Nicki Bluhm is a singer, musician, and songwriter from Lafayette, California. She has performed with The Gramblers since 2008, and with a country music cover band developed by Tim Bluhm (of The Mother Hips) and members of ALO, called Brokedown in Bakersfield. She has guest-performed with Chris Robinson, Bob Weir, Phil Lesh, Warren Haynes, Grace Potter, The Avett Brothers, Keller Williams, and Galactic, among others. She also has guest-performed on album tracks for Karl Denson and The Brothers Comatose.
Early career and The Gramblers
In 2007 Nicki got an opportunity to sing for Tim Bluhm after a show by his band The Mother Hips. He offered to mentor and record her and encouraged her to gig with guitarist Deren Ney, her childhood friend. Tim and his friends including singer/songwriter Jackie Greene (Jackie Greene Band, Phil Lesh and Friends, The Black Crowes) and ALO's Steve Adams (bass) and The Mother Hips' John Hofer (drums), recorded her debut album. When Toby's Song (Little Sur Records) was released in 2008 he assembled a touring band and they dubbed it The Gramblers after a term by The Mother Hips singer songwriter Greg Loiacono.
They soon gained a following, starting through The Mother Hips' well-established fan base, extending to west coast clubs, radio stations, and a festival circuit the Hips had toured in for nearly two decades. That lineup's bassist, Billy Cramer, left the band and Adams stepped in. As the band performed their style developed into a more classic rock old-school sound with Ney's eclectic guitar playing, and Tim's complex vocal harmonies and nuanced creative direction.
The following year Tim produced Nicki's second album, Driftwood, using mostly the touring band with Ney, Adams, and drummer Mike Curry. It also featured Greene, Adams' ALO bandmates Dave Brogan and Dan Lebowitz and Railroad Earth's Tim Carbone. Shortly before the album was released Arizona singer/songwriter Dave Mulligan was added on rhythm guitar and Tim filled in the sound with keys. This is the core lineup the band has today.
As they gained recognition in 2012 Driftwood was re-released that summer. They toured regularly and performed at the Bonnaroo Festival, the Newport Folk Festival, and Warren Haynes' Mountain Jam. In June 2013 they were the subject of an Anthony Mason piece on CBS This Morning and performed live on the show.
Bluhm's third record (and first credited as "Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers") was released in August 2013 on Tim's label Little Sur Records. It debuted in the Top Ten on Billboard's New Artist and Americana charts. To promote the album they made their late night talk show debut on Conan, performing "Little Too Late".
Tim Bluhm as the band's "musical director", and producer writes many of the band's songs, Nicki writes or co-writes most of the rest. "Little Too Late" is credited to Tim and the duet "Stick With Me" was co-written with Nicki. Ney wrote "I'm Your Woman", "Love in California", "Barbary Blues" and "Carousel". Mulligan wrote "Go Go Go" from Nicki Bluhm and The Gramblers and "Santa Fe" is a live staple. In an interview with the Santa Barbara Independent, Bluhm said:
"There's four songwriters in the band — me, Tim, lead guitarist Deren Ney, and rhythm guitarist Dave Mulligan. Basically we all write independently and then bring songs to the table and play 'em for each other. Typically we always like the songs that people bring in; I think there has yet to be a song that we didn't like, which is really lucky. We all definitely have a common thread in our songwriting, but it's all got some personality to it. I think it's really cool to have multiple songwriters; it kind of diversifies the feel and the sound. So far it's worked well for us."
The band became more widely known after "Van Sessions" videos, where the band performs cover songs in a tour van while driving between gigs, became a surprise viral hit in March 2012. Their cover of the Hall & Oates song I Can't Go For That (No Can Do) - the 17th entry in the no-budget videos - was viewed over a million times the week of its release. It gained celebrity fans like Cameron Crowe, Ryan Adams, Melissa Etheridge and even John Oates and Daryl Hall themselves. The video's popularity gave the group national attention on MSN, CBS News This Morning and New York Magazine. Their "nbluhm" YouTube Channel, featuring the Van Sessions and officially-sanctioned live videos, has over 5 million views.
Icons Redefined campaign
In 2012 Bluhm was featured in an international ad campaign for The Gap called "Icons Redefined", which featured "the icons of tomorrow", including The Avett Brothers and Kaki King. These ads were featured on Gap billboards and in magazines worldwide. The band performed at the campaign launch event in New York.