Joe Nosek made a hobby of perusing the pop albums archived at the Whitewater public library when he was a kid. The Rolling Stones were among his favorites.
"I would study the back of the album and see all the Jagger/Richards songwriting credits," says Nosek. "But I would also see names like Chester Burnett, and that made me want to dig deeper to find out who these other songwriters were."
Burnett was better known as Howlin' Wolf.
Nosek's research led him to discover the Chicago electric blues artists who were signed to Chess Records in the 1950s and 1960s, including Muddy Waters and Jimmy Rogers. The discovery changed Nosek's life. The blues that made Chicago famous in the decades after World War II shaped his career as a songwriter and performer.
It's been 10 years since Nosek founded his retro-blues band the Cash Box Kings in Madison. On Nov. 5, the Cash Box Kings celebrate the release of their sixth studio album at the Crystal Corner Bar. Holler and Stomp is the band's first album since they were signed to Blind Pig Records, the national blues label that has released records by blues legends like Buddy Guy, James Cotton and Pinetop Perkins.
The Cash Box Kings originally were a quartet that included Chris Boeger of the Hometown Sweehearts, Travis Koopman and Todd Cambio. They talked Chicago drummer Kenny Smith, whose father drummed for Muddy Waters, into joining the band after meeting him at a show. "He told us he really liked to play the older blues styles but rarely got to do it except with guys his dad's age," recalls Nosek.
But in 2006, the band's future was unclear. "Chris was getting busy with the Hometown Sweethearts," says Nosek. "Todd started a business making guitars, and Travis moved to the Cayman Islands." To keep the Cash Box Kings alive, Nosek recruited new players who changed the group in fundamental ways.
They included Oscar Wilson, who at 6'3" and more than 300 pounds gave the Kings their own Howlin' Wolf. "Oscar grew up in the blues culture of the South Side of Chicago," says Nosek. "He embodies the style of music we play. He has a big voice. He wears suits. He's very funny and charismatic on stage. Between his musicality and his natural feel for the music, he's opened up a whole new realm of blues for us to play."
Getting guitarist Joel Paterson and upright bassist Jimmy Sutton to join the band didn't hurt either. "The thing about Joel is that a lot of people recognize him as the best guitarist in Chicago, especially in terms of the styles he can play," says Nosek.
The folks at Blind Pig urged the Cash Box Kings to take a certain approach to making Holler and Stomp. "They were interested in the idea of having us blend traditional country and traditional blues," says Nosek. "So we try to blur those lines on this album, and some of the themes are rural."
In 2011, Nosek is the only member of the Cash Box Kings who remains a Madison resident. The rest of the group is based in Chicago. As they continue to win recognition among blues fans, the Cash Box Kings' tour schedule is heating up. They'll travel to England and France next spring and plan a busy festival circuit in the U.S. next summer.
The feel of their songs makes it easy to see why their appeal is growing. "The members of this band really know how to play," says Nosek. "They have the ability to jump in and run with it. They make it feel effortless."