These monthly articles for LMN are entitled "I've Got A Mind To Ramble" and that's what you're getting this month as we begin 2016. As we head into the new year, I'm going to take a look back at some of the things that took place in 2015 and talk about the prospects and my hopes and wishes for the upcoming 366 days (it's a Leap Year).
Last year started off with a bang when, in late January, I attended the International Blues Challenge (commonly referred to as the IBCs). Bands, solo artists, and duos who had won local contests all converged on Memphis, Tennessee to compete for the prestigious honor of being named the best in the blues. Seeing parts of over 30 shows in a few days gave me hope that the blues aren't dying but are in very good hands. Acts from all over the world, including young kids, showcased some of the best talent you'll ever see in one place. Beale Street was definitely the place to be to have your faith in the genre restored. The representatives from the Kentuckiana Blues Society, Randy Colvin and The Beat Daddys performed admirably and both made it into the semifinals. The Society is sending Fistful Of Bacon and Alonzo and Michael (band and duo respectively) as their representatives this year.
There were several festivals that took place in 2015. The Germantown Schnitzelburg Blues Festival, in early June, featured Soul River Band, The Saints, Nick Harless Band, Mark Stein and The Rib Tip Kings, 100 Proof Blues Band, and the Louisville Blues Divas featuring Tanita Gaines, Susan O'Neil, Laurie Jessup and Tanita Gaines performing with Da Mudcats. For such a small fest with a smaller budget, Gary Sampson and those involved put on a heck of a show.
The very next weekend, Smokin' On The River over in Jeffersonville, Indiana continued the summer of the blues. Once again Gary Sampson performed his magic bringing in a stellar lineup that included The Tarnations, The Stella-Vees, The Beat Daddys, Tinsley Ellis, Dallas Cole Band, Butch Williams, Bell Bottom Blues Bnad, Vanessa Davis, Billy Bird and Pen Bogert, Randy Colvin, and Tyrone Cotton and Screamin' John Hawkins.
In mid-July, the Louisville Blues Brews and BQB Festival took over. Performers included Little T & A, V-Groove, Carl Weathersby, Tullie Brae, Blues and Greys, Boscoe France, and The Cash Box Kings. Unfortunately, Sunday was canceled due to a severe storm on Saturday night that caused extensive damage.
Then in October came the 20th edition of The Garvin Gate Blues Festival, the grand-daddy of all local festivals (writer's note; I am the co-producer and music buyer of the festival). A Tribute To Muddy Waters and Chicago Blues featured Laurie Jane and The 45s, former Muddy guitar player, Bob Margolin and Muddy's son, Big Bill Morganfield with Levee Town, Stray Cat Blues Band, The Stella-Vees with James Gaetano, 100 Proof Blues Band, The Ass Haulers, 10th Street Blues Band, Sheryl Rouse and The Bluez Brothers, Da Mudcats, Cash Box Kings and Billy Flynn Band with Shirley Johnson and Barrelhouse Chuck, Mississippi Adam Riggle Band and Tyrone Cotton.
As I think back on these fests, there are two performances that really stick out. The first was the Louisville Blues Divas with all of that lady power sharing the same stage. Quite a sight to see and hear. And the most powerful show of the festival season was undoubtedly Sheryl Rouse and The Bluez Brothers. Talk about grabbing a crowd right from jump street and never letting go, Sheryl made a name for herself that night.
There were four CDs that came out in 2015 that stood out. Don't Tell Me Your Name by the Stella-Vees was a powerhouse Chicago- and West Coast-influenced offering. Jason Lockwood and band hit on all cylinders on this one. The CD was chosen to be its representative at the IBCs for best self-produced CD.
Laurie Jane and The 45s self-entitled CD captures their sound and showcased not only Jessup's vocals but the playing of the entire band. This one jumps right out at you from the first note and doesn't stop knocking you out until the very last one.
Coldest Night of The Year is a live recording from 1997 featuring the late blues harp virtuoso Jim Rosen and guitarist Rob Pickens performing at the now-defunct Twice Told Coffeehouse in an intimate, acoustic set. After all these years, it is exhilarating and poignant at the same time to hear Rosen again show why he was one of the best harp players ever.
The Blues Had A Baby, Louisville's Tribute To Muddy Waters, a companion piece to the Muddy Tribute at Garvin Gate brought together eleven bands from various genres to cover songs written and or performed by Muddy. The recording was an effort to attract new listeners to the blues and to give blues lovers a chance to hear other genres. (Writer's note: I was the producer of Coldest Night and co-producer of Blues Had A Baby.)
One of the best things that happened in 2015 was the reunion of Da Mudcats. Blues Matriarch Susan O'Neil and Doug Lamb, former members of the band at one time or the other joined up with stalwarts Gene Wickcliffe, Rob Pickett and Mike Lynch to once again treat local blues lovers. The band is now working on writing new songs with the hopes of putting out a CD in 2016.
There were losses in 2015 that have indelibly marked many of us. Joey Lamont Gillispie (self-anointed Preacher for the Blues), Byron Davies, and Jimmy Gardner passed away within about a month of each other. It was devastating to all of us on different levels. Personally, Joey's death hit me the hardest. Since the revival of Garvin Gate, I had gotten to know Joey really well and considered him a friend and brother, something I had never taken the opportunity to do so back in the day. I admired his love for the blues, his steadfastness in preaching the blues and his unyielding support for everyone involved with the music. His loss is on the level of losing Foree Wells and Jim Rosen.
That brings us to the new year. I was going to ask readers for their blues resolutions but decided that since my only resolution each year was not to make any, it wouldn't seem right. So, I will share my hopes and thoughts for the Blues.
I will once again travel to Memphis for the IBCs. I really hope I get the chance to see the "next big thing," a talent like Stevie Ray Vaughn who can bring the Blues back to the masses.
I would love to see new faces intertwined with the veterans out to see blues music in town. And I want the blues crowd to venture out to support other genre bands. In these times, it's imperative that we support all local music.
Here's my challenge to club owners. Figure out a way to support the blues artists in town. I really think that a club could make a name for itself if it started a music caravan night of sorts once or twice a month. Have a blues band paired with a non-blues band so that each of those bands' followers can see the other. All of our popular music originates from the blues so this seems like a way to help keep the blues alive as well as support all music.
Treat yourself and attend a blues festival. The aforementioned ones (with the exception of Smokin' On The River which will no longer feature blues) are great places to start. There are also some great fests within a short drive. The Handy Blues Festival in Henderson, KY, Ribberfest in Madison, IN, and the Cincy Blues Fest in Cincinnati are all great ones to attend. And if you really want to see one to remember, go to The Chicago Blues Fest in June.
Lastly, let me publicly give accolades to Gary Sampson, the out-going president of the Kentuckiana Blues Society. Gary has served in that capacity for the last 10 years and took what was an organization mired in old thinking, turned in around and headed it in the right direction. My hat is off to you.