The Kyana Blues Society has presented their Amateur Blues Contest for the past six years. This year's Annual Competition will be held at Stevie Ray's on Sunday, August 15. Several times, members of the Greater Cincinnati Blues society have graciously served as judges for KBS competitions, so when I was asked by Mary Ann Kindel, the chairperson for the Greater Cincinnati Blues Society's 1st Blues Talent Competition, to be a judge, it was time to return the favor.
Their event was held at the 20th Century Theater, in interesting art deco movie house located in the Oakley neighborhood of Cincinnati. It has been adapted for table seating and performances. After several months of advance planning, they had nineteen competing acts lined up for Sunday, March 7. This made for a full day of good blues, starting at 2 p.m. and finishing slightly ahead of schedule at 9:30 p.m. with the announcement of the winner.
The other judges included Herb Sollers of the Columbus Blues Alliance; Doris Jackson, past director of the Blues Society of Indiana; Wendy Kerr, talent agent for the Slippery Noodle and Ben Hulette, music critic for Everybody's News. Emcee Dave Warford kept the event rolling and many other volunteers helped by keeping time, tallying the scores, working the door and managing the bands and stage. Considering the size of the event and that this was their initial competition, the organization, hospitality and promotion was excellent. Over 400 hundred people attended.
So much for the kudos, let's get to the bands and music. The judges had their work cut out for them, scoring each act for talent, blues content, originality, showmanship and overall impression. There was only one female and some half-dozen black performers, following the current trend of white and male-dominated bands. There were two solo acts, while the rest were bands heavy on guitar, with occasional keyboards, horns and harps. Memorable moments included Hoodoo Moon doing an extended version of "Living in the Third World, Right Here in the Middle of the USA." Royal Blues did an original tune, "I've Got a New Love, Darling," which rated strong in all categories and Noah and Stratocats amazed the crowd with mature guitar solos. For a just-turned-seventeen kid from Dayton, Noah has a real future.
The Reverend Billy Rose & the Legendary Soulshakers put a lot of emotion into their set. The Jimmy Roberts Blues Band showcased Roberts' excellent slide guitar work. Souled Out put a solid groove to "Unchain My Heart" and an original arrangement of "The Thrill Is Gone." Blues Movement came up with the best slow blues of the contest with "Got A Mind To Give Up Women." Finally, G. Miles and Soul Therapy did some jump blues featuring notable interplay between the sax and guitar.
The top four bands were announced at the end of the contest, with each of these groups getting a slot in the Queen City Blues Festival on July 9 and 10. One of the sponsors, Boone Cliffs Recording Assembly, provided studio time for the top three bands and, in addition, the winner got $500, plus an entry into the International Blues Talent Competition in Memphis. The winner was Sonny Hill and the Nightshift. Hill sang "I've Had My Fun" and an original, "Backin' Up," plus he played keyboards. The band was tight, with a lot of poise, reflecting Hill's extensive experience in the Memphis music scene. Royal Blues was second, with Jimmy Roberts Blues Band third and G. Miles and Soul Therapy getting the fourth spot.
Following the event, I asked Mary Ann Kindel if she would be a judge for the KBS contest. Her choice is to judge or to compete with her own band, which won the blues competition in Marietta, Ohio, in 1997.
There were a few true blues troopers from the Kyana Blues Society in attendance, including Paul Schneider and Paul and Martha McNeal. We all picked up some good ideas to make our next contest a little better.
The clubs and bands are all set for the Blues Cruise, scheduled for Saturday, May 15. Following dinner at the Come Back Inn, the big yellow bus will head to Stevie Ray's to hear Dr. Don & the Love Dogs. This trio has been performing blues for over ten years in Louisville. Don Oswald Sr. plays guitar and singers with Bill Mercer on drums and Kevin Oechsli on bass. Incidentally, Don's son is the lead guitarist for the Nasty Weather Blues Band.
Then we will trek on down to 22nd and Market to Goodloe's Sports Bar. The B. B. Taylor Blues Review jams there regularly each Sunday evening. His band of veteran musicians will be in attendance, along with Harmonica Red. The climax of the cruise will be at Billy's Place, with Stacy Mitchart & Blues U Can Use. Mitchart is a killer guitarist from Nashville and the group is the house band at the popular Bourbon Street club. This dapper bluesman brings a full band, including a three-piece horn section and keyboards. (I have great memories of the night Mitchart jammed with Kenny Neal and Tinsley Ellis at the Backstage Café several years ago.) This cruise is shaping up to be one of the best, so get on board.