Nikki Hill at The Funky Biscuit
Friday February 28, 2020
Doors: 5 PM / Show: 9 PM
$20.00 - $40.00
If Tina Turner and Little Richard had a daughter and raised her with the help of uncles James Brown and Chuck Berry, she’d be like Nikki Hill.” -Minneapolis Star-Tribune
Independence has always come easy for vocalist/lyricist/bandleader Nikki Hill, raised by a single mother and two older sisters throughout Durham, North Carolina. This inspired not only her confidence at a young age, but a self-reliance and strong curiosity, which informed Hill's interest in art, reading and writing. Raised in the church and choir as a child, that curiosity led Nikki to trade the pews for barstools, sneaking into venues when necessary, and was soon immersed in North Carolina's roots scene as a young teen. She felt oddly comfortable, finding a direct connection between the energy she saw at local shows, and the intense praise dancing, gospel shouting church services she was raised in. Seeing everything from Dexter Romweber to Carolina Chocolate Drops, Bo Diddley to Motorhead, her new sermons came from rockers and bartenders, cowpunks and starving artists. Everyone had a story, and very soon, Nikki was in the mix herself, and making stories of her own.
Hill was always happy to lend her vocal harmonies to bands around town. This led to meeting musician Matt Hill in 2005; they both found a young, fellow crate-digging friend in each other who could talk just as much about Lightnin' Hopkins as they could Bon Scott era AC/DC. They eventually got married in 2011 in a quick move, having a small wedding and unable to afford a reception hall, took the option from a local venue to have a party there if they could remain open to the public. They took the tips from the wedding show and moved to St. Louis to help Matt gain touring traction in support of his solo albums. Bouncing between Nikki's day job as a personal trainer and waiting tables at night, she paired with Matt and performed as a duo to get back, and eventually began booking her own local shows while Matt was on tour. Nikki's live shows became quickly known in St. Louis and Chicago for their energy, unique sound, the loving vibe of her and Matt's interactions, and for her charisma, highly informed from her Pentecostal roots.
By the time Hill released "Here's Nikki Hill" in 2013, word had spread, for better or worse. The reputation of the live show preceded itself, and heavily. Still, all of this did not translate immediately. With the rarity of Black rock 'n roll singers/entertainers in the modern circuit and the large lack of knowledge of the impact of Black musicians on American roots music, Hill found herself in an odd spot. She became known just as much for confusing local audiences who had come to see the woman in the poster, assuming her an act of a relaxed vibe, as she did for leading an unbridled, soulful, electric guitar driven performance. Instead of drawing back and satisfying the assumptions people made, Nikki pushed back, showing people that rock n' roll didn't have one look or sound. The strong public curiosity allowed Hill the chance to open for a range of artists like Dr. John, Billy Boy Arnold, to Eileen Jewel and Nelly, before she even had music released. Labels came calling, but were looking for stylings of the more well-known Hill, or of a more boxed-in retro feel that could be fully embraced by the purists Nikki had come to abhor from her former years of teen rebellion. She continued to develop her sound despite not knowing what to call it, remaining inspired by the fire of roots pioneers before her that she studied in the record stores and book shops.
Nikki, with Matt on guitar and a changing rhythm section, played over 20 festivals and close to 200 venue shows in 2013, building audiences across the US and Europe. She also recorded with Deke Dickerson and The Bo-Keys in Memphis, TN, lending her voice to the "Soul Meets Country" EP, expressing yet another side of her limitless enthusiasm for all things roots. Nikki and Matt also moved to New Orleans, LA, returning to the south, and picking up influence through the Gulf Coast. The momentum continued through the release of her second album "Heavy Hearts Hard Fists" in 2015. With fiery soul and heavy R&B with rock n' roll boogie and tons of attitude to match, the album was received with many accolades from press and fans and kept Hill touring in the US and Europe, adding Australia and India and Morocco to the tour schedule, and over 30 festivals a year, including Montreux Jazz Festival, Monterey Jazz Festival, Byron Bay Blues Festival and more.
Nikki's new record, "Feline Roots" will be independently released, again on house label Deep Fryed Records. Out November 16, Hill lets her soul rip on this new collection of songs, displaying her now well-known stance to champion for the pioneers of roots and rock n' roll, while remaining in perpetual forward motion, inviting anyone who wants to come along for the journey. Johnny Thunders straddling guitar, Bad Brains' rock meets reggae, Stonesy groove, Sister Rosetta Tharpe rave up gospel power, all receive nods of recognition. Hill is unafraid of her past or experiences, and puts it out there for the sake of the song. The songs imagine the southern soul rocker at times waving her flag in surrender, then in the next moment finding her way back into the climb, bending through supercharged blues, punk soul, revival tent gospel, rockabilly shouts, whatever it takes to get there. It's her version of rock n' roll that can only come from her stories. Nikki has never been afraid to take the road less traveled, and it's clear with "Feline Roots" that she's living every word.