As Published in "Offbeat" - New Orleans' and Louisiana's Music Magazine - Oct. 3, 2000 Big Nick and the Cydecos Born Half Wild (Firefly) As we know, the accordion weaves a thread of unity through a multitude of seemingly unrelated music genres: conjunto and Tex Mex, Irish and Scottish, Klezmer and Arab, Argentinean and even Chinese music. Each culture has attempted to individualize the instrument (in all its incarnations and types) by applying wildly descriptive names to it: Folk/blues legend Leadbelly called it a windjammer. The Zulus call it a squashbox. Mark Twain called it "the stomach Steinway." In Germany, it has been scathingly referred to as "the pig-organ." The point is that there are truly are not many musical borders on the planet any longer. Tom Nickel (Big Nick) understands all this and has done his homework very well. He started Big Nick and Cydecos in 1995 in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with veteran drummer Cy Costabile (whose name inspired the deliberate misspelling of the band's moniker) after picking up a used accordion at a Goodwill store. He began to explore the instrument's history and possibilities beyond his indigenous knowledge, polka music, and very quickly discovered and fell in love with the spicy, good time fun of Cajun and zydeco music. He then gathered adventurous local talent around him and became the area's top proponent of Louisiana roots music. On this, their second CD, they focus primarily on zydeco and French traditional with a smattering of accordion-driven R&B thrown in. The band members' combined talent and dedication to authenticity give this CD the requisite high caliber chops to pull this off. Lesser musicians would have succumbed to rote imitation, but this group customizes tunes to fit their own unique talents. But what makes it really work is the obvious fun they're having while playing. Nickel leads the romp with more than passable accordion, button box, guitar and piano and handles a good deal of the vocal work while Mark Paffrath weaves in and around on violin and mandolin and shares singing duties. Thad Saucedo holds down the bottom on bass while Costibile provides rhythm and drive on drums. Sounding like a punk Rosie Ledet, singer Kelli Murphy completes the lineup and contributes some mean rubboard and triangle as well. Ex-Bruce Hornsby bassist, Joe Puerta, produced the CD at Milwaukee's Old Post Office Studio. What drew him to the project was the chance to experiment with such an interesting mix of talent, sounds and personalities to create an unabashedly impure and multi-dimensional sound. "It's unpretentious and hits the soul," he remarked. Because the band's sound is not easily pidgeon-holed, Puerta came up with his own description - he calls the sound "Modeco," a combination of Motown and Zydeco. This CD contains an interesting and fun mixture of tunes covering classic rock 'n roll, soul, R&B, traditional French songs and originals by such heavyweights as Chuck Berry and Fats Domino to Canray Fontenot and C.J. Chenier. Kelli Murphy shines on Fontenot's "Allons Danser" and deftly handles Rosie Ledet's tune "Girl Like Me." Nickel's no slouch in the song-writing category either and his title tune paints some dark imagery with the words "She got a monkey tail, black cat bone, dead man's picture that she had known, no regard to the life she's forged, smoke and cuss and curse the Lord." Purists, of course, may summarily dismiss Born Half Wild for not fitting the parameters of "pure" Cajun or zydeco music but that's their loss. Big Nick & the Cydecos can match the musicianship of many of Louisiana's own and what they may lack in geographical authenticity they make up for by delivering a fun, danceable, and feel-good collection of excellent songs. To purchase this CD, visit Big Nick & the Cydecos' website at www.bignick.net or at www.bluescds.com. --Kathleen A. Rippey
