On season one of NBC’s ‘The Voice,’ Nakia quickly became a fan favorite using his big grizzly voice to transform pop songs. While producers focused on his relationship and his struggle to make ends meet as a blues singer, what they didn’t show you on TV was just how much Nakia accomplished on his own prior to show. Long before Nakia was a semifinalist on CeeLo Green’s team, he was a beloved member of the Austin music community, fronting bands, performing solo, and working with some music’s biggest names.
Nakia moved from Chicago to Austin in 2002 and began performing solo original material with his piano. After a brief stint in the Small Stars, a tongue-in-cheek lounge act fronted by Fastball’s Miles Zuniga, he formed Nakia & His Southern Cousins. This band shared stages with B.B. King and Willie Nelson, and performed at the Austin City Limits Music Festival where Nakia wound up dancing and singing with Sharon Jones & the Dap Kings. Jones took a liking Nakia. Offering him advice and encouragement and inviting him back to sing with her many times before her passing. Alt-country rocker Alejandro Escovedo heard him sing at a Rolling Stones tribute and invited him to join his band singing backing vocals alongside Bruce Springsteen and Ian Hunter on Escovedo’s Street Songs of Love. As the album cycle ended, producer Tony Visconti (David Bowie/Mott The Hoople) suggested Nakia to front his own blues band as a way to find the roots of the music he had been singing. Following his advice he formed Nakia and the Blues Grifters with guitarist and producer Mac McNabb, bass player Chris Johnson, and drummer Kevin Lance. Almost immediately the band was a hit in Austin, playing big shows to larger and larger crowds. In fact, it was Nakia’s full-throated, soulful performance at one of those shows, which had been uploaded to YouTube, that subsequently found it’s way to television producer Mark Burnett. Burnett insisted on recruiting him for a brand new show no one had heard of yet scheduled to begin filming in February of 2011. Reluctant but hopeful, Nakia put the band, and the album, on pause while he went out to Hollywood where each week he wowed the show’s four celebrity coaches and it’s weekly audience of 14 million worldwide viewers.
As the whirlwind of reality television started to wind down, Nakia placed his focus on writing songs for his 6 song EP, “Drown In The Crimson Tide” and the tour that followed. Three years later he got a call to appear on a blues compilation album. Nakia knew it was time to call up the Blues Grifters again.
“They asked me to sing ‘Whipping Post’ with some great studio musicians, all friends of mine. Great players,” said Nakia, “but I told them I needed the Blues Grifters. The Producers agreed and we secretly cut the song ourselves and turned it in the week before we were scheduled to go into a big fancy studio.” The track is a complete reimagining of The Allman Brothers classic. Transforming it from an 11/8 prog-rocking dirge into a gritty Stax inspired soul 4/4 jam that culminates into a double time frenzy.
Renewed from the studio experience, the newly reformed band got back on the stage and tightened their sound over 30 weeks in residency at the legendary “Home of the Blues”, Antone’s Nightclub, South Austin hip spot, C-Boy’s Heart & Soul and East Austin’s funky Skylark Lounge. Performing blues classics alongside deep-cuts and rarities that sent fans rushing to the dance floor every night.
“After the shows, the fans would always ask to buy an album of the songs they’d just heard,” Nakia recalls, “but we couldn’t find the finish line on the record after the band went on hiatus. When we got back together we dusted off the original tunes we started before ‘The Voice’ and we went back into Mac’s studio to finish the record. We cut these songs using old ribbon mics and analog gear and tape machines. Many of the songs recorded live, all in a room together. Real live blues. The way it was meant to be. We knew it had to be on vinyl.”
Now, for the first time ever, Nakia is bringing those real live blues directly to you. Featuring songs by blues greats like Otis Rush, Johnnie Taylor, Howlin’ Wolf, Luther “Snakeboy” Johnson, and many more. The full-length LP will be available in June 2018.