Independence has always come easy for vocalist/lyricist/bandleader Nikki Hill, raised by a single mother and two older sisters throughout Durham, North Carolina. This inspired not only her confidence at a young age, but a self-reliance and strong curiosity, which informed her interest in art, reading and writing. Raised in the church and choir as a child, that curiosity led Nikki to trade the pews for barstools, sneaking into venues when necessary, and was soon immersed in North Carolina’s roots scene as a young teen. She felt oddly comfortable, finding a direct connection between the energy she saw at local shows, and the intense praise dancing, gospel shouting church services she was raised in. Seeing everything from Dexter Romweber to Carolina Chocolate Drops, friend of this proGram, Mr. Bo Diddley to Motorhead, her new sermons came from rockers and bartenders, cowpunks and starving artists. Everyone had a story, and very soon, Nikki was in the mix herself, and making stories of her own. By the time she released “Here’s Nikki Hill” in 2013, word had spread, for better or worse. The reputation of the live show preceded itself, and heavily. Still, all of this did not translate immediately. With the rarity of Black rock ‘n roll singers/entertainers in the modern circuit and the large lack of knowledge of the impact of Black musicians on American roots music, Nikki found herself in an odd spot. She became known just as much for confusing local audiences who had come to see the woman in the poster, assuming her an act of a relaxed vibe, as she did for leading an unbridled, soulful, electric guitar driven performance. Instead of drawing back and satisfying the assumptions people made, Nikki pushed back, showing people that rock n’ roll didn’t have one look or sound. The strong public curiosity allowed Hill the chance to open for a range of artists like Dr. John, Billy Boy Arnold, to Eileen Jewel and Nelly, before she even had music released. Labels came calling, but were looking for stylings of the more well-known Hill, or of a more boxed-in retro feel that could be fully embraced by the purists Nikki had come to abhor from her former years of teen rebellion. She continued to develop her sound despite not knowing what to call it, remaining inspired by the fire of roots pioneers before her that she studied in the record stores and book shops.
That bring us to now, where Nikki has another great album of songs to share with the world, “Feline Roots” is bending the ears and minds of those who look beyond a poster, or an image and want to rock in any way possible. Nikki will be bringing the band to Madison on August 23rd at the Knuckledown Saloon to do just that. I had the chance to catch up with her to talk about that show, the latest release and the path taken from little Nikki to the Feline Roots Nikki. If you like to rock and roll, checkout Nikki live and share in her stories and make new ones with her.