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Little Charlie heads to Hillsborough 

The band is out of Berkeley, but the sound came from the back alleys of Chicago--with a few stops along the way. Poking around in yesteryear Texas for some Western swing and some snooty joints for a taste of upscale jazz, Little Charlie and The Nightcats came up with a sound unlike anything else in blues.

"I play Charlie Christian-style guitar in the context of a Little Walter kind of a band," guitarist Little Charlie Baity told the Charlotte Observer.

Little Charlie is not the frontman in the band that bears his name. That job is held by harpist Rick Estrin, who is also the band's principal singer-songwriter. Estrin took the harp duties from Baity, who switched to guitar shortly after Estrin joined the band.

The switch proved to be beneficial to all concerned. Baity has developed into one of the most versatile guitarists in the blues genre, moving from jazz to rock to blues seamlessly. Estrin's harp playing is in the Little Walter style (the name The Nightcats is in honor of Chicago harp great Little Walter's first band), incorporating the same excursions into jazz phrasing. His quirky songwriting has been featured on Grammy-nominated albums for Koko Taylor, John Hammond and Robert Cray.

Little Charlie and The Nightcats play Hillsborough's Blue Bayou Club Thursday, July 29. The show starts at 8:30 p.m. Advance tickets are $14 for members, $16 non-members.

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