The runner-up band in last year's KYANA Blues Society Amateur Blues Contest came out the winner this year. The Redd Snapper Blues Band pulled out all the stops and was awarded $100 plus the chance to perform in Memphis. I called Bob Ferguson, Chris Chancey and Kenny Lawrence, the three guitarists who front the band, to find out what it was like to compete in the 12th Annual International Blues Talent Competition. Because the KBS is afﬁliated with the Blues Foundation, the Redd Snappers got an automatic berth in the ﬁnal round of the contest at the New Daisy Theater in Memphis on Oct. 8.
They all felt that the event was well organized, with a lot of camaraderie between the musicians of each band. Twenty-three bands competed and they were all winners from competitions sponsored by other blues societies. The bands came from as far away as Alaska, Toronto and Australia.
Because each group had just ten minutes on stage, the Red Snappers did only two songs: "No Good Woman" and "l Don't Need You By My Side." They performed fourth from last and came in ﬁfth overall.
All of the other groups that finished ahead of them were larger show bands, so you could say that the Snappers were the best of the basic blues bands. Two judges, including Bob Porter, producer of "Portraits In Blue," placed them third. Not bad for a band that has been together for just over a year. The winner was "The Movers," an excellent nine-piece horn band from Boston.
The Albert King Award, given to the most promising blues guitarist, went to Geof Achison from Australia, who played acoustic. Bob Ferguson observed that out of all the musicians who performed, only three were African-Americans, which tells you where the next generation of blues musicians is coming from and who is promoting them.
The guys all tasted some good ribs and saw a lot of action on Beale Street, plus they felt they stacked up pretty well against the world competition.
(Nice showing Chris, Kenny, Steve and Bob; the KBS is proud of you.)
The drummer in a band is often inconspicuous behind his cymbals and snares and goes unnoticed. There is a veteran musician who has been recently playing in Fred Murphy's Blue Devils Band at the Blues Castle each Sunday evening, who has been around the bandstand a few times and deserves a little attention. Sonny Sitgraves originally played with Fred during the early- to middle-'60s and before that when Fred and Henry Woodruff were teamed up together. Sonny also played with Foree Wells in the late '50s and early '60s and drummed for several early local rock and roll bands, including the Presidents, Moonlighters and the Democrats. Sonny said when he was with one of these bands they were the ﬁrst to perform rock and roll at Fort Knox. In 1966 Sonny moved to Chicago to work for the Chicago Transit Authority.
At night he would go to the clubs on Chicago's south and west sides where the blues was still just played, and met many of the musicians. At Sylvio's Lounge, where Howlin' Wolf was the resident band, Sonny got to sit in with the group and went on tour with the Wolf to Boston, Cambridge, Detroit and Windsor. The road band also included Hubert Sumlin on guitar and Willie Mabon playing piano.
What was it like playing with the Wolf? Sonny said he never had any problems for the Wolf always treated the band members fairly, paying them right after each gig.
Sonny rattled off a long list of other Chicago bluesmen he had played with, including Sunnyland Slim, Corey Bell, Jr. Wells and (Little) Smokey Smothers. He was in Johnny Littlejohn's band for six years. On Littlejohn's Arhoolie 1043 record album, Sonny is in the photograph of the band playing at the Sportsman's Lounge on Chicago's west side. He is incorrectly identified as Booker Sidgrave. There is another picture of Sonny in the Sept./Oct. 1994 issue of Living Blues (page 47) when he was drumming with Buster Benton at the Stardust Lounge. Sonny still uses the same drum set at the Blues Palace as shown in that photo from 1972.
After he retired from the CTA this past March, he returned to Taylorsville with his wife and has started playing again locally for the next phase of his colorful career.