Nic Clark had a fairly unconventional childhood, which is perhaps one reason why his first album, Love Your Life / Songs for the Whole Family, came out youth-centric. It wasn’t that he wasn’t supported— in fact, his mom got him the certificate that allowed him to play in bars at the tender age of twelve. It was the school thing. His school system in the Denver area had a truancy court, and he set up semi-permanent residency there around the 7th grade.
You see, he had found the blues. Visiting a bookstore with his brother, he found a book about harmonica playing which included pictures of Sonny Boy Williamson and Stevie Wonder and a harmonica….and he never came down. The harp was his school, and he never missed a class there. Soon he was playing live and then, after the shattering loss of both a young cousin and his grandfather, he found the healing power of music, too.
The harp led to the blues, and he identified his biggest influences as Mavis and the rest of the Staples Family, Taj Mahal, Curtis Mayfield, and the Staples’ “Respect Yourself”—“Such simple and direct lyrics,” he says, “But so many layers.”
His harp connected him to other blues men and allowed him to play with them, including Billy Branch (who played with Willie Dixon), Lazy Lester, and Muddy Waters’ son Big Bill Morganfield.
Eventually, he fell in with Rick Estrin and the Nightcats. One night in the van—Nic was 14—he got to talking about Charles Bukowski with guitarist Kid Andersen, who said, just a bit incredulously, “You read Bukowski?” “Yeah.” “Hell, yeah,” said Estrin. Some people are just born that way.
In 2019, Nic came out to San Jose to see one of his heroes, Jonathan Richman, perform at the Henry Miller (another hero) Library in Big Sur. Kid Andersen, the Head Mojo of Greaseland Studios when not a Nightcat, suggested Nic stick around and be his studio assistant. In the first few weeks he got to help on a Charlie Musselwhite and Elvin Bishop session, and then one with Little Village Foundation’s (LVF) Sons of the Soul Revivers, which lead to Nic meeting Jim Pugh of LVF. A few jams later, Kid mentioned to Jim that Nic would love to make a record. It snowballed from there.
“I’m a bit goofy, not a tough guy,” said Nic. “Funky family music suits me better.” He’s also the uncle of a niece, Leah, who’s 11, and a nephew, Asher, 6. There are enough painful memories in his own slightly strange childhood that he explains why he’s fairly sentimental about children, about their innocence, and that’s why he wants to make music for the whole family, including the children. But real music, he says, “Not pandering, not just to distract them, but to share something with them. After all, the little ones deserve the best from us.”
And so he began work on Love Your Life. One track, “I Love Music,” was recorded with his Colorado band, but the rest allowed him to play with heroes, the heavy hitters that hang out at Greaseland. Kid on guitars of course, but also D’Mar—Derrick Martin, long time drummer for Little Richard. Atlantic Records session man Jerry Jemmott (Nina Simone, B.B. King) came in for a track on bass. The Tonight Show’s Vicki Randall added percussion on several songs. The Sons of the Soul Revivers backed up “I’m Your Friend.” And Charlie Hunter, who stimulated “the most rewarding panic attack ever,” helped out on “Dance Party!” and “This Little Light of Mine,“ playing everything except vocals and harp.
“I wrote a few songs for my niece and nephew, and a couple for parents and grandparents. It was a passion project, and it’s for my family. Jim gave me total creative control, and I got to play the studio as well as instruments, so there’s fingerpicking guitar, Calypso steel pan percussion, and synthesizer weirdness at one point…we left no rock unturned. It really turned out to be an insane level of fulfillment. And I love my niece Leah’s album art.”
“Somehow, most children’s music shows come across as upper class….I wanted to make music with some grit in it, for Walmart customers like my own family, not the usual place. I think we did OK.”
Love Your Life will be released on July 15, 2021, by Little Village Foundation, a nonprofit record company but is available now on the usual digital platforms, including Apple. For more information, go to www.littlevillagefoundation.org.