Born and raised in Fairbanks, Alaska, Rick Holmstrom grew up surrounded by the sounds of 50's rock, 60's surf, folk, and the Beatles. Though appropriately impressed when his disc jockey father took him to see Chuck Berry at an early age, young Rick nevertheless preferred sports through his teen years.
It wasn't until senior year at college that guitar began to take over; when Holmstrom joined a band playing blues and roots at parties. A band mate introduced him to records by blues artists like Lightnin' Hopkins, Muddy Waters, et al, setting the young musician on a quest.
Graduating in 1987, Holmstrom moved to Los Angeles, where he was a freelance reporter by day, haunting the city's funkiest blues clubs at night to observe, sit-in and learn. His budding talent was recognized by William Clarke, who took him on tour. Eventually the road won out over reporting and Holmstrom became fully immersed in the blues scene, working with local luminaries Johnny Dyer, Smokey Wilson and Rod Piazza, as well as legends Jimmy Rogers, Billy Boy Arnold and R.L. Burnside.
In 1996 he released the first record under his own name, Lookout!, on the New Orleans label Black Top, followed at the millennium's turn by Gonna Get Wild on Tone Cool. 2002's Hydraulic Groove, also on Tone Cool, turned the blues world on its head with its blues meets hip hop grooves, electronica and DJ remixes. "I'm glad I made that record," says Holmstrom, "even though it pissed a lot of folks off. I was a young, up and coming traditional blues hope, so I dashed those hopes with that record, but that's cool, I'm proud of it. It has its flaws, for sure, but it was heartfelt."
In 2007 Holmstrom released Late in The Night on M.C. Records. Gone were the hip hop and electronica elements, but the guitarist was not done pushing the limits of the blues, this time experimenting with the genre's song forms. "I love blues," Holmstrom says, "I listen to Lightnin' and Gatemouth and Little Walter all the time, but I'm interested in blues feeling, phrasing and tones without necessarily using the same 12 bar forms over and over."
Just as Holmstrom and long time band mates Stephen Hodges and Jeff Turmes were about to hit the road in support of Late in The Night, the call came to back up gospel/soul legend Mavis Staples, fresh off the release of her critically acclaimed We'll Never Turn Back record (Anti, 2007). It was a no-brainer; Holmstrom and his Late in The Night trio hit the road with Staples, accompanying her on Live: Hope at the Hideout for Anti Records in 2008. Smart enough not to mess with a great thing, producer Jeff Tweedy (Wilco) used the now tight as nails trio to back Staples on her Grammy award winning You Are Not Alone (Anti, 2010).
This same trio brought their telepathic interplay into the studio for Holmstrom's latest M.C. Records recording, Cruel Sunrise, combining it with the guitarist's evolved songwriting and evocative vision to make Cruel Sunrise his best record yet.
"We've been around songwriters like Jeff Tweedy, Neko Case, Buddy Miller, Billy Bragg and Jolie Holland while recording and touring with Mavis," says Holmstrom, "and I figured there's gotta be a way to combine that kind of literate writing with low down blues feeling to create songs that regular music fans might like, in addition to blues aficionados."
No doubt both aficionados and regular fans will appreciate Cruel Sunrise, a record that honors Rick Holmstrom's past as a blues master while pointing to his future as a songwriter to be reckoned with.