Album Reviews

Johnny Nicholas

Too Many Bad Habits

Artist:     John Nicholas

Album:     Too Many Bad Habits

Label:     Self-released

Release Date:     10.20.2017

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You’ve often heard the term triple threat or even quadruple threat associated with both athletes and musicians. Yet, we could think of Johnny Nicholas as a triple regional catalyst, a term that is rare indeed. Johnny has the unique claim of influencing the music scenes in New England, Ann Arbor, MI, and Austin, TX. Nicholas went to the same Rhode Island high school as Duke Robillard and was influential in creating the thriving New England blues scene in area clubs. The historic Ann Arbor Blues Festival in 1969 drew Nicholas to that city a year later and he forged a blues culture at the Blind Pig and Mr. Flood’s Party clubs, among others, by bringing some of the best blues musicians out of retirement for his gigs. As an original member of the Austin-based Asleep at the Wheel in the mid-’70s, Nicholas was a vital cog in establishing Austin as a live music mecca. Those two aspects are captured on this reissue of Nicholas’ 1977 album, Too Many Bad Habits, along with a bonus disc/second vinyl LP of previously unreleased tracks that feature harmonicist Big Walter Horton, pianist Boogie Woogie Red, and guitarist Johnny Shines.

All sessions were completely remastered. “This album was initially released on the fledgling Blind Pig label in 1977 and was cut from their catalogue in 1978 shortly after I joined Asleep at the Wheel and stopped touring under my own name…I finally got possession of all multi track tapes, masters, art work and photos in January of 2016…I was pleasantly surprised to discover a bunch of stellar performances which had never been released. Walter and Johnny and Red were my friends and mentors and hearing this stuff was such a thrill.”

The first disc begins with original members of Asleep at the Wheel including Ray Benson, Luck Oceans, Bill Mabry, Link Davis Jr. and Tony Garnier (Bob Dylan’s longtime bassist) through the first five tracks, four of which are Nicholas originals. As it unfolds, Horton and Shines are featured on several tunes, a mix of Nicholas originals and blues classics. Nicholas is the lead vocalist across both discs except Boogie Woogie Red’s turn on Jay McShann’s “Hootie Blues” and Johnny Shines on his own “Blues Came Fallin’ Down.” Nicholas plays mostly rhythm guitar and some piano for a sound throughout that is primarily acoustic. You won’t hear the amped-up electric Chicago sound, but Shines does get in his own patented stinging lines.

Keep in mind that the semi-retired Nicholas is still playing and releasing albums every few years, but this music is from 40 years ago, a time when a new generation of America was just discovering the blues and Nicholas, a budding talent at the time, shared the stage with the acknowledged masters. The interplay is intimate and contagious.

—Jim Hynes

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