The opening round of the 2015 Journey To Memphis competition is now officially set — it will be held at The Lehrer, 8775 SW Canyon Lane, on Friday, June 5 and Saturday, June 6. This year’s line-up has eighteen acts vying for the right to represent the Cascade Blues Association in Memphis next January at the International Blues Challenge. To get there, they have to go through this opening weekend and then the finals at the Waterfront Blues Festival on July 4. All acts will perform twenty minute sets before a group of judges scoring them on blues content, originality, instrumentation, vocals and presentation. The top two highest scoring acts from each night will move on to the finals.

Show time each night begins at 8:00 pm. Admission is $10.00 each night. This is like a mini blues festival: nine acts each evening over two nights with enough musical variety to appeal to everyone.

This year’s competitors and schedule is as follows:

Friday, June 5

8:00 – Holfar Blue
8:30 – Mick Knight
9:00 – Symplistic Soles
9:30 – Tim Connor
10:00 – Tracey Fordice & The 8 Balls
10:30 – Still Water Vibes
11:00 – Missi & Mister Baker
11:30 – Sister Mercy
12:00 – The Mojoblasters

Saturday, June 6

8:00 – Bottleneck Blues Band
8:30 – Rogue Rage Duo
9:00 – Gabriel Cox
9:30 – Ted Vaughn Blues Band
10:00 – Ken West
10:30 – The Eric Sugar Larsen Band
11:00 – Drop Dead Red
11:30 – Justus Reece
12:00 – Beacon Street Titans

(Times and order are subject to change)

Reason To Bleed
Eclecto Groove Records

My New Holiday CD coverThere is an amazing world full of new music derived directly out of the blues. Whether it is categorized as blues, Americana, roots or indie music, new musicians are approaching this music tastefully and honestly. It does not necessarily follow the standard I-IV-V progression, but has emerged from younger musicians who have grown up listening to various styles of modern music but still acquiring an affinity with the blues as well. It makes for an interesting and exciting blend.

My Own Holiday is a California-based duet using the bare-boned basics of Joey Chrisman on guitar and Nick Bartolo on drums. Obviously they’re going to be compared with other such pairings like The White Stripes or The Black Keys because of the full crunch sound they derive from heavy backbeats and driving guitar. But My Own Holiday takes their music into their own realm. Their recent release, Reason to Bleed, doesn’t always live on the hard edge; it also plays with sounds that could cross over into popular radio or even approach folk music. And the songwriting is outstanding.

The opening cut, “Hold On Me” is dark and foreboding, with a hard driving guitar and pounding drums that ensnare you from the offset. Then, on “Razorblades” Chrisman lays it out in the open about those untruthful people whom he’d rather chew on razorblades than listen to — it’s a brilliant visual image and cuts right to the bone. They sing praise of the musical contributions of “Memphis” and they offer acoustic mastery on tracks like the country tinged “Right Back Where I Started.” They can also get down and raunchy with “On The Floor Blues.”

This is definitely an album that so-called “blues purists” aren’t going to like. It’s not traditional by any means, but it is modern and it is authentic, true blues at its core when you give it a deep listen. My Own Holiday is taking the blues into the future making it accessible for the modern world listeners. Cutting edge music that comes at you from all directions. All good, too.

Total Time: 44:10

Hold On Me / Razorblades / Two Coins / Memphis / Devil In Me / Reason To Bleed / Whiskey In The Well / On The Floor Blues / Smile / Stone Free / Stranded / Don’t Shine On Me / Right Back Where I Started

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

You know life hits you the strongest when it brings loss. That certainly was the impact I felt when I received the news that Ted Todd had died this last month. Ted was not just another blues supporter. He was not just the former President of the Inland Empire Blues Society in Spokane. He was not just the editor of their newsletter. He was not just a radio host on his internet show Blowtorch Blues. He was a good friend. Not just of mine, though Ted and I knew one another for many years. But he was a good friend to everybody in the Northwest blues community and beyond. In fact I probably saw Ted more of the last few years in Memphis during the International Blues Challenge or the Blues Music Awards than I had in the Northwest. He supported what he loved. And he loved the blues.

