Playing blues music has gotten a little easier for Mike Hammar and the Nails, a Merced County-based band, but its members still bring to every show the energy as if it's their first and the experience as if it's their last.
The band nationally released its second album, "Recipe for the Blues," on June 20, and many of the songs have already found their way to Sirius XM Satellite Radio, as well as local stations.
Fans celebrated the release of the new album Saturday at the Merced Multicultural Arts Center.
The inspiration for the group's music comes from where they live, Hammar said.
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"I try to include what we're about here in the Valley and when I go out to the Bay Area and the foothills," Hammar said.
Hammar, the group's vocalist and guitarist, comes from Winton, drummer Greg Merino is from Merced, bass guitarist Sparky Gehres is from Atwater, harmonica player Jim Pedersen is from Los Banos and keyboardist Allan Carroll is from Mariposa.
A lot of Hammar's inspiration also comes from his father, said Rick Cabezut, the group's marketing representative who grew up with Hammar.
"Since he was out of diapers, his dad showed him a little bit about the guitar," Cabezut said. "Every time I went to visit him, he'd be teaching me, he'd be teaching anybody in the family how to play the guitar."
One trait about Hammar that stands out to Cabezut is his songwriting ability.
"Since we were kids, he would just pick up a guitar and start singing about good times we've had in the past and make a song about it instantly," Cabezut said.
The group's fan base has been going large, as Willie Nelson puts it.
"His fans are just growing and growing right now," Cabezut said.
In fact, the rise in popularity has even caught Cabezut by surprise.
While backing up his tractor-trailer, he heard Hammar's song "Recipe for the Blues" come on the prestigious "B.B. King's Bluesville" Sirius XM Radio channel that draws about 2 million blues listeners a week.
He was so surprised, he lost his concentration and nearly backed into the trailer he was trying to hook up to.
"That's when I knew that he'd really made it," Cabezut said. "I saw his name light up on the screen, it was surreal."
Lately, interest in the band has spiked on iTunes, Facebook and visits to the group's website. That's because their songs, including "Recipe for the Blues" and "Down at the Junction," receive national and local playtime on XM and other local stations.
For the most part, the group's latest album has been played on domestic radio stations, unlike the first album, which was mostly played on European radio stations, Hammar said.
He hopes his latest album will start receiving more playtime in Europe as well.
"I have one station in the U.K. that just asked for my CD, so I sent that off," Hammar said. "Hopefully, I can get a little play in the U.K. because Europe really digs American roots music."
The group draws a lot of energy from its fans, known as "Hammarheads."
"The fans totally drive it, it's magic," Hammar said. "Until you really experience the power of what fans do for you and for your music -- it's humbling."
Hammar, who writes and produces the group's music independently without a label, isn't new to the spotlight.
He started playing for money when he was 17 years old. He's 46 now.
His familiarity with the blues has helped with his style, he said. It's important to stay loose when playing.
"Nerves tend to freeze you," he said. "You want to fly and be free as much as you can. That's when most of your creative stuff comes out -- when you're relaxed."
Through his peers, Hammar has learned to play as if it's his last show every time, whether playing for 4,000 people or 40,000 people, he said. But he also takes the stage with the energy of his first.
"You burn it up all the same, always," he said.
Recently, his band received an award for doing just that. They took home the first-place trophy for the 2009-10 Monterey Bay Blues Festival battle of the bands.
Part of their reward for their win was opening the main arena at the Monterey Bay Blues Festival on the same stage where Jimi Hendrix burned his guitar in 1969.
The group hopes to release its next CD within the next year-and-a-half, Hammar said.
"My new goal is to have something fresh every year- and-a-half to help keep the buzz around the band," he said. "I've already got about four tunes written."
Until then, fans can continue to enjoy the group's latest album and live performances.
Mike Hammar and the Nails next performance will be Sept. 18 at the Hanford Blues and Roots Festival at Civic Park in Hanford. The group will take the stage as the headline act.
One of Hammar's early influences, B.B. King, could be singing about the Merced blues group in his "Never Make a Move Too Soon":
I never tried to make the news
I'm just a man who plays the blues
I take my lovin' everywhere
I come back, you know they still all care
Reporter Mike North can be reached at (209) 385-2453 or firstname.lastname@example.org.