Bridgetown native Ricky Nye has been the bee’s knees of the Cincinnati blues scene since the 1980s, and this month marks 20 straight years performing on the Arches Stage at the Cincy Blues Fest. We chatted with the 60-year-old pianist about keeping the boogie-woogie faith alive, here
You’ve tapped into the rich tradition of boogie-woogie piano. How do you keep it true, but also keep it fresh? The ultimate thing is to pay respect to the tradition but find your own voice. Boogie-woogie is a particular language. Growing up, I didn’t know anything about traditional boogie-woogie. When I was a little kid I was hearing the big-band boogies and the little novelty local boogies, and I knew I didn’t like that.
But as you tell it, you embraced boogie after you heard the real deal, people like Big Joe Duskin, Pigmeat Jarrett, Bob Seeley… Bob Seeley and his band have played (the Cincy Blues Fest) every year as long as I have. He’s 87 years old, and this guy is a force of nature. Another fellow, Carl Sonny Leyland, is from England but moved to the States probably 30 years ago. These guys made this music come to life. I heard them and I said, “Oh, I want to go there. I want to understand this music.”
You make a few trips to play in Europe every year, too. In Europe, people are playing the roots of boogie, and it’s a viable art form. It’s living and breathing and people are excited about it.
Is there a Cincinnati “sound”? It’s a river town, and also a northern city and a southern city at the same time, so there’s a lot of different influences. Lonnie Mack, to me, was the definition of Cincinnati sound, because he was blues, he was country, he was rock and roll, he was soul. He had all these things going on.
What about the blues? The one thing about Cincinnati, there is no dedicated blues bar anymore. When I was coming up in the mid-to-late ’80s and into the ’90s, Cory’s [Old Cincinnati Saloon] was the blues capital. That was blues seven days a week. It was just the front room—a small, loud room, and people just loved it. It was amazing.
Cincy Blues Fest, Aug 12 & 13, Sawyer Point Park, cincybluesfest.org