Greg Johnson, CBA President

Well, the 2016 International Blues Challenge is now in the books. When you consider the previous few years, the weather decided to cooperate with us for once. As the East Coast was being hammered with torrential winter storms before the event, for a change, the temperatures in Memphis were mild rather than freezing. And the only rain during the week came twice, late at night when everyone had pretty much already gone back to the places where they were staying.

Events began on Tuesday night with several venues hosting participants from twelve countries beyond the United States taking part. As your Portland area representatives as volunteers, I worked as the venue host at Club 152 while Cherie Robbins held the same duty at Pig On Beale. It was a chance for these acts who traveled from all corners of the world to have an extra chance to play.

Speaking of the acts, not only were thirteen countries total represented, but a total of 121 bands,  94 solo/duo groups and 42 youth acts took part in the event. All were already winners of their own regional competitions.

The Northwest had a strong showing, starting out Wednesday morning before the competition even began as representatives from the four regional blues societies participating this year were showcased at a day-long performance at Club 152. The perfect location as The Blues Foundation’s merchandise store, band CD sales, and will call for passes pick up were on the second floor, meaning that everybody who went up that way were treated to music from the Northwest. And many of those folks decided to stay and listen all day.

The Northwest was represented by acts from not only the Cascade Blues Association (Sister Mercy – band; Rogue Rage Duo – solo/duo; Justus Reece – youth), but also the Washington Blues Society (James Howard Band; Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons – solo/duo), South Sound Blues Association (King Kom Beau – band; Doug Skoog & Brian Fiest – solo/duo; Emerald City Blues Band – youth) and the White Rock Blues Society (Arsen Shomakhov Band; Jesse Roper – solo/duo).

Cherie and I worked together during the week in Club 152 for the quarter-and-semi-finals, Wednesday through Friday. We did not have any of the Northwest acts perform in our venue, but she had the opportunity to catch a little bit of our CBA acts.

Rogue Rage Duo unfortunately did not advance to the semi-finals, but speaking with both Harpo and Dan they were pleased with their performance and felt strongly that they might have moved forward. Regardless, they said they made some great contacts and friends and will most likely see extra gigs their way coming up.

SisterMercy IBC at the Tin Roof - photo courtesy of Sister MercySister Mercy played their first night on a big stage at the Tin Roof. Talking with the venue coordinator from that room he told me that they were his favorite act in the quarterfinals in his room. He said the crowd ate up their vocal harmonies and choreographed dance moves. Even the judges were said to be dancing along with the band and they advanced to the semi-finals on Friday night at Blues City Café on a much smaller stage, but in front of a crowd that packed to the seams. This would be their final performance in the competition. But it is a feat to be proud of as of the thousands of acts that compete to get to Memphis, only 250 or so make it, and that number is cut in a third for Friday, and only eight bands and eight solo/duo acts make it to the finals. And they surely caught the attention of many people in the blues industry who can advance their careers ahead.

Justus Reece was able to take part in the youth showcase, playing at Silky O’Sullivan’s. He and his father traveled to Nashville before Memphis and he was able to sight-see a number of historical music places in both cities. His father, Geoffrey Reece, commented about how much good music they heard and how incredibly talented the kids participating in the youth showcase were. He also said that Justus is already trying to figure out a way to come back to the IBC.

Friday morning Cherie and I attended the Keeping the Blues Alive Award luncheon, where I was one of fifteen recipients of the honor this year. It was an amazing feeling to be recognized, but having Cherie with me made me especially proud as was having her working the event all week with me. I wouldn’t have dreamed of being there with anyone else. It was also a treat to be introduced by Jay Sieleman and to have so many friends in the room, including Karen Lovely, Hawkeye Greg Johnson and Cherie Robbins with KBA award - photo by Cinda WatermanHerman and Dick & Cinda Waterman who asked to sit with us at our table. Thank you for being there.

On Saturday, we were at the finals in The Orpheum Theater where I was working as one of the stage managers. Everybody has their own opinion of who should have or should not have made the finals, but I have to say I was impressed with a lot of the acts on that stage and happy to see personal friends Ori Naftaly, Dave Muskett, and Micah Kesselring among them. I felt that the overall winning act, The Delgado Brothers was definitely the right choice. They were by far the best act on that stage that day. But as anybody who has been a part of the IBC for any amount of time knows, it can all be different on any given day, depending on who your judges are and their feelings about the music presented. But again, I always point out to those who state music is not a competition. True, but how else can you bring so many quality acts to one location with so many industry people looking for new acts in the genre?

It was truly a great feeling to see one of the Northwest acts, Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons, win the solo/duo competition. From my first time watching them I felt that they were bringing something new to the event, though their music is very traditional in its format of string and jug band music, the true root of original blues. They were fresh and a change of pace that the judges and audience ate up and deservingly so. Congratulations to Ben & Joe and the Washington Blues Society.

And congratulations to all the musicians, fans, volunteers, Blues Foundation staff, and Beale Street Merchants. Everybody in Memphis was a winner this week for one of the very best IBCs ever. It really is one of the grandest events, not only in the blues world, but the music world itself; it’s the future of the blues seen today.

When She’s Gone
Nola Blue, Inc.

Benny Turner CD coverThis is an exceptional album that leaves me shaking my head. Why isn’t Benny Turner more renown? After all, he is the brother of the late blues legend Freddie King. He worked with Chicago bluesman Mighty Joe Young and was also the band leader for New Orleans’ Blues Queen Marva Wright. But that is not why I question his status. When you consider that six of the ten tracks on his fourth album, When She’s Gone, were originally released back in 1997 on his album Blue And Not So Blue, which received extreme acclaim regionally, but went pretty much unnoticed around the rest of the world, it just plain leaves me stumped. This man possesses some mighty soulful vocal cords and has a delivery to a song that just oozes bluesy and soulful perfection. The remaining four tracks are covers that hit just as sure as the older material.

