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Up by their bootstraps

After nine years, sibling blues band Trampled Under Foot earns its 'best newcomer' award



It can take years of work just to reach the starting line in music. Often as not, dogged persistence turns out to be as big a prerequisite as talent.

Kansas City siblings Danielle, Nick and Kris Schnebelen understand this. Trampled Under Foot's three talented blues musicians played in other combos before joining forces nine years ago. But it's taken them four albums and an EP — only two of which saw widespread release — to step into the spotlight and be voted by Blues Matter magazine's writers as this past year's "Best Newcomer."

The group's most recent album, Wrong Side of the Blues, also represents the first time they paid for an advertising campaign. The follow-up to 2008's May I Be Excused, it's a strong document, from the haunting slow-burn six-minute "Goodbye" to the Bo Diddley-inflected, "Bad Woman Blues." There's also the roadhouse blues of "Have a Real Good Time," which opens with the drum and cymbals bit from the opening of "Rock and Roll" by Led Zeppelin, who wrote the song Trampled Under Foot is named after. Recorded live in the studio, many of the tracks even use the original scratch vocals — a testament to their fine musicianship and feel for each other.

"We have three people that have very similar musical influences, very similar passions, brought up in the same household," explains Nick Schnebelen. "You're not going to find a band that's on the same page as much as we are."

After growing up in a musical family (father Robert Schnebelen and mother Lisa Swedlund playing in a band called Little Eva and the Works), Trampled Under Foot made its debut on New Year's Eve 2002, with Nick on guitar, Danielle on bass and Kris on drums.

"We talked about it for a good while before we had our first show together," says Nick, noting the mixed feelings they had about committing to a band with siblings. "There are pluses and minuses like everything else, but I think we have a pretty good thing going."

"We really trust each other and know we're watching out for each other," adds Danielle, whose big evocative voice sometimes gets compared to Etta James'.

The singer admits to having felt a little intimidated when it came time to record Wrong Side of the Blues. It was their first time in an honest-to-god studio rather than somebody's home basement set-up. Still, the band managed to bang its way through the album's dozen songs in just over two weeks.

"It's really difficult to record in the studio when you're just used to doing live stuff," she says. "It was pretty scary. But it was great. It was really all in my head, because the people we worked with were awesome."

And it paid off. Today, the band is basking in the glow of three Blues Music Award nominations. For his part, Kris is happy to be carrying on his parents' legacy. "There are a lot of people in the world who will never hear what our parents did. But they can hear our take on what they did in stuff that's our own."

After nine years together, they laugh about the Best Newcomer award, but they understand. Ultimately, they're just happy they arrived in time for the party.

"It takes a long time to spread the word," says Nick. "That's the hard part."

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