Danielle Nicole Band soars on blues rocket to Crystal Bay

Danielle Nicole and Brandon Miller are back at Tahoe on Friday to perform at the Crystal Bay Casino.
Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage photos

Playing drums is one thing, but jumping on a streaking blues rocket is quite another. Cameron Tyler can do both.

Tyler joined the Danielle Nicole Band during a hot August run. The band has been on a fiery ascent ever since the 2018 release of the Grammy nominated album “Cry No More.” Its audience has expanded across the globe and the growing fanbase is passionate and loyal.

“Tyler jumped into a really demanding tour in August,” Nicole told Tahoe Onstage. “We had a ridiculous buffet of shows. You go to the store hungry and get way more than you need. He brings it to a different level, which is great.”

Kansas City’s Danielle Nicole Schnebelen sings with power and emotion and she’s received multiple Blues Music Awards for being the best bass player in the genre. She and her brothers, guitarist Nick and drummer Kris, rose to acclaim by winning the 2008 International Blues Challenge.

Their group, Trampled Under Foot, was named for a Led Zeppelin song. And fittingly, the music is blues-based rock. Since going solo and dropping her hard-to-pronounce last name onstage, Danielle Nicole has moved further to the rock by bringing guitarist Brandon Miller.

“I didn’t want to hire a blues player that was going to be compared to Nick all the time,” she  said. “I wanted to hire just a bad-ass musician. He grew up in the rock scene and Brandon was pretty much established at a young age as an amazing guitarist.

“Then he started dipping into the blues scene, coming to the Trampled Under Foot jams. He’d been coming to my jams when he was a teenager. When Nick’s youngest daughter was born, he filled in at one of the shows and Kris and I had a really great time with him. So when we knew that TUF was emptying out, I gave him a call. He was the first guitarist I thought of.”

The Danielle Nicole Band will play on Friday in the Crystal Bay Casino. It will be part of a three-night run with dates in Sacramento and San Jose with opener Alastair Greene, who like Miller, is a rocking bluesman. Greene was the guitarist for the Alan Parsons Project for seven years.

Band just getting started

“I am a big fan of Danielle Nicole, and Brandon is a fantastic guitar player,” Greene said. “He’s definitely in this younger generation of guys who got into blues but also has a lot of cool other blues-rock influences. He’s got a really good command of the guitar and he’s really into tone. He’s a very committed player and a cool guy, to boot.”

Danielle Nicole said in 2015 she needed to step out of her comfort zone of playing with her brothers and going solo.

“We (Danielle Nicole Band) just closed out our fifth year of touring together and we’re just now feeling like we’re getting started,” she said. “It takes a while to build up that chemistry. That relationship and work ethic is really hard to find. I am really lucky in that aspect.

“Brandon’s a very versatile guitarist and he’s very confident in the notes that he plays. But, like Alastair said, he’s really committed to tone and just committed to getting better every day and every show. And he’s like that in pretty much all aspects of his life, too, so it’s a really positive influence and amazing working with him.”

In between her time with Trampled Under Foot and the Danielle Nicole Band, she played in a trio with another pair of brothers, Luther and Cody Dickinson and the North Mississippi Allstars.

Danielle Nicole was surprised when Luther Dickenson called.

“I thought Luther was asking me for a local musician’s number to play bass,” she recalled. “He said, ‘No, I want you.’ And I was like, ‘Holy shit!’ ”

The North Mississippi Allstars play an unconventional style called Hill Country blues. Danielle Nicole credits her 16-bar tutelage with fellow Kansas City musician D.C Bellamy for having the know-how to keep both melody and rhythm and blend with the Dickinsons.

“Luther doesn’t play inside the pentatonic blues scale very much, so it was a big challenge,” she said. “They will be playing in such a weird time signature that you just have to close your eyes and count to four. Luther and Cody are some of the most mind-blowing musicians I’ve ever worked with.”

The feeling is mutual. In 2015, Luther Dickinson described Danielle Nicole as “a superstar.” That was the year she released her first solo album, “Wolf Den,” which was produced by Anders Osborne. It was named Blues Album of the Year by Blues & Soul Magazine and selected New Artist Debut Album by Blues Blast Magazine. “Wolf Den” was a straight-ahead blues album.

Tim Parsons / Tahoe Onstage
Danielle Nicole is amused with Luther Dickinson as he changes a guitar string in midsong during the 2016 High Sierra Music Festival.

‘Cry No More’ debuted at No. 1

The follow-up, “Cry No More,” was produced by drummer Tony Braunagal, who had made records with Trampled Under Foot. He also drummed for a singer Danielle Nicole has been compared to, Etta James.

“Cry No More” debuted in February 2018 at No. 1 on Billboard’s Blues chart and was nominated for a Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. One of the record’s most personal songs is “Bobby,” a tribute to her father, among a line of Schnebelen musicians who go back to 1800s Slovenia and French-occupied southern Germany.

“With Trampled Under Foot, I was going for a sound and writing what I thought people wanted to hear and not what is most true to my heart,” she said. “I am very conscious of the impact of ‘Cry No More.’ I am working a lot, writing new songs like ‘Bobby’ because it was very personal. The tunes I took the most risk with personally were the ones people related to a lot.”

Schnebelen is not setting a deadline for her next album, but she revealed Braunagal likely will be the producer. Since the Grammy nomination and being honored by the Blues Music Awards for 2019 Contemporary Blues Female Artist as well as picking up another Best Instrumentalist, Bass, Danielle Nicole has spent a lot of time onstage, including three-week European tours in both October and November.

“We’ve done four hard, rough working months and the music has just been the best that it’s been,” she said.

The Danielle Nicole Band performed last summer at Squaw Valley’s Bluesdays, and the bassist performed with the North Mississippi Allstars twice – Dec. 30-31, 2016 – at the Crystal Bay Casino. Friday’s Red Room appearance will the first for her trio.

The musicians will be blasting that blues-rocket sound.

“Brandon and I have always been very respectful of blues over the years,” she said. “But it’s been naturally rocking out a little more and it’s fun because we’re very versatile in what we can play.”

— Tim Parsons

Danielle Nicole Band
Opener
: Alastair Greene Band
When: 9 p.m. Friday, Jan. 10
Where: Crystal Bay Casino Red Room
Tickets: $18 in advance, $20 on the day of the show
Danielle Nicole rocked Squaw Valley last summer.

ABOUT Tim Parsons

Tim Parsons
Tim Parsons is the editor of Tahoe Onstage who first moved to Lake Tahoe in 1992. Before starting Tahoe Onstage in 2013, he worked for 29 years at newspapers, including the Tahoe Daily Tribune, Eureka Times-Standard and Contra Costa Times. He was the recipient of the 2011 Keeping the Blues Alive award for Journalism.

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