Growing up in Dallas, Darrell was surrounded by blues and soul music at an early age. “My Dad and Mom used to take me to these honky tonks sometimes when there would be live bands on Sunday afternoons,” he recalls. Jimmy McCracklin and Freddie King were early favorites, along with a kid in the neighborhood named Jimmie Vaughan. “One of his first bands, the Chessmen, used to practice down in the park about three blocks from my house,” says Nulisch. “I would ride my bicycle down and watch those guys play.”
From the beginning, Darrell exhibited a natural flair for phrasing a lyric, a quality that underscores his relaxed, soulful performances today. He began singing full-time in 1978 as one of the founding members of Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets. Their 1981 recording, Talk to You by Hand, was the first album in the catalog of New Orleans-based Black Top Records. After spending seven years as front man for the Rockets (also appearing on 1985’s She Knocks Me Out!), Nulisch put in a year with Dallas-based Mike Morgan and the Crawl before joining forces in 1987 with Boston-based Ronnie Earl and the Broadcasters. He cut two albums as their front man (Soul Searchin’ and Peace Of Mind) before leaving in 1990 to form his own band, Texas Heat (Business as Usual).
Nulisch continued to mix blues and soul on aptly named Bluesoul, a 1996 release, and The Whole Truth, his debut for Severn Records in 1998.
“I never tried to beat anybody over the head with my stuff,” says Nulisch of his relaxed, emotionally rich style. “I’ve tried at times to push a little bit harder, but it doesn’t work for me. I don’t feel comfortable doing it and I don’t think it’s a true representation of my style or what I am. You have to be who you are and just hope that people catch on to what it is. And the people who get it really dig it.”
Nulisch has been categorized as a “blue-eyed soul” singer, but the overused term isn’t too accurate. “People say that all the time. I’m not particularly fond of that,” he says. “I never thought about whether these cats were black or white, or any of that. It never was a concern. I just liked the music. I can’t help what I like, and the stuff I like happens to be black music.”
Toddy Nulisch spends a lot his time on the road as guest vocalist with Grammy-winning Chicago blues harmonica legend James Cotton. He’s recorded vocals for ex-Howlin’ Wolf guitarist Hubert Sumlin, Boston pianist David Maxwell, and Detroit guitarist Kenny Parker. But his roots lie squarely in Lone Star soil.