The Cash Box Kings
August 26, 2022
Most every description of blues band the Cash Box Kings calls them “the real deal.” And it’s true, they are. However, as your loyal scrivener, I know that you’ve come to expect more than the parroting of cliches in these little exposes. Of course, the reason “the real deal” is used so often is because it’s succinct and to the point. And it rhymes! Rhyming, of course, is right up there with alliterations in popular, catchy phrases. And in this case “real” has the additional advantage of meaning “royal” or “king” in Spanish!
As good and descriptive as “the real deal” is, it’s time for another, similar and equally catchy description for the Kings. How about, “They ain’t fakin, ‘they be shakin’?” Hmm, lots of syllables and a little obscure. You have to know about the blues to know that “shaking” is a common blues condition. “I’m Shakin,”” The Blasters; “Shake,” Gary Clark, Jr.; “You Shook Me,” Willie Dixon (and others), “Shake for me, girl, I wanna be your backdoor man,” etc. The Kings are from Chicago, so how about “No fake by the lake.” Hmm, again, a little obscure. Maybe: “It’s a bone fide blues ride.” Getting a little closer… Maybe, “The Cash Box Kings are indubitable, not inscrutable.” Yikes! But wait, that not only rhymes, but it’s an alliteration too! Yeah, but this is the blues, not some high-falutin classical or opera thing. I suppose this highlights another necessary aspect of catchy phrases (or catch phrases for that matter), they need to use words people actually know. So, with that in mind: “The Cash Box Kings are the legit sh*t.” Yeah! This has probably been done before, but not as often as “The real deal.” No doubt the scatological implications impact its popularity.
That scatology could be a problem in our hyper-sensitive society. Perhaps further refinement is still required. So maybe we could go with, “The Cash Box Kings are the legit bit.” Hmm, well maybe that would work in England, but not so much around here. This “legit” business has some real potential for marketing many other products:
Legit fit: get it at Acme Gym!
Legit grit: Nothing smooth about the Cash Box Kings; they’ve got legit grit!
Legit hit: That’s no blooper poke, that’s a legit hit!
Legit lit: After visiting Acme Dispensary, you’ll be legit lit!
Legit pit: With the new Acme backhoe, you’ll be able to dig a legit pit!
Legit writ: “I’m sorry Mr. Trump, you’ll have to give up the documents, it’s a legit writ.”
Legit tit: No silicon added!
Legit wit: could apply to other writers besides this one.
Legit zit: Clearasil can clean out even the most legit zit!
OK, now that we know the Cash Box Kings are legit, I’ll explain why they are true blue. Friday night at Dazzle, it was a bone fide blues ride with the Kings’ actual factual blues. They’re from Chicago and they take that pedigree seriously. Much of what they play sounds like it could have been recorded at Chess Records in the 1950s.
That brings up another issue, and one that’s not unique to the blues. Musicians naturally build on those who came before them and there is certainly merit to keeping past forms of music alive and kicking. However, a note for note carbon copy of the sounds of the past can leave a modern band sounding a bit like the 25th Farewell Tour by The Who. The Cash Box Kings walks the fine line between slavish duplication of what’s already been done and innovatively moving the music forward by playing blues standards mixed in with their original tunes addressing 21st Century issues.
The first and the main subject of the blues has been the troubles between a man and a woman. In fact, Son House went so far as to say that was the only type of blues there could be. The Kings bring those problems into the current century with songs like “If You Got a Jealous Woman Facebook Ain’t Your Friend,” which is pretty much self-explanatory and “The Wrong Number” about a mis-directed text message. They also take on more serious matters like “Bluesman Next Door,” about race relations and “John Burge Blues” about a crooked and violent cop in the Chicago PD. “Build That Wall” satirically takes on current events.
Musically, the Kings are all blues, through and through. While Chicago style electric blues is the most obvious influence, the sounds of the Delta constantly lurk and sometimes burst out as if from a broken levee. And, in the keep-the-music-moving-forward category, the Kings have mixed up their own blues concoction they call “Bluesabilly,” a combination of Chicago blues and Memphis rockabilly.
Friday night at Dazzle, the Kings hit many classic blues styles, shuffles, boogie-woogie, swing, gut bucket and the slow grind. The band is led by the effervescent Joe Nosek on vocals and harmonica. Nosek was also the emcee, merch guy and general organizer of the production. At the start of the show, he explained that this was the band’s first time playing Denver. (It’s about time!) The band then launched into the appropriately named “Cash Box Boogie.”
Lots of blues stars have (or had) a profit to send their band out to the stage for a few tunes before they made their appearance. Perhaps that was designed to heighten the anticipation of seeing the star in the flesh. In keeping with that tradition, the show was about 40 minutes old before the Kings’ first string singer, Oscar Wilson made his appearance. Nosek explained that Wilson was fighting a cold as well as Denver’s mile-high atmosphere. Wilson himself declared “No excuses!” and proceeded to rip into the blues.
Wilson is a big man with a big voice and when he’s on stage, he commands attention. The bright yellow suit didn’t hurt in the attention-grabbing category. He’s one of those consummate pros who makes singing the blues seem effortless. But it’s not all casual relaxation, Wilson can belt it and get down to the nitty-gritty when necessary.
The rest of the band was as solid as Wilson’s vocals. Nosek specifically mentioned that bassist John Lauler and drummer Derek Hendrickson are both in their 20s. And that’s a good thing for the future of the blues because so often at blues shows so many of the players and much of the audience look like they have been collecting social security for many years. Guitarist
, fairly new to the band, has his own thing going as a one man band. His website goes into great detail about his technique and the equipment he uses for his solo endeavors. Friday night, he mainly played the role of sideman, but did step out and sing lead on “Every Drop.” Otherwise he busied himself with solid rhythm playing and searing solos when called upon by Nosek.
The Kings usually don’t have a keyboard player as an official band member, but guest ivory ticklers tend to sit in on their albums. Friday night, Ken Saydak pulled up a bench at the grand piano and sang a tune as well. Nosek explained that Saydak was a friend of the band now living in Colorado, so the Denver gig seemed like prime time to invite him to play.
The Kings have been around for about 19 years now, mainly gigging around Chicago and the Midwest. A recording contract with Alligator Records has raised their profile. They now have two albums on that imprint, Royal Mint (2017) Hail to the Kings (2019). Those two albums bring the band’s career total to 10 records. Nosek mentioned that another Alligator record is scheduled for an early 2023 release. Between the major label attention and getting around for more far flung gigs, like Friday night’s Denver appearance, the Cash Box Kings are getting in front of more ears. And deservedly so.