Fallbrook singer-songwriter B.K. "Nick" Nicholson was recently featured in Bluegrass Today magazine and Bluegrasstoday.com. Nicholson is not your typical musician. You may find him in front of the local grocery store sharing his musical ability, in church doing worship, or with band members providing entertainment at a festival or event.
He is a multi-instrumentalist who not only performs in two Southern California bands, High Mountain Road and his own band, Desperado Bluegrass, but also takes on the roles of writer, arranger, and producer for his own works and those of fellow artists.
Nicholson's journey into the world of bluegrass began when he stumbled upon a beginner-friendly bluegrass jam in Encinitas while searching for jam opportunities. With a musical background in acoustic easy listening, country, and southern gospel, he found a comforting familiarity in bluegrass. This led him to pick up instruments such as the banjo and later, the mandolin, which he now excels at.
As a versatile musician, Nicholson showcases his skills on multiple instruments, including mandolin, guitar, banjo, electric bass, piano, and trumpet. His musical journey began with the classical trumpet, which he studied for 10 years. He ventured into jazz and R&B styles early on and even played trumpet in an R&B cover band during high school.
Nicholson's musical roots run deep, with his family playing a significant role. His mother, a retired professional music teacher, and his father, a singer, ensured that music was a constant presence in their home.
Throughout his life, Nicholson's musical influences evolved. In his early years, it was the Motown sound, Rick Nelson from "Ozzie & Harriet," and the Top 40 AM radio of the late '60s that captured his attention. Later on, his focus shifted to jazz, R&B, rock 'n' roll, acoustic styles like Crosby, Stills and Nash, Neil Young, and the Eagles, as well as blues styles reminiscent of the Allman Brothers.
Nicholson's true passion lies in songwriting. He considers himself primarily a songwriter and has written, produced, and recorded multiple sessions over the years. While his roots are in various genres, he has recently expanded his songwriting into the bluegrass and old-time genres.
When it comes to approaching a new song or tune, Nicholson's process varies. Learning a new song involves connecting with it on a personal level, learning the melody, and figuring out the chord changes. In contrast, his songwriting process often begins with melodies or ideas that pop into his head, which he records and later develops into complete songs.
Among the bluegrass songs he has written, several instrumentals stand out, particularly those he classifies as mando-fiddle tunes. One of these, "Mariam's Song," has been recorded and is a regular feature in live performances.
Nicholson's musical journey includes a diverse range of bands and genres. His bluegrass journey began in 2011 when he joined the "buddy" band, the North County Boys, where he played banjo and guitar.
From September 2012 until the pandemic, Nicholson was a member of High Mountain Road, a band that blended traditional and contemporary bluegrass with unique harmonies. In December 2015, he formed his own band, B.K. Nicholson & Desperado Bluegrass, which he describes as "authentic" Country music, combining traditional and contemporary bluegrass with southern blues-rock elements, all delivered with high-energy acoustic performances. The band's signature track, "Is Love What You'll Find?," encapsulates their style.
Nicholson's musical journey took an emotional turn with the passing of violinist/fiddler John-Michael Brooks, whom he considered one of the best fiddlers in California. Brooks's sudden death in 2018 was a significant loss for Nicholson personally and musically.
B.K. Nicholson & Desperado features a rotating roster of talented musicians, ensuring diverse and captivating performances. While Nicholson may not attend old-time sessions regularly due to his schedule, he enjoys playing fiddle tunes on the mandolin and even performs in church every week on the mandolin.
When asked about his favorite fiddle tunes, Nicholson mentions classics like "Soldier's Joy," "Salt Creek," "Cherokee Shuffle," and "Forked Deer," among others. He also has a special fondness for John Reischman's "The Eighth of February."
When it comes to favorite eras of bluegrass, Nicholson's eclectic taste shines through. While he enjoys the first generation of bluegrass, including Monroe, Flatt & Scruggs, and Rounder 0044, he isn't limited to a specific era and incorporates diverse musical elements into his performances.
Singing has always been a part of Nicholson's life, and he has a natural talent for it. He practiced singing harmony rigorously and has a good ear for music.
Nicholson is currently working on a solo project titled "Eclectricity," expected to be released by the beginning of summer. This project encompasses bluegrass, country, acoustic easy listening, and gospel genres. One track, "Love Will Win," promises a strong country-blues style.
While both Desperado and HMR have traveled out of state for gigs, Nicholson's musical interests extend beyond performing. He describes himself as a Renaissance man with diverse interests, including sports, sci-fi, SQL database programming, history, movies, and cuisine.
Reflecting on memorable shows from the past, Nicholson recalls highlights such as HMR's performance at Summergrass in 2015 and Desperado's appearance at the Southern Nevada Bluegrass Music Society's Logandale Fall Festival. He also cherishes the gigs he played with John-Michael Brooks.
While he hasn't played at California Bluegrass Association (CBA) events, Nicholson attended the International Bluegrass Music Association (IBMA) in recent years, where he captured video footage for a video diary. His interactions with renowned mandolinists and jam sessions with them are among the highlights.
Nicholson's musical journey also includes a deep appreciation for Bill Monroe's style. He is drawn to Monroe's raw, bluesy, mountain-style of playing, which he describes as having a unique, almost angry energy. While not everyone may understand it, Nicholson considers Monroe's style a spiritual experience.
In addition to his musical pursuits, Nicholson teaches music, passing on his knowledge to one mandolin student and two guitar students. He emphasizes the importance of nurturing and reinforcing good habits in aspiring musicians.
As for upcoming shows, Nicholson mentions his self-imposed hiatus since the pandemic but notes that he has played several solo gigs and duet gigs with friends. He looks forward to more performances in the future.