Unlike more traditional bluesmen, Hill doesn't come to his blues from the Mississippi Delta or the South Side of Chicago, but from his native New York City. Born in the South Bronx in 1952 and raised by a close-knit family with roots in North Carolina and Georgia, Hill's music--a mix of traditional blues with rock, reggae, funk and R&B--vividly reflects his upbringing. Always a music fan, Hill didn't start playing guitar until 1970, a year after he first heard Jimi Hendrix. "There was no mistaking what Hendrix brought to the table for me," Hill recalls. "He was the reason I started playing electric guitar." After seeing his hero five times-- including a stage door meeting outside the Fillmore East--Hill's fate was sealed. With Hendrix as a blasting off point, Hill next turned to bluesmen like Albert King, B.B. King, Albert Collins, and others to build his sound. His discovery of Bob Marley and Curtis Mayfield, as well as authors James Baldwin and Toni Morrison (among many others) inspired him to write songs that speak about socially relevant subjects as well as more traditional blues topics. "Marley focused me on songwriting," says Hill. "He was so articulate and clear when he spoke to things. The consistent high level of his songwriting definitely inspired me to speak to issues which don't often get addressed in popular music and to still be uplifting."
By the mid-1970s Hill was working as a sideman or session player while still holding down day jobs (including a stint as a New York City cab driver). Over the years, he played alongside Little Richard, Carla Thomas, Archie Bell and Harry Belafonte. He played with Dadahdoodahda, a New York band which also included Vernon Reid before Reid formed Living Colour. Hill recorded with B.B. King and, along with his friend and fellow Black Rock Coalition member Reid, contributed a song to Shanachie Records' Tribute To Curtis Mayfield. Hill can also be heard on the Rykodisc Black Rock Coalition compilation, A History Of Our Future.
Hill's biggest break came in 1994, the year Michael Hill's Blues Mob emerged on the national blues scene with their Alligator Records debut, Bloodlines (AL 4821). Hill and his Blues Mob laid the groundwork for the future of the blues. Living Blues handed Michael Hill's Blues Mob their Critic's Award for Best Debut Album of the Year. Guitar Player called Bloodlines "a cliche-smashing debut." Rolling Stone said that on the album "Hill's Blues Mob smokes with the combined sizzle of Robert Cray, Living Colour and Jimi Hendrix." "Not since Muddy Waters invented electricity," raved the Chicago Sun-Times, "has anyone charted as radical a course for the blues as Michael Hill."
The group's follow-up album, 1996's Have Mercy! (AL 4845), featured another collection of ground-breaking electric blues, at once mind-expanding, soul-satisfying, fun-loving and thoroughly entertaining. Once again fans and critics went wild. Featuring another 13 Hill originals, Have Mercy! took the blues storytelling tradition far beyond themes of simple romance. "Big beats, screaming leads and lyrics from the mean streets," said the Pittsburgh Post Gazette. Jazz Times said, "Hill sprays sweet-toned notes with dazzling bravado ... affecting, thoughtful soul." "Hill celebrates the blues form without being shackled to it," said the Washington Post. Even GQ got into the act, declaring, "Hill is a smart, genre-busting guitarist."
Since releasing their two Alligator albums, the band has been tearing up the road. From the Chicago Blues Festival to Australia to Brazil to Scandinavia and throughout Europe to clubs all over the United States (including a jaw-dropping set opening in Chicago for Luther Allison), Michael Hill's Blues Mob never ceases to amaze. "We play every show like it's our last," says Hill. Our goal is to turn the place out and make a great connection with every audience." While not shying away from more serious blues, Hill knows that "the music needs to be fun and bring joy to people. Our shows have always been a celebration. For us it's about groove, dynamics, telling stories and good musicianship. We get the people involved and make sure folks have a good time."
And that's just what Michael Hill's Blues Mob delivers with New York State Of Blues. "For me," says Hill, "the most important thing my music can do is be a healing force and uplift people." Guitar Player described Hill's cutting-edge, radio-friendly sound -- a-guitar-stoked mixture of timeless blues feeling, blistering musicianship and original songs full of passion and humor -- as "kick ass and world class." As the Chicago Reader suggests, "bring your dancing shoes and your thinking cap," because the Blues Mob's infectious music keeps your tail spinning while Hill's tale-spinning and super-charged guitar playing showcases ... the shape of blues to come in the 21st century.