When she was a child growing up in North Carolina,Nikki Hill praised God by singing gospel songs at her church.
Now, the 28-year-old tattooed artist with the powerful pipes uses her God-given talents to glorify some of the classic rhythm and blues musicians of the past, and to introduce her own soulful songs. Ms. Hill and her band (including her husband, guitarist Matt Hill) will perform Saturday night at Rock Island Brewing Company.
"Performing for people is definitely where the gratification comes in -- it's instant," she recently said. "Recording is a lot of fun too. It'sgreat to get an immediate response from the crowd. With the guys in the band, we have a really great time. I love seeing what they do at every show, to see how we can build our own energy and intensity. It's definitely a high that you get."
Ms. Hill also raises up her audiences, so they're ready to boogie on with this R & B woman. A recent review of a St. Louis show on kdhx.org described her "distinctly sharp vocal style, one that recalls the soul of R&B singers such as Etta James and is spiked with the gritty energy of rockers including Little Richard."
"I'm really into vintage rock and roll, R and B," she said. "With the vintage music, there are so many subcultures into traditional blues. One big thing for us we like to do, we like to keep it moving forward, still give it enough of a modern or contemporary edge, while still doing what we love."
Ms. Hill citesinfluences such as LaVern Baker, Etta James and Ruth Brown, as well as some of her favorite male singers Otis Redding and Solomon Burke, without being stuck or pigeonholed strictly as a "retro" artist. Her promo material proclaims: "Her tough vocal style fits with contemporary sensibilities yet evokes all the great blues shouters of previous decades."
"My parents listened to a mix of blues. They were more children of the '60s -- a lot more of Motown, Stax soul and R & B," Ms. Hill, a native of Durham, N.C., said. "My dad was kind of a bigger rock-and- roll fan than my mom, but I was definitely exposed to all of it."
Shestarted singing in gospel choirs at church, and she attended the private Elon University, northwest of Durham. Astint living in nearby college town Chapel Hill introduced her to many different styles of music and the awareness of music (and more importantly, unique and non-mainstream music) as a possible career. Ms. Hill sang in a friend's band based in Chapel Hill, and met her future husbandthrough mutual musical friends.
He formed his own label, Deep Fryed Records, and he convinced Ms. Hill to record a four-song EP. They moved to St. Louis two years ago. "He encouraged me to keep going with it, and when we moved to St. Louis, we started putting together more material," she said of her husband.
Ms. Hill hopes to do a full-length recording soon, and she's had a lot of interest from other record labels interested in releasing her stuff. "The buzz has been really, really incredible," she said.
One of her opening acts at the RIBCO show is the Q-C rockabilly stalwart, Paul Waters and the Lonesome tears. "It's cool to have rockabilly opener. They play tunes we don't do, but we like," Ms. Hill said.
if you go
-- What: Nikki Hill, with Paul Waters & The Lonesome Tears and 3 On the Tree
-- When: Saturday at 9 p.m.
-- Where: Rock Island Brewing Company, 1815 2nd Ave.
-- Tickets: $6 cover.