As published in the "City Pages", June 2003 Saturday 5/31 – Nicolet College, Rhinelander It almost sounds like a joke .. What do you get when you cross Zydeco, R&B and a little bit of Motown? It’s not James Brown and Diana Ross after a bad batch of jambalaya, although that would work. Actually, Big Nick & the Cydecos are coming to Rhinelander to bring a little bayou cheer. Even though the band was started by Wisconsin-based musicians, Tom “Big Nick” Nickel and drummer Cy Costabile (whose name prompted the deliberate misspelling to the band’s moniker), they know how to communicate with Louisiana’s Zydeco roots. Legend tells that Nickel once wandered into a Goodwill where he discovered a used accordion for sale and had a vision of bringing Zydeco to Wisconsin. With his new purchase, he went around looking for musicians to join his quest and, surprisingly, find them he did. Soon Big Nick & the Cydecos was born which created a wonderful marriage of Cajun folk with old-time rock ‘n roll. It may look funny in print, but it really does sound good when you add an accordion, washboard, and spoons to a classic rock tune. So if you happen to be in the mood for some hot musical gumbo, check out Big Nick. This concert is presented in conjunction with WXPR. Tickets $20. 15-362-6000 (A.R.)Big Nick & Band release second CD Racine Journal Times; June, 2000 "Sounding Board" By Patrick Fineran Remember back in the days when we could easily differentiate the festivals at the lakefront? There was the alumni fund-raising/reunion festival, the music festival, the fishing festival, the gastronomically festival, and oh, there's just too many to name. Well, the fishing Fest - a.k.a. Salmon-A-Rama - is shaking things up a bit. Yes, the fish folks are starting to get into my type of festival. I'm not much for the weigh-in station and all that surrounds the fishing event. Just give me music and lots of it. With all due respect to Frenchie and Pony Express, this year's lineup is leaps and bounds beyond the old days with 35 or so live acts for a total of 40 live music shows, not counting DJs and family-type demonstrations. The headliners include Xcstacy, Framing Amy, Rhythm Dogs, Blind Ambition, Fun Factory, Gary's Music R&B Revue, Love Monkeys, Eddie Butts, Boogie Men and Further. There's pretty much everything here for music lovers - bald white drummers who can sing the blues, pretty women who can sing pop, long-haired guys who can rock your world, men with wigs who boogaloo and smooth as silk R&Bers. But when you really want to rock a festival, what do you think of? Screaming guitars? Kids rushing the twin guitar heroes as they headbang out their classic? How about a button box, violin, harp, rubboard and spoons? Big Nick and the Cydecos are a festival band in the finest sense. Tom Nickel, Kelli Murphy, Mark Paffrath, Cy Costabile, and Thad Saucedo put out a musical gumbo that has been warming audiences around the Midwest for years. The local band recently released its second CD, "Born Half Wild," and it is fully a great time. Working on classics from the 50s and 60s, Big Nick and his gang have layered on each of their unique talents to make the end result totally new and refreshing. The individual members bring backgrounds from rock, punk, R&B, blues, country and classical to the mix. Check out the touch Murphy brings to the song "Hurts So Bad," which was recently recorded by Susan Tedeschi. Paffrath also brings in a stellar version of the 1966 classic "When Something is Wrong With My Baby." Big Nick and the Cydecos' version of Zydeco is much more than the traditional Acadian music laced with rhythm & blues and country that makes up much of the style you hear today. The CD's producer Joe Puerta (a founder of the 1970s band Ambrosia and bass player for Bruce Hornsby and The Range) has coined the term "Modeco" for the Cydecos. It's a mix of Motown and Zydeco. Pop, soul, country, Cajun, swing, whatever you want to call it, people of all ages and tastes will get into this band. You can hear them at Salmon-A-Rama July 21 at 7 p.m. in the Tent Stage. You can check out the band's Web site at http://www.bignick.net
Shepherd Express Metro July 13-19, 2000 "A-List" By Dave Luhrssen There's a lot of picking and grinning on the new CD by Big Nick and the Cydecos. Produced by ex-Bruce Hornsby bassist Joe Puerta at Milwaukee's Firefly Studio, the local group usually is marketed as Zydeco but the sound of Born half Wild doesn't conceal the links between the Louisiana bayou and country music. The easy-going collection includes a few originals by accordion-playing bandleader Tom Nickel along with covers of Fats Domino, CJ Chenier, Chuck Berry and other roots, soulful acts that span the spectrum of Americana. Half Wild features the blues-rock guitarist Greg Koch on two tracks. 6p.m. Saturday, July 25, St. Helen's Festival, 947 W Eden Place and 3:15-6:15 Sunday, July 16, Bastille Days' Kilbourn Stage.
