny from Legends, giving me those life-changing pep talks. They'd say, "This is your moment on stage, man. Grab it with both hands and rock it. That's what the crowd's here for." And you bet they are! I've stopped holding back since. My gigs? They're a total blast – for me, my band, and every single person in the crowd. Blues isn't just about the music; it's about the showmanship. I'm living that legacy. And with my latest CD, I'm shouting it from the rooftops!




 

PMH: How do you feel about what’s ahead for you?

 

NA: Good things. I’m a hard worker and more focused than ever. And I have people around me that are like family, a team. I’d like to thank them all; all the people down at Buddy Guy’s Legends, the Legend’s family who have been supporters: Fil Kinetik and Connor Korte of BluesBird, my record label and management. I want to make sure to give kudos to my step-mom Judith who is—is the whole reason I am here right now. She deserves all the credit in the world, she’s has just been incredible for taking care of my dad during his toughest time. She has been gracious, she has been faithful and devoted to him for many years. 18 years now. All the Chicago DCASE, just everyone who has supported me and allowed me to do what I do now. They’re just incredible.

 

There is so much more to come with artists like Nick “Lil Hoochie” Alexander laying it down. Like the man said, the future of the Blues is alive and well.

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Nick's debut album Lil' Hoochie is available for downloads and streaming on Spotify, Apple, iTunes, Amazon and other platforms. The physical CD can be purchased at his live shows.


For more information on Nick Alexander, including upcoming gigs, and the new album check out: https://www.facebook.com/NickAlexanderBluesBand/

 

About the Author: Peter M. Hurley is a photographer/writer/artist whose interest in Blues began as a young boy upon first hearing the distinctive and haunting Chess Records sound of Bo Diddley. Exposure to Little Walter, Junior Wells and Howlin' Wolf in later years led him to further discover more Blues originators. After many years as an artist, Mr. Hurley shifted his visual focus, bringing his painterly sensibilities to the art of photographing musicians in the throes of performance on Chicago Blues stages. Combining music and visual art goes to the heart of what he had felt growing up with rock 'n roll and then discovering its source: the Blues. 

 

 

 

 

 

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