One must take note that the majority of the numbers on this disc do not even include guitar. Yes, Turner is a guitarist himself, but he foregoes the instrument on most selections here, preferring his own work on bass as a lead instead. But when a guitar is included, notably on two songs, he has chosen former Muddy Waters’ guitarist Bob Margolin to fill the spot. And fill it he does. Beautifully and bluesy! You might also note that filling a rhythm guitar role on the tune “Because Of You” is one Dr. John. Yes, that Dr. John who originally began his career as a guitar player before taking up the piano.

Some of the other familiar names found helping Turner out are his former employer Marva Wright as the two trade their voices on “Pity On This Lovesick Fool.” This track alone would’ve been worth the price of the disc, but there is so much more sounding just as awesome. There’s also folks like Davell Crawford, Herman Ernest III, Samuel Berfect and Jellybean Alexander on hand. And don’t miss out on the closing number “Black Night” where Turner teams up with another blues legend, Charles Brown for a six-and-a-minute reading of the classic done just right!

There are a few well-known covers included on When She’s Gone, but who cares? These songs, like Lowell Fulson’s “Reconsider Baby,” Jimmy Rogers’ “That’s Alright,” even something like Bill Withers’ “Ain’t No Sunshine” that you just can’t imagine being done any better than the original, all come across with just the right flavor and soul that’ll make you say out loud, “Ahhh yes!!!”

I guess it goes without saying, I really like this album a lot. Recommended? Big time yes!! Check it out!

Total Time: 49:36

I Can’t Leave / Pity On This Lovesick Fool / Because Of You / Ain’t No Sunshine / So Deep / If I Can’t Have You / Have You Ever Been So Lonesome / Reconsider Baby / That’s Alright / Black Night

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

March is a month that is extremely abundant with special events happening. There is no way possible to try to  make everything going on. Well, you could actually say the same thing almost every month with the number of local musicians out there every night at various venues. We live in a city that has far more blues music going on than most places in the country. We’re very fortunate that way. But this month there are two events happening that have meaning to me more than just a festival, jam or touring musician. They involve friends and organizations that I have been involved with myself for events myself.

The first without needing any reason that I highly recommend is A Life For Lynn. This benefit for Dave & Lynn Kahl is a massive all-star laden event to assist the pair in their day to day lives as they face the continued struggle of Lynn’s multiple sclerosis. I have been fortunate enough to work with the Multiple Sclerosis Society organizing three Blues For MS concerts. It is one of the events that I have been the most honored to have been involved with. I even mentioned it in my Keeping The Blues Alive Award speech in Memphis as something that I was most proud. The past two events I made a point of Dave Kahl being included, once as a performer and the second time to relate to the audience what it means to live with MS daily and how the MS Society helps.

Even if this was the only reason to attend A Life For Lynn it would be enough. But to me it is more personal. Dave and I have exchanged times of loss and questioning between ourselves and helped each other through. At a time when I questioned my value in what I was doing with the CBA and the blues community in general several years back and I thinking of walking away, it was Dave who convinced me otherwise. He told me what I was doing was valuable and that so many people appreciated it. Without his words I would have never continued. And it works both ways. With the death of Paul deLay Dave too questioned whether he desired to continue playing music. This concerned me because he offers way more than just a performer. He is an advocate and a voice of reason in the music community in Portland. I was contacted by Steve Clarke telling me that his wife Fiona Boyes was looking to move to Portland and if I knew of any bass players she might be able to hook up with. I saw this as a golden opportunity for Dave and though he was not sure if he wanted to do it, I convinced him to give it a shot. As everybody knows it developed into a regular position with Fiona with her band at the time and whenever she returns to town.

Imagine a scene without Dave Kahl. There would be no MyGigNet, there would be no voice in City Council meetings working to bring more attention to local musicians whether as a tourist attraction or the development of a music district. He may not have been around as a player to become Ty Curtis’ bassist either. He is a man of dreams with a huge heart open to everybody and he is always the first to offer his services to help a musician or a friend in need. Make it a point to return the favor and attend A Life For Lynn.

Another organization that I had a chance to work with not as directly as the MS Society was the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. Guitarist Thomas Quigley put together a couple benefit shows for the group and asked me if the CBA and myself would help out. The second of these took place at The Refectory with people like Kevin Selfe, Chad Rupp, Madman Sam, and guess who, Dave Kahl all taking part. It is such organizations that have made me that working to make these events happen is more than beneficial for many.

In March, at The Trails End Saloon there will be a concert to help raise funds for the Leukemia & Lymphona Society and their work at finding a cure for this form of cancer, called Give Cancer The Boot. It is another all-star affair that crosses genres and even includes touring Texan musician Randy McAllister. But what makes it even more special to me is that the show was created by good friends Rick & Shelley Layton, and they asked my girlfriend Cherie Robbins to produce the event through her Cherie’s Blues Highway. Rick and Shelley mean a lot to us as when we were between homes waiting for our new apartment to become available, they put us up in their own home and have become very close friends. Shelley is running a marathon for the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which this concert is also about bringing awareness, too. Please make this event another destination of choice this coming month.

What it all boils down to is that way too often benefits and festivals are put together because of health issues or social needs like homelessness. Whether it is A Life For Lynn, Give Cancer The Boot, the Waterfront Blues Festival, the Winter Blues Festival, the Inner City Blues Festival, or any other such happening, it is almost always the music community that comes together to make a difference. It is true. Music does have the means to heal, in more ways than one. I wish that such events were not necessary, but until a cure for all such issues and illnesses can be found, thank God for such kind hearts as we have in our musicians. Please do your part and help by attending.