May certainly turned out to be a bittersweet month. I made my annual visit to Memphis to work at the Blues Music Awards and to see friends who I only have the chance to see maybe twice a year. This was my fifth year working as part of the stage management team for what is perhaps the biggest single night in the blues world. Getting to see and work with musician friends like John Nemeth, Doug MacLeod, Jarekus Singleton, Sugaray Rayford, EG Kight, Mark Hummel and Eden Brent, as well as legendary performers like Charlie Musselwhite, John Hammond, Elvin Bishopand Keb’ Mo’ made for an awesome time. Then throw in Kevin Selfe, Lisa Mann and Jimi Bott into the mix and it was perfect.
Well, actually the perfect part came about as I got to be right there side stage as both Jimi Bott and Lisa Mann were honored as recipients of the Blues Music Awards in their respective categories. It was a time that made Portland and the whole Pacific Northwest shine with pride. And so many friends were there from the Northwest to share it, including Lisa’s husband Allen Markel, Jimi’s wife Laura, CBA Vice President Wendy Schumer, Cherie Robbins, Karen Lovely, Ben Rice, Lucy Hammond, Washington Blues Society PresidentTony Frederickson, Stacy Jones, Tim & Michelle Burge, Teri Wilson and others.
But May also brought some pain. First, on the Monday before the Blues Music Awards took place, Randy Chortkoff passed away. I knew Randy in passing. We would exchange hellos, but never really knew each other too well. But his label Delta Groove has been a West Coast leader and has recorded a number of musicians associated with Portland including Jimi Bott, Kevin Selfe, Mitch Kashmar and Franck Goldwasser.
The one thing that Randy once did that I will never forget took place when he was receiving the Keeping The Blues Alive Award for the label. He stood before the crowd at the Doubletree Hotel that morning and gave his acceptance speech, I believe I was standing next to Watermelon Slim as he spoke. He stated that there were some really good blues societies that have helped push Delta Groove over the years, and the Cascade Blues Association was one that had stood out as exceptional. I about fell over. Totally unexpected and very much grateful for his acknowledgement. I’ll never forget that day. Nor will I forget Randy for what he has done for the West Coast blues scene.
Even harder to take was the passing of BB King the day before BluesNotes deadline. How do you talk about an icon? Somebody whose very name means the blues to so many people world-wide. It is devastating to us all. Even though it had been announced less than two weeks before that he had been placed in home hospice. You never want to think the worst, but it will happen to us all someday. At least BB King left this world in a better state because he was a part of it.
I saw BB King more than twenty times over the years since the late 70s. I could not answer just how many times, but it is up there. I do regret that I never had the personal pleasure of meeting him. I was set up to do so several times, but for reasons out of my control it never happened. The last being a few years back when Tony Coleman was attempting to have me interview BB on his bus and photograph him. But that too fell through. It just wasn’t meant to be in this lifetime, much like the times I was to be set up to meet with John Lee Hooker. But I have no regrets. I have met my share of renowned artists over the years and will have the chance to meet these others and more in the ever after when we leave here ourselves. In the meantime, I will cherish the shows I saw, the albums I own, and the films I have seen. We were all blessed by having BB King’s presence among us, whether we met face to face or not.