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As Colorado’s own rock ‘n’ soul sensations Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats return with a second hip-shaking studio album, Chris Vinnicombe sits down with their main man to talk guitars, influences and life on the road…


Photography Eleanor Jane

Nathaniel Rateliff’s road to stardom is about as far from an overnight success story as it gets. Childhood friends Rateliff and bassist Joseph Pope III left their small hometown of Hermann, Missouri and moved 800-or-so miles west to Denver in 1998. For the next 15 years, despite establishing a considerable local following and releasing music via Rounder Records and Decca, none of Rateliff’s band or acoustic solo projects caught fire. In 2013, in a last-ditch attempt to give up his day job as a gardener – career prospects were limited, as he had no high-school diploma, having quit school at 13 soon after his father was killed in a car accident on his way to church – Rateliff enlisted the services of his best friend Pope alongside a cast of other local musicians. With the aim of writing songs that sounded like a fusion of The Band and Sam & Dave, Nathaniel Rateliff & The Night Sweats were born.

Rateliff, Pope and co’s big break came in August 2015, when they were invited to perform live to an audience of millions on US television courtesy of The Tonight Show host Jimmy Fallon. A rip-roaring rendition of the single S.O.B. – which saw the singer deliver a performance somewhere between a turbocharged Van Morrison and vintage James Brown – received a standing ovation from the studio audience. It certainly didn’t hurt album sales either. The band’s eponymous debut peaked at No. 2 in the Billboard Top Alternative Albums Chart. According to reports, Paul McCartney even called Fallon the following day to ask: “Who was that guy?”

S.O.B., with its rousing refrain of ‘son of a bitch, give me a drink’, is something of a Trojan Horse – what sounds like a party anthem on first listen is actually a song about the withdrawal symptoms Rateliff faced when he gave up alcohol for a time in an effort to save his marriage.

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