Rick Estrin was born in San Francisco, California in 1949, and grew up fiercely independent. As a 10-year-old boy, he made his way to the tough Market Street area and befriended many of the neighborhood characters. When he was 12, his older sister gave him a copy of Ray Charles’ The Genius Sings The Blues, and he became infatuated with the music. Albums from Jimmy Reed, Champion Jack Dupree, Mose Allison, Nina Simone and others soon followed. By the time he was a teenager, Estrin had immersed himself in the urban, African-American culture surrounding him. He got his first harmonica at age 15, and by age 18 was proficient enough to begin sitting in at black clubs around the city. He first jammed with blues master Lowell Fulson and immediately was hired to open five shows for R&B giant Z.Z. Hill. He worked five nights a week for almost a year with guitar legend Travis Phillips in a band fronted by famed pimp/bluesman Fillmore Slim (who was the centerpiece of the acclaimed Hughes Brothers documentary American Pimp). Slim introduced Estrin to singer Rodger Collins, the man who would become Rick’s first real musical mentor. Collins schooled Rick on the finer points of songwriting and show business. At 19, Estrin relocated to Chicago and worked with some of the city’s best bluesmen. He met and jammed with the legendary Muddy Waters, who told Rick, “You outta sight, boy! You got that sound! You play like a man!” Muddy wanted Estrin to go on the road with him, but Estrin missed Muddy’s phone call and it never happened. Estrin eventually moved back to the Bay Area, met guitarist Charlie Baty and formed Little Charlie & The Nightcats. With Charlie’s retirement from touring in 2008, Rick brought in guitar virtuoso Kid Andersen and formed Rick Estrin & The Nightcats.
Estrin cites Sonny Boy Williamson II, Percy Mayfield and Detroit bluesman Baby Boy Warren as his major songwriting influences. His work on the reeds is deep in the tradition of harmonica masters Sonny Boy Williamson II and Little Walter Jacobs, while at the same time pushing that tradition forward with his innovative songs. And his sly and soulful vocals are the perfect vehicle for driving those songs home.