Spice It Up Big Nick and the Cydecos Create Their Own Brand of Cajun Music Kenosha News By Elizabeth Grekso June 16, 2000 Cy Costabile calls himself and some of the members of the band, Big Nick and the Cydecos, "weekend warriors", and they will be out in full force this weekend with the release of their second CD, "Born Half Wild". The band is holding a CD release party from 8 p.m. until midnight this Saturday, June 17, at TG's Sports Bar, 4120 Seventh Ave. "I think it came out quit nicely; people are going to enjoy it," said Tom Nickel, the "Big Nick" in the band's name. The other half of the name is a combination of the style of music that band plays, Zydeco, and the other originator of the band, Costabile. Costabile and Nickel started the band in 1995, creating a sound that originally focused on Zydeco, but now involves Cajun classical pop and several other styles. Joe Puerta, the CD's producer call the band's sound "Modeco", a mix of Motown and Zydeco with a few other elements he refers to as "spices". Costabile plays the drums and bongos for the band. "It's unpretentious, it hits the soul", he said. The band also includes Kelli Murphy on vocals, rubboard (washboard) and triangle, Mark Paffrath on vocals, violin, mandolin, guitars and triangle, and Thad Saucedo on bass. With the help of Tom Nickel's voice and his talents on accordion, button box, piano and guitars, they blend their talents together to create their unique sound. We've matured a lot over the years as a band," Nickel said. Eight of the 12 songs on "Born Half Wild" are covers of songs by Fats Domino, Chuck Berry, and various other artists. Despite the use of other artists' writing, the band has matured enough to create four original tracks. "You start by copying your idols. Eventually, when you get good enough to stand on your feet, you start making your own sound." Nickel said. The band took five months to record the new CD, a process that involved a lot of trial and error. "You make a mistake and think 'hey, that's cool, put that in there,' " Nickel said. In addition to the regular band members, "Born Half Wild" features guest guitarist Gregg Koch playing guitar on two songs. The music on the CD will try and match the energy found in the band's live performances. "This music is designed to get people involved," Costabile said. Nickel agrees. The band's music sends their audiences dancing, he said. "What people like the most is the audience participation," Nickel said. Along with the upbeat music, the band will throw beads into the crowd. Fans will use shakers and noisemakers to keep the atmosphere fun. "One nice thing about this music - it appeals across the board of ages, the whole family can come and see," Nickel said.
PRESS RELEASE By Julie Lang June, 2000 Big Nick and the Cydecos Release New CD Born Half Wild Just in time for the warm summer nights with music to make your blood dance, Big Nick and the Cydecos will release their second album Born Half Wild in mid June. A couple of years ago, the band single-handedly produced their very first album Honeybee, but this time around they wanted to pursue new musical frontiers under the direction of Grammy-winner and founder of the band Ambrosia, Joe Puerta. Who is "Big Nick and the Cydecos"? Started in 1995 by Tom Nickel and Cy Costabile, the roots of the band are deep in the Milwaukee musical community with recognition from that same community culminating in a WAMI nomination in 1999. As the latest album will attest, Big Nick and the Cydecos is a band whose sound doesn't fall into clean definitions of "zydeco," "cajun" or "classic pop." The concept of their music became clearer when the band started to explore the element of using things out of their typical context against the backdrop of classic 1950's and 1960's Oldies tunes: the historical German accordion, the bluesy harmonica, the rubboard (or washboard) and spoons used as rhythmic instruments, the buttonbox and the classical violin are mixed together with pure and rough vocals, a driving bass line, and good old-fashioned, foot-stomping guitar riffs. This eclectic approach is tempered by the fact that each member comes from a different musical background. Tom Nickel was a one-time rock guitarist before he walked into a Goodwill store and, upon finding a very interesting instrument there, discovered the magic of the accordion, a staple of zydeco music. Mark Paffrath is a classically-trained violinist who quickly branched out to other instruments, including the mandolin and guitar. Without a doubt, his violin and mandolin solos add another dimension to Big Nick and the Cydecos from your standard zydeco band. Working full-time as a musician, he has collaborated with Willy Porter, among others. He also enjoys creating and singing folk music. The band always needs a solid, deep bassline to start from before they can add the more exotic sounds and instruments and the musician who brings it is Thad Saucedo. He cites influences as diverse as Junior Wells and Waylon Jennings, but the energy he has is his own. Along with Thad, Cy Costabile, one of the Midwest's best-known drummers, brings a rhythmic backbone to the band. He is also the inspiration for the deliberate misspelling of zydeco in the band's name. A couple of the covers on the new album were written in the 1950's and '60's by Chuck