I will never forget when The Blues Foundation announced that the Cascade Blues Association was receiving the Keeping The Blues Alive recognition for Blues Society back in 2003. Ted was the very first person to call me up to congratulate the organization for being honored. My response to him was, “Now let’s work at Inland Empire and all the other Northwest societies who do so much for the music to receive the same recognition.” Ted won this coveted award himself for radio with the Blowtorch Blues show, an award very well deserved.

Ted, the Northwest is going to miss you. Your smile and enthusiasm will live on with all the musicians and fans that you touched with your love of the blues.

On a happier note, I will miss the May meeting for the CBA. Well I guess I am not too happy about missing the meeting. But the reason is that I will once again be heading to Memphis to assist in the Blues Music Awards celebrations. I will be helping set up the Hall of Fame induction dinner on Wednesday, spending the whole day doing line checks for the performers on Thursday, then working as one of the stage managers for the actual show, my fifth year in this position. It really is a lot of fun being involved with what is surely the most important single event in the blues world every year. Plus I get to help root for our local nominees Lisa Mann, Curtis Salgado and Jimi Bott right from the side of the stage.

And don’t forget summer is coming and festival season is drawing nearer. So many events that we’re hoping the CBA will have a presence at this year. Besides the Waterfront Blues Festival we’re in the works of returning once again to the Cidar Summit and Cathedral Park Jazz Festival, plus looking at others like the Kalama Blues Festival and the Bronze Blues & Brews Festival. Who knows what else we may show up at. All this on top of the Journey To Memphis competition and the CBA Summer Picnic. So plan on getting your blues on this summer with the Cascade Blues Association!

May marks the beginning of a bold new musical series at The Lehrer that focuses on introducing the blues to younger audiences by presenting its newer and cutting edge sounds. This is not your traditional I-IV-V or twelve bar progression. This is modern blues done with an attitude. It may embellish the sound with up-to-date musical styles, many that may seem out of place but nonetheless stem directly from the source itself. It may be called roots or Americana at times, or maybe indie and alternative, but it all comes out in the end to be blues and blues-related music.

The brainchild of Brad Lehrer, the owner of The Lehrer, with assistance from promoter/producer Cherie Robbins and Cascade Blues Association President Greg Johnson, the series will happen every Thursday evening with a special once-a-month workshop/performance on the fourth Sunday (please note, the May Sunday performance will take place on the 31 due to the holiday weekend occurring the week before).

This is blues for the next generation, and it’s exciting and refreshing. All things must adapt to change and make a new mark. The blues have done that over and over during the past hundred plus years — because, like anything else, if it doesn’t grow, it’ll fade away.

Thursday, May 7 – Opening the break-out night of Renegade Blues will be southwestern touring band Next 2 The Tracks, an act that originally formed in 2006 in El Paso, Texas. The band is made up of the powerful trio of Christian Talamantes on guitar/vocals, Todd Seelau on drums and Johnny Bang on drums. Influenced by the best of the blues-based rock bands like Led Zeppelin, Guns N Roses or The Black Crowes with a hint of Latino roots. They use no gimmicks or need for hype, just groove, great songwriting and sexy guitar riffs. $5.00 admission.

Thursday, May 14 – Portland’s own The Eric Sugar Larsen Group will bring a little soulful R&B flavoring to their blues mix for the series demanding the urge to fill the dance floor with their tasty grooving sounds. $5.00 admission.

Thursday, May 21 – The Neil Darling Band is a young group with an old soul, with years of experience between them in rock, reggae,funk,soul, blues, gospel, and everything in between. The band’s front man, Neil Darling, is a new Oregonian from Alaska, by way of Austin,Texas, with a heartfelt,unique style reminiscent of Johnny Lang and Stevie Ray Vaughan, with just the right touch of John Mayer. The Neil Darling Band has a sound like no other that will put a smile on your face and a groove in your soul. $5.00 admission.

Thursday, May 28 – The Ty Curtis Band: Those who subscribe to the notion that only age and a lifetime of hardships can produce a blues musician have probably never heard Ty Curtis play guitar, sing, or listened to the powerful lyrics of just one of his songs. Ty, being one of Oregon’s youngest blues musicians, has already released five award winning CDs at the age of 27. Greg Johnson, the president of Cascade Blues Association, could not agree more: “Ty’s lyrics and music show growth and these tunes shouldn’t just appeal to the blues crowd, Ty’s fully capable of crossing over for any audience that is put in front of him.” $10.00 admission.

