Fort Worth guitar hero John Nitzinger’s life and music can be summed up pretty succinctly by the lyrics to “The Beast,” off his 2007 album Kiss of the Mudman: “For the thousandth time, I got a second chance to ride the ride and dance the dance.”
As the song suggests, Nitzinger has had some setbacks. During the recording of Mudman, he beat cancer, lived through a stroke, and also survived pneumonia. The album itself, Nitzinger said, is a sort of celebration of his 11 years of sobriety. “It’s incredible that I’m here today at all,” he said.
Nitzinger got started in music when he was young, like, really young. He played in his first band when he was nine years old and haunted establishments up and down Jacksboro Highway long after probably all of his classmates had been sent to bed. By the time he reached junior high school, his band The Barons had recorded an album. None of the guys was even old enough to drive.
Nitzinger is probably best known for his blues-rock band Bloodrock. Signed to Capitol Records in the 1980s, Bloodrock penned a gold album, Bloodrock 2, only to become embroiled in 17 years of litigation with Capitol over royalties. “I got rich a couple of times and lost it a couple of times,” he said with a laugh. In addition to a gold record, Nitzinger also has released several solo albums and has played and co-written songs with Alice Cooper and Carl Palmer. Nitzinger also is credited with helping institutionalize the Texas blues-rock sound. His resonant, evocative tones and powerful versatility are arguably as recognizable as, say, Stevie Ray Vaughan’s wah-wah blues or Billy Gibbons’ chainsaw sound.
Being John Nitzinger, however, wasn’t turning into all it was cracked up to be. “I was always on the edge of the next record deal,” Nitzinger said, recalling the years between the early 1980s and late 1990s when he was couch-hopping and afraid to sit still in one place for fear of being called away by the Big Time. He finally checked into the Betty Ford Center. Sobriety, for Nitzinger, is also something of a mission. In “Calling,” from Mudman, Nitzinger sings, “I’m calling / Anyone who cares, anyone who dares, I’m calling / No, it’s not too late / Step up to the plate / If you see your brother on the ground / Don’t look the other way.” About his new message in music, Nitzinger said, “I’m worth something finally. I have my self-esteem back, my pride back.”
As soon as Nitzinger started recordnig the album, however, a series of health problems rose up like a track set with hurdles. First came cancer of the tonsils. After about a year of intensive chemotherapy and radiation, Nitzinger was in full recovery and back at work. A year later, he suffered a stroke. He had to re-learn how to talk, walk, play the guitar, and sing. Another year after his full recovery from the stroke, he suffered a severe bout of pneumonia. “I’ve recovered in every way possible,” he said. It took him five years to finish the album. “It’s very inspirational,” he said modestly.
Nitzinger also teaches guitar and speaks regularly at schools, hospitals, and prisons. From his perspective, sharing experiences through art is “the most powerful tool we have.” He’s about to go into the studio to lay down tracks for a new album, one with “Texas attitude.” Kiss of the Mudman, he said, “is a little dark and gloomy, but consider what I was going through at the time. … With the next album, I’m gonna rock ‘em … and rocking and laughing at the same time is a good feeling.”
John Nitzinger and Friends in A Musical Celebration of Sobriety
Fri at McDavid Studio, 301 E 5th St. $20. 817-212-4280.