Berry and Fats Domino, who specifically influenced Cy's music. Like Mark and Tom, Kelli Murphy shares in the vocal duties for the band. She has such a distinctive and powerful voice that she sings leads on most of the songs on the new album. Elements of Aretha Franklin and Janis Joplin clearly come through in her full-lung singing, which is a nice departure from many of the current, breathy female singers of today. Not bad for a former punker. The Influence of Joe Puerta, the Producer Joe Puerta's musical odyssey began when he learned to play the trumpet, piano and guitar as a child growing up in California. He became a founder of the 1970's band Ambrosia, which had such pop hits as "How Much I Feel" and "You're The Only Woman." In the 1980's Puerta played bass with Bruce Hornsby and the Range. Those are his most visible accomplishments, but his background is more eclectic, swaying from classical to rock. After leaving the West Coast for the fine shores of Lake Michigan, Joe Puerta created Firefly Records with John Young, producing the kinetic music journeywoman Les Lokey as its debut project. Puerta's choices of who he works with and produces is evidence that he celebrates originality and turning usual musical conventions inside-out, upside-down. What originally drew him to the project with Big Nick and the Cydecos was the chance to experiment with such an interesting mix of talent, sound and personalities to create an unabashedly impure sound apart from some of the pretentious and "pure" cajun music being played today. He says his finest talent is the ability to create colorful tapestries of sound from a simple folk tune or an R&B classic. "The bare bones of the songs were there, I just added some arrangements, throwing in some spices to the mix" in the form of harmonies and a few unexpected instruments. Because Born Half Wild contains songs that are so different in style and tempo from one another, Puerta wanted to highlight an instrument or a phrase and draw out the essence of each song. The CD's first track, "Josephine," is a fine example of this creative approach. What began as Kelli Murphy's single voice on the melody becomes a rich fabric of various harmonies which highlights her powerfully flexible voice as it dips and scoops, not unlike Frank Sinatra's vocal technique. Of all the terms flying around that are used to describe Big Nick and the Cydecos, Puerta has come up with his own: "Modeco." It's a combination of "Motown" and "Zydeco," illustrating the selection of classic R&B or pop music to be the perfect "stock" then carefully adding other very diverse elements or "spices." About the CD Born Half Wild On the album there is a fine mixture of cover songs from the Oldies era, traditional french songs and original tunes. "It's You I Love," with bongos and cleaves adding a feeling of a cantina to the swaying jaunt, and "Allons Danse" are two of the tracks that are clearly french-influenced. Acadian folk music, the grandfather of the music now known as "cajun," is rooted in the french ballads of the 1900's. For "Allons Danse," it was decided to keep the song in its most traditional state, putting the focus of this classic French tune in the group performance and perfect melding of sound. If there's a song on the album that showcases the throaty power of Kelli Murphy's vocals, it would have to be "Hurts So Bad," the Tom Hambridge tune recently recorded by Susan Tedeschi. Joe Puerta said they tried to cut the album as live as possible to capture the excitement and emotion of each performance and for this song, Kelli definitely belted it out! Another wonderful vocal performance by Kelli in "A Girl Like Me" is evenly matched by the wild accordion riffs of Tom Nickel. Richard Holly, a local guitarist who has worked with Mark Paffrath on a more folk-pop musical project, Paffrath and Holly, lends some nice harmonic and guitar work, especially on the 1966 tune "When Something Is Wrong With My Baby." In the classic Fats Domino tune, "It's You I Love," Mark's clear tenor and Kelli's playfully wicked turn on some of the French phrases blend perfectly, contrasting with the unrestrained and aggressive violin, ...yes...violin playing. The title track, written by Tom Nickel is a wild, Southern tune that is belayed with finely-drawn lyrics that echo feelings of longing and redemption: "She got a monkey tail, black cat bone Dead man's picture that she had known No regard to the life she's forged Smoke and cuss and curse the Lord." Where To See Big Nick and the Cydecos Live and Snapping There will be a full celebration of the birth of Born Half Wild in the form of the CD Release Party. Please join us, old friends and new, Saturday June 17th at TG Sports Bar 4120 7th Ave., Kenosha, WI. Also a CD release party to be held in Milwaukee TBD. June/July. Of course, the best way to experience the Big Nick and the Cydecos is live and snapping, so pencil this in - they are scheduled to play at the upcoming shows: Harbor Fest in Racine, WI on Saturday, June 17th, Aurora Cajun Fest in Aurora, IL on Friday, June 23rd, Kraut Fest in Frankville, WI on Saturday, June 24th and Grand Geneva in Lake Geneva, WI on Sunday, June 25th. Other Important Information About Big Nick and the Cydecos or to request this Press Release electronically Visit the Big Nick Website at: www.bignick.net