Nicki Bluhm, the Gramblers to rock North Lake Tahoe
CRYSTAL BAY, Nev. – Not many fans can say that they’ve formed a band with one of their musical idols, let alone a marriage.That’s exactly where Nicki Bluhm finds herself, recording and touring with husband and fellow musician Tim Bluhm and their band, the Gramblers.”We’ve just been touring nonstop for about a year,” Nicki Bluhm said. “We’ve been really busy doing that, and somehow found time last spring to record a bunch of new songs. We just put out two singles, ‘Little Too Late’ and a song called ‘Ravenous.’ Those are tracks off the new album.”The two come from widely differing musical backgrounds. Tim Bluhm is a founding member and front man of San Francisco rock band the Mother Hips. He and university dorm-mates in 1989 formed the band in Chico, Calif., and grew into popularity in and around San Francisco in the 1990s. “I sort of fell into rock ‘n’ roll by accident as soon as I went to college,” he said. “It was an accidental thing. It wasn’t really my plan, but it took over my life.”He has had numerous side projects, including the Skinny Singers with Jackie Greene. A dedicated producer, he also produces recordings for his bands and other artists.Nicki Bluhm, on the other hand, never stepped onstage until after meeting her spouse-to-be. While she loved to sing ever since she was a child and had started playing guitar around age 17, she had never taken her music in front of strangers.”Singing’s something that’s always been on my radar, although singing in front of people was not,” she said.Nicki Bluhm first laid eyes on her future husband and band mate as a teenager, attending Mother Hips shows in the Bay Area. “I knew of Tim for a long time,” Nicki Bluhm said. “All my boyfriends when I was in high school and college loved the Mother Hips, so I started going to Hips shows when I was a teenager. Of course, I saw Tim and I was pretty blown away, just by the way he looks, and his songs, the way he plays. I kind of developed this crush on Tim at an early age.”Nicki Bluhm was a familiar face at Mother Hips shows, but it took some time for her and Tim to join forces.”She was a pretty avid Mother Hips fan,” Tim Bluhm said. “She would come backstage and hang out. She was a known character at Mother Hips shows. It wasn’t until a few years after that that we really had a personal connection.”It was New Year’s Eve 2005 that the two really hit it off, after he listened to her vocals for the first time.”The first time I heard her sing, my producer’s mind, I couldn’t forget it,” Tim Bluhm said. “I knew she had something a lot of people would like, including me.”Just as I suspected once we sunk some work into this thing and we made a record, we were invested in it,” he said. “We started dating, and got really serious as a couple. That wasn’t really a plan, it just sort of happened. I just wanted to help her develop her talent, that was obvious to me and was really special. At that point I don’t think she even understood what it was. I mean, there’s people that try so much harder than she does and don’t make anywhere close to the impression she did.”Impressed with her vocal ability and energy, Tim Bluhm encouraged his new girlfriend to bring her talent in front of audiences. He produced her first album in 2008, “Toby’s Song.””At first she didn’t really have the ambition, she was sort of lukewarm on the whole concept of being the singer in the band,” he said. “She’s more modest than that, it didn’t really work for her. It took her awhile to come around to that. It took a lot of positive feedback from the world, which she got as soon as she started singing in front of people.””I started by myself just playing guitar and singing and I very quickly realized that that was way too scary,” Nicki Bluhm said. “So I called up Deren Ney, who is my friend from childhood. I knew he was a great guitar player. I asked if he wanted to play some gigs with me opening for Skinny Singers, which is Jackie Greene and Tim Bluhm. We played shows as a duo for a little while, until I released ‘Toby’s Song.’ When we played that album release party I wanted the set to sound like the record. We couldn’t really do the record as a duo because there’s drums and bass, a lot of stuff you can’t do with a duo. So I got a band together, and the rest is history.”With the Bluhms and Ney joined by Steve Adams (bass), Dave Mulligan (rhythm guitar) and Mike Curry (drums), the Gramblers were formed.The band is now heading out on a nationwide tour and preparing for the release of its first album. Nicki Bluhm has released two records to date that feature members of the Gramblers (among many other musicians), but were released under her name only, she said.”The last two albums, you’ll notice, were called Nicki Bluhm, not Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers,” the singer said. “We used our band members of course, although Dave Mulligan was not in the band then, so he’s not on the record. They are Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers songs, but for whatever reason we called them Nicki Bluhm. We did have quite a broad collection of musicians play on both of those albums.”While not officially titled yet, the new album is fully recorded. It will most likely be self-titled, Tim Bluhm said.”We recorded it at Tim and my studio in San Francisco at Mission Bells,” Nicki Bluhm said. “We’d been on the road so much touring that we were really warmed up when we went in to record, which is a great time to go in the studio, when you’ve been playing together a lot, just kind of gelling together. Timing wise it was really special for us, we’d just been spending so much time together. The recordings really highlight that. We did a lot of it live in the studio, all playing our instruments at the same time. I think that adds a little bit of spirit, it’s not so calculated. I think it really reflects our time spent together on the road and touring.”The two singles recently released, ‘Little Too Late’ and ‘Ravenous’ are available on iTunes and the band’s website.”We’re super proud of this new record, it really shows the direction the band is going in,” Tim Bluhm said. “We’ll be on the road for 200 days or so, on a succession of long national tours. It’s nice to see the offers keep coming in.”One such offer came from Crystal Bay Casino, where Nicki Bluhm and the Gramblers will play on Saturday. The Bluhms share a deep appreciation for Lake Tahoe and its environs, and have played often in the area. Nicki Bluhm sat in with Soulive at the Snowlive music event at Crystal Bay on Feb. 23. “We were up there last weekend, I sat in with Soulive,” Nicki Bluhm said. “It was the last night of their four night run. It was awesome, really nice guys, getting to meet them and play with them and Papa Mali and George Porter, it was really cool. Big crowd, it was the biggest crowd I’ve seen at CBC before. I was really surprised. I got onstage and it was just like a sea of people, I’ve never seen it like that.”Both Bluhms also played at Sugar Bowl on Sunday with Simon Kurth of Huckle, hitting the slopes in between 45 minute sets.”They wanted the music to stretch throughout the afternoon,” Tim Bluhm said. “It was awesome up there, it was super bluebird, everything was perfectly groomed.”Despite recent trips to Lake Tahoe, the Bluhms are always keen to return.”We’re always treated really nice,” Nicki Bluhm said. “People in Tahoe seem really supportive and into music. Hopefully we’ll get a good crowd out there, have some fun. There’ll be lots of harmonies, lots of electric guitars and keys. Hopefully folks will come out and we’ll have a good time.”
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