Rick Holmstrom Band, Bliss Bowen & Friends

Rick Holmstrom Band

Born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Rick Holmstrom grew up surrounded by the sounds of 50's rock, 60's surf, folk, and the Beatles. Though appropriately impressed when his disc jockey father took him to see Chuck Berry at an early age, young Rick nevertheless preferred sports through his teen years.

It wasn't until senior year at college that guitar began to take over; when Holmstrom joined a band playing blues and roots at parties. A band mate introduced him to records by blues artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, et al, setting the young musician on a quest.

Graduating in 1987, Holmstrom moved to Los Angeles, where he was a freelance reporter by day, haunting the city's funkiest blues clubs at night to observe, sit-in and learn. His budding talent was recognized by William Clarke, who took him on tour. Eventually the road won out over reporting and Holmstrom became fully immersed in the blues scene, working with local luminaries Johnny Dyer, Smokey Wilson and Rod Piazza, as well as legends Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold and R.L. Burnside.

In 1996 he released the first record under his own name, Lookout!, on the New Orleans label Black Top, followed at the millennium's turn by Gonna Get Wild on Tone Cool. 2002's Hydraulic Groove, also on Tone Cool, turned the blues world on its head with its blues meets hip hop grooves, electronica and DJ remixes. "I'm glad I made that record," says Holmstrom, "even though it pissed a lot of folks off. I was a young, up and coming traditional blues hope, so I dashed those hopes with that record, but that's cool, I'm proud of it. It has its flaws, for sure, but it was heartfelt."

In 2007 Holmstrom released Late in The Night on M.C. Records. Gone were the hip hop and electronica elements, but the guitarist was not done pushing the limits of the blues, this time experimenting with the genre's song forms. "I love blues," Holmstrom says, "I listen to Lightnin' and Gatemouth and Little Walter all the time, but I'm interested in blues feeling, phrasing and tones without necessarily using the same 12 bar forms over and over."

Just as Holmstrom and long time band mates Stephen Hodges and Jeff Turmes were about to hit the road in support of Late in The Night, the call came to back up gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples, fresh off the release of her critically acclaimed We'll Never Turn Back record (Anti, 2007). It was a no-brainer; Holmstrom and his Late in The Night trio hit the road with Staples, accompanying her on Live: Hope at the Hideout for Anti Records in 2008. Smart enough not to mess with a great thing, producer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) used the now tight as nails trio to back Staples on her Grammy award winning You Are Not Alone (Anti, 2010).

This same trio brought their telepathic interplay into the studio for Holmstrom's latest M.C. Records recording, Cruel Sunrise, combining it with the guitarist's evolved songwriting and evocative vision to make Cruel Sunrise his best record yet.

"We've been around songwriters like Jeff Tweedy, Neko Case, Buddy Miller, Billy Bragg and Jolie Holland while recording and touring with Mavis," says Holmstrom, "and I figured there's gotta be a way to combine that kind of literate writing with low down blues feeling to create songs that regular music fans might like, in addition to blues aficionados."

No doubt both aficionados and regular fans will appreciate Cruel Sunrise, a record that honors Rick Holmstrom's past as a blues master while pointing to his future as a songwriter to be reckoned with.

Bliss Bowen

“What comes from the heart reaches the heart.” —Pops Staples

Who do I sound like? Damned if I know. Myself. It’s been a twisty road, finding my way back to where I started before a hard detour, and all I can say is that when I’m writing and singing, making music, is when I feel most like myself. And most alive.
Where did I start? Hmm … well, if you go all the way back… I guess you could say I started around age 4, at some church social where I was expected to be a good little girl and sit quietly with my grandparents at their table … but I never have cottoned to being told what to do. Instead, I darted up to the stage and danced and sang some little song that was bouncing 'round my head until my beloved (and beaming) grandfather gently retrieved me. After that, I sang with Granddad at the piano ... I sang in the shower ... choirs … musicals … and bands, playing four and five sets a night several nights a week. Sang on some demos too.
Then came what was supposed to be a temporary break from music, so I could bone up on the business side of things and take better care of myself. Instead, life intruded, as it often does, and that break dragged on into a years-long, soul-draining hiatus. In the shadows of my living room, I worked on my notebook scribbles and played songs by some of my heroes: Bruce Springsteen, Kris Kristofferson, Bonnie Raitt, Etta James, The Band, Billie Holiday, Lucinda Williams, Patty Griffin, Willie Nelson, Emmylou Harris, the Staple Singers, Buddy & Julie Miller, Lone Justice, Howlin' Wolf, Patsy Cline. Out in the light of the world, I stayed involved in my incredible Americana/roots musical community in Los Angeles, writing about other artists, occasionally organizing shows and hosting house concerts. But I didn’t perform myself — until a dear friend visiting from out of town asked, “Why the hell doesn’t anyone know you sing?!” Patty Blee literally grabbed me by the arm, made me sit down beside her on my couch and taught me a few of her songs so I could sing harmony at her shows. It was like a lifeline tossed my way in a storm. That led to singing with other friends, including the amazing Musette (Gia Ciambotti, Nicole Gordon, Claire Holley and Kristin Mooney) and Amilia Spicer, who now sings with me in my band too. Patty, Amilia, Claire, Nicole, Jeff Turmes and Ted Russell Kamp went out of their way to support me and gave invaluable feedback on my songs. Friends are among the greatest blessings in my life.
Friends, and music. During those offstage years people knew me as a tastemaker and music scribe, but not as a performer. So it’s a little weird — though completely understandable — when they hear me now and remark, “Oh, you started singing!” No. I returned. It’s a long overdue homecoming, and I’m a damn lucky woman to be supported by some of the most talented, respected and big-hearted musicians in Los Angeles: Carl Byron, Ted Russell Kamp, Dave Raven, Jeff Ross, Amilia Spicer, Jeff Turmes and Steve Mugalian. When audience members connect to a performance and ask about “Ghost Trees” or “Lately,” or request the lyrics to “Hanging Out the Clothes” because it reminds them of their own experience, or — most often — share their own stories about loved ones with Alzheimer’s after hearing “Reach Out,” I feel a bone-deep sense of purpose being fulfilled. After years of writing about other artists who inspire me, I’m finally stepping up to share stories of my own. Thank you for listening.

“All a Musician can do, is get closer to the forces of Nature … and in doing so, feel that he is in direct communion with the Natural Laws.” — John Coltrane, Before the Music Dies

“All day and night, music, a quiet, bright reedsong. If it fades, we fade.” —Rumi


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