Sunday, May 31- For the inaugural Renegade Blues Sunday Workshop presentation, The Lehrer is proud to present Joe McMurrian. Recognized as one of the most innovative acoustic guitar and banjo players, and a creative songwriter, McMurrian has twice been recognized by The Blues Foundation in their top five best self-produced CD competition, winning overall in 2012 for the album Get Inside This House and is the leader of the cutting edge blues band Woodbrain. The workshop will involve McMurrian performing songs with question and answers from the audience. Following the performance will be an acoustic jam. Admission $5.00.

Watch for future Renegade Blues shows every Thursday and Sunday workshops in the coming months. Some of the performers already scheduled to appear include: Lisa Mann & Her Really Good Band, Land Between The Lakes, Gabriel Cox, and The Soul Commanders.

The Blues -- a Visual History CoverThe Blues is a slippery topic for any writer. Just when you think you have a good bead on it, it’ll pack up its stakes and move down the road, and any author who promises to provide his readers with “a visual history” of a topic as wide and deep as The Blues takes on a daunting chore. Fortunately though, Mike Evans’s The Blues: A Visual History succeeds on nearly every front. Evans uses important historical images, (handbills, photographs, record covers and labels, etc.), clear, sharp storytelling, and detailed biographical profiles of major musical contributors — from Leroy Carr to Gary Clark, Jr. —  to tell the story of The Blues and its influence on American musical culture — an effect that, frankly, is hard to overestimate. As Evans argues in his introduction: “[T]he influence of the blues has been felt in every aspect of contemporary music, from soul to hip-hop, alternative rock to straight pop.”

Roughly, Evans structures his book chronologically, beginning with the pioneers of early blues — the music and musicians rooted in the African call-and-response genre, European church music, the minstrel traditions, and ragtime. Evans then explains in fine detail how these elements, in the context of plantation life and the reconstruction period that followed The Civil War, matured and then he guides us through the migration of The Blues up the Mississippi delta through Memphis, St Louis, and finally Chicago.

One of the strengths of the book lies in its ability to please both seasoned students of The Blues and casual fans. For instance, in a superb section Evans discusses “Hollers, Shouts, and Spirituals” through examining the connection between the “field holler,” and “ring shout” and their relation to early slave spirituals. Evans explains  that “another musical trope that emerged from the rural South — the field holler — was equally significant in the birth of the blues. Unlike a worker on a railroad gang or other group effort, a field hand did not have to coordinate with his fellow workers. He sang at his own speed, while others echoed his often wordless call or “holler.” This is just one of many fascinating explanations that emerge from the book.

After highlighting the basic development of the blues, in later chapters Evans begins expanding his discussion to explore the influence of the blues upon later genres, e.g., country music, heavy metal, folk music, blues rap, and rock. Through quotes from various musicians and his own skillful analysis, he makes a solid case for that influence. Evans selects a quote from Keith Richards’ autobiography Life to make his point: “If you don’t know the blues . . . there’s no point in picking up the guitar and playing rock and roll or any other form of popular music.” That’s a pretty good argument from a pretty good source.

The Blues: A Visual History is not flawless though. The book leans heavily upon popular culture for its context, yet there’s only a minor mention of The Blues Brothers (a small note while discussing Cab Colloway’s career). While some dismiss The Blues Brothers as musically illegitimate, essentially a comic novelty act, arguably that band and the film had a hand in introducing and promoting The Blues to new generations of fans. A small acknowledgment of that would’ve done no harm.

But this is simply a quibble; overall Mike Evans, along with consulting editor Robert Gordon, has put together a superbly entertaining book that will add to anyone’s knowledge and enjoyment of the blues — highly recommended.

The Blues: A Visual History. 100 Years of Music that Changed the World

Mike Evans, Author; Robert Gordon, Consulting Editor; Forward by Marshall Chess. Sterling Publication, 256 pages. $29.95.