The Nickel Slots play hard or go home

The Sacramento band takes a gamble at life, Americana and Bob Seger

“Which way to Circus Circus?”

“Which way to Circus Circus?”

photo by kevin cortopassi

Check out the Nickel Slots at 9 p.m. Friday, November 20, at the Torch Club, 904 19th Street. Tickets are $10. More at

Tony Brusca remembers meeting up with his brother at a casino decades ago. Only his brother was a blackjack dealer, and his shift was three hours from being over. That meant Brusca needed to burn the $10 in his pocket as slowly as possible. He went to the nickel slots.

That story—ending with Brusca running out of money, getting kicked out, shivering in the snow and contemplating his life decisions—formed the basis for “Evolution,” one of the first songs Brusca wrote for the Nickel Slots. The band built its philosophy around that idea: good people falling on hard times, inevitably and desperately winding up at slot machines.

“You think you’re done. You only have so many nickels left,” Brusca says. “But in those nickels, there’s hope.”

The Nickel Slots celebrates its seven year anniversary on Friday, November 20, at the Torch Club. No openers, just a full night of the Slots’ rockin’ Americana. Think Johnny Cash meets Tom Petty meets the Clash meets Social Distortion, and then they all have a whiskey-fueled party.

With alt-country twang and a punk vibe, the Nickel Slots earned its third Sammie award last year, which will catapult the band into the Sammies Hall of Fame. Other notable accomplishments: recording three full-length albums, touring Europe twice and winning the approval of Bob Seger.

Yes, Bob Seger.

Back in March, Seger needed a local opener for his last-minute, rescheduled show at Sleep Train Arena. Andy Hawk of 98 Rock sent Seger links for a few options, and word has it, Seger chose the Nickel Slots based off its video for “The Devil’s Chain Gang.”

“That was a jackpot,” Brusca says. “I had Bob Seger’s albums. I grew up listening to him. For all of us, it was a huge, huge honor.”

“The Devil’s Chain Gang” video is a feat in its own right. It took home a couple of Sacramento Film and Music Festival awards. Brusca says it’s starting to get airplay all over the world including random gyms in Australia and department stores in England.

Sound like a lot of success for a local country band of dudes in their late 40s? Maybe, but these guys are all longtime staples in the Sacramento music scene. Brusca is, of course, the frontman of local pop-punk band the Brodys, which has been around for two decades. Chris and Steve Amaral were both in the locally acclaimed Red Star Memorial. Mandolin player Paul Zinn still performs with the Blow Kings, an 11-piece brass band in San Francisco.

“Seven years went by so fast,” Brusca says. “People have changed jobs, kids have been born, houses have been bought, but the band continues to be right there in the mix.”

At the Torch Club, the Slots plan to introduce a new holiday EP, Christmas with the Nickel Slots, with three twangy version of classics and one too-true original, “A Shot and a Beer for Christmas.” They recorded it this summer at Pus Cavern, wearing T-shirts and flip-flops on a 110-degree day.

The Nickel Slots will debut a few new songs as well. Brusca is already busy working on the fourth record, hopefully coming out next winter. And what else is in store? Another Seger-level opportunity? Something even bigger?

“I really feel like being in a band is like being at a slot machine,” Brusca says. “The longer you sit there and pull the handle, you never know what’s going to happen.”