I was curious to know what happened with MR-2 Blue at the National Amateur Blues Contest that was held in Memphis over Labor Day weekend, so I called Joe Pinkerton to get the lowdown. If you remember, the band won our local blues competition. Since it was sponsored by the Kyana Blues Society, they got an automatic berth in the finals.
In addition to a $100 donation by the Kyana Blues Society to help pay for MR 2 Blue's traveling expenses, there was a fundraising concert at the Blue Bird Cafe, where they picked up another $92.
Joe said there were seventeen bands from all over the country performing in the finals on Sunday. Included were the winners and runners-up from the twelve bands that competed in the preliminaries the day before. Each band had ten minutes to get on, ten minutes to perform and five minutes to get off.
During their ten minutes of glory, MR-2 Blue performed three songs, which included "Pride and Joy," vocal by Mike Perry; "Wait on Time," vocal by Tony Olive; and "Hey, Hey," vocal by Joe Pinkerton. The six judges represented various backgrounds of music and graded the performers on five criteria.
MR 2 Blue did not win., place or show, but the judges commented that they were pleased with the quality and thought that all the bands were very competitive. The winner was an eight-piece band from Boston called Evil Gal, which was fronted by a female singer and which had lots of horns. Joe compared them to Room Full of Blues with that slick big band sound.
The first prize was $1,000, eight hours of recording time in Sam Phillips' studio and an opportunity to perform at the 14th Annual W. C. Handy Blues Awards Show in October, plus some other festivals. The guitarist in the winning group also received the Albert King Award for the most promising guitarist.
Following the competition in the New Daisey Theater, there was a reception and jam session next door. Joe got to sit in for a set, since there was only one other harp player there.
Memphis was alive that night with a street festival going on up and down Beale Street, Jim Thackery, ex-Nighthawks guitarist, playing at the Blues Box, and the Louisiana legend, Raful Neal, performing at B. B. King's Club.
Albert Washington is not a household name i the blues world but his career has spanned over thirty years, playing in the Cincinnati area and recording on various labels. Albert started out singing at age sixteen with the Gospelaires, who were recording for Duke and Peacock. True to his mother's wishes, he continued singing gospel, forming his own group, The Washington Singers. When such blues greats of the Fifties as Big Maybelle, Charles Brown, Amos Millburn and B. B. King came to Cincy, Albert would sneak into the clubs to hear them.
Shortly after his mother's death, Albert began playing guitar and singing the blues at a Cincinnati club called The Vet's Inn. He stayed there for sixteen years. Following a few releases on obscure labels. he signed with the Fraternity company in 1966 and recorded several 45s. Lonnie Mack, who was also recording for that label at the time, is featured on some of Albert's 1969 sessions.
For the past twenty years, Albert did little recording until Bob Devere of Iris Records recorded him with a top notch band. Step It Up and Go was released earlier this year and has gotten enthusiastic reviews and airplay across the country. He will be going back to the studio again in late October for another recording session.
The Kyana Blues Society is proud to present Albert Washington with his band at a special concert at the Blue Bird Cafe Thursday evening, November 4. Even though Albert is only fifty-four, young by most veteran blues standards, he has lived a tough life and is nearly blind, due to a long bout with diabetes. I'm told that he frequently sings with such emotion and conviction that he is known to cry during his performances. Joel Dufour of Soul Bag magazine has called Albert "one of our national treasures." So let's got out and support Albert and the Kyana Blues Society.
What will be the name of the new blues club at O'Malley's Corner?