Big Nick and the Gila Monsters have some experience ringing in new years -- they've been together for 21 of them. Last week, they closed out 2013 with a New Year's Eve gig at Janey's in Cave Creek, where they play at least once a month; they'll return this Saturday.
The idea behind their New Year's Eve gig was to get the music in before, in Big Nick's words, "All the crazies came out."
Big Pete Pearson, Chuck Hall, and Hans Olsen were also at the day gig. "All the usual suspects," Big Nick laughs. "Janey's is tiny inside, but they have a nice outdoor patio and that's where everybody played. The weather was glorious, sunny, warm. Actually we were all sweating, but we didn't care because Janey's has a great culture of music." (Big Nick also made sure to mention their food, coffee, and full bar.)
Janey's aside, Big Nick and the Gila Monsters have played most valley venues at least once during the last 21 years. They perform periodically at Desert Botanical Garden; last year they played at the annual Blues Blast, sponsored by the Phoenix Blues Society, in March.
It was their quality blues, and not just their longevity, that earned them entrance into the Arizona Blues Hall of Fame.
"The longevity of the band speaks volumes," Big Nick said. "There are so many musicians throughout the country that hop from band to band. It's not easy to get a group of musicians to blend together into a band for a long time. We've been together longer than any one of us has been married." The longevity is especially impressive when you consider their size--when the four-member Smokehouse Horns join the act, there's eight of them altogether. The four regulars are Mike Lewis on lead guitar, Rocky Heyer on bass, Ricky J. Lockhart on drums, and John "Big Nick" Samora on lead vocals and harmonica. (The Smokehouse Horns are Dean Randall on baritone saxophone, Brett Haglin on tenor saxophone, Jack Bannon on second trumpet, and Rich Cross on first trumpet.)
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For Big Nick, the Gila Monsters are a roadhouse band that can put together a big-city sound when the horns come in. "We play American blues. I like the blues because it's the mother of all American music."
More specifically, Big Nick and the Gila Monsters play a mix of Chicago, West Coast, and Texas blues, with large influences by T Bone Walker, BB King, Rick Estrin, Little Walter, and James Harmon.
"When I grew up, I had a brother who was 15 years older who would play music by T Bone Walker and all the greats," he said. "That got my interest in the blues going." That interest has seen them through seven CDs, and they hope to get another one going this year--when we spoke they already had four songs in the hopper.
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Big Nick and the Gila Monsters will play March 7 at Desert Botanical Garden and April 4 at the Chandler Jazz Festival.