The Cash Box Kings
Blues fanatics of course, but certainly the culturally minded and perhaps most crucially, regular Joe’s, all should spend at least one night in a classic Chicago blues club. Add it to the bucket list, because soaking up that vibe with a blistering band tearing it down can be life changing. Seek out the Cash Box Kings. Not many dispense slices of deep-dish vintage Chicago-style the way they do, serving it with a variety of tasty flavors on top. Harmonica ace and blues scholar Joe Nosek formed the Cash Box Kings in 2001. Singer Oscar Wilson became his partner six years later. Nosek told me that Wilson was “born into the blues,” his larger-than-life, barbeque smoked charisma irresistible. Veteran Chicago guitarist Billy Flynn, bassist John W. Lauler, keyboardist Queen Lee Kanehira, and drummer Kenny “Beedy Eyes” Smith (son of the legendary drummer Willie “Big Eyes” Smith), complete the assemblage of absolute ass-kickers.
Oscar’s Motel is the Cash Box Kings’ tenth album, and it’s another five-star affair. Several guests are listed in the album’s register, but each track, in perfectly sequenced succession, projects the feel of a small combo getting right to the heart of the matter. “We take a very ‘live’ and organic approach to recording,” Nosek said. “We usually set all our equipment up and play in one room.” That spontaneity pays off in spades.
A little Texas soul, such as the original Fabulous Thunderbirds might have played, infuses the driving opener, “Oscar’s Motel,” where “You can party till you get tired and won’t be a word said,” an ideal that enlivens the record throughout it. The heated, shaking “Down on the South Side,” pumped up with the help of the C-Note Horns (Al Falaschi on sax and Jim Doherty on trumpet) and some fine rips by Mr. Flynn, continues the variety. “Please Have Mercy” highlights Wilson’s booming voice and Nosek’s trainloads of harp in a stripped to the bone, boiling blues. “Hot Little Mess” then jumps with bright country and rockabilly, Nosek taking a turn at the mic, singing in an easygoing tenor well-suited to the old rock ‘n’ roll vibe. Picture Roomful of Blues appearing in an episode of the old TV series, Happy Days.
At the outset of “Nobody Called it the Blues,” the singers field holler a bit before the song takes off north, to Chicago, the proclamations in the lyrics quite profound. Relating the struggle of the enslaved black man to the entertainment made today of their experiences, sure makes one think hard. Flynn’s serious, Muddy Waters-styled burner, “Trying So Hard,” furthers the notion in the context of a relationship.
“We are dedicated to carrying on the tradition and celebrating the classic Chicago blues popularized by Muddy Waters, the Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, and Jimmy Reed,” Nosek related. As tight as Flex Seal and as loose as mercury, the Cash Box Kings prove their mettle, time and again, on Oscar’s Motel. There is really no such thing as retro music because this kind of music never went out of style.
Tom Clarke for MAS