A Baker’s Dozen of Blues: January 19, 2015

1530424_10203598699312460_180786668436700902_nWell here we are in Memphis town. Time for the International Blues Challenge and all that it represents, offers and means. Be sure to stay in contact woth our facebook page (blues411) for live photos from the venues and streets during the week. Also at the end of each day Leslie will post up albums of some stunning photos that will put you in the best seat in the house.

A shout out to my little buddy, Vinny Marini, as he will be broadcasting interviews and the Tuesday jam with Tas Cru from the Rum Boogie Cafe. Check out Music On The Couch website for details and all that other stuff. Also on tap for the week is a Women In Blues Showcase thats sure to please. I was hoping someone would simulcast it, but not yet. Oh yeah the ‘Cooking With HART’ cookbook will be available at the Blues Foundation store and at various other spots on and around Beale Street, and I might even be holdin’ a few for side sales too.

Lots to do while in town, got a Grizzlies game Monday, should be great to see some good b-ball. Then Civil Rights Museum, Gus’s Fried Chicken, Rendezvous Rib Joint, and more than I can mention here. So stay tuned to us and see what you should be doing next year at this time.

Our #1 placeholder is a band that will be playing in the Galaxie artist showcase in Memphis this week, Markey Blue. Sensual and hard driving and just dripping with that sweet southern soul sound, they are a band on the rise, congrats. Our new addition is Aaron Burton, a long time fav of mine and his new release ‘All Night Long’, check him out.

Our Amuse Bouche features three more categories from the BMA nominations….

A Baker’s Dozen of Blues, on MojoWax Radio presented by Blues MusicMagazine at

Broadcast times are as follows:
 10pm EST
Wednesday – Noon EST
  11pm EST
  4pm EST
Saturday – 2pm EST


Baker’s Dozen: Current Chart & Playlist on Radio Show

CW LW CD TITLE Artist/ Web Site Track#/Title
1 2 Hey Hey Markey Blue 8. With You
2 3 Love The Way You Roll The Alexis P. Suter Band 8. You Don’t Move Me No More
3 4 Man & Guitar Ian Siegal 8.’Taint Nobodys Business*
4 5 Gotta Keep Rollin’ Rob Stone 3. Lucky 13
5 6 Live My Life Stacy Mitchhart 9. Legend In His Own Mind*
6 7 Blues Stories Diana Braithewaite & Chris Whiteley 4. Bye Bye Bird
7 8 100% Pure Sauce Boss 2. Marquis De Swamp
8 9 Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju HowellDevine 2. It Won’t Be Long Now*
9 11 Cryin’ Mercy Altered Five 1. Demon Woman*
10 10 Bluesamericana Keb’ Mo’ 8. Old Me Better*
11 11 The Other Side Niecie 7. Skin To Skin
12 12 You Keep The Money Tas Cru 2. A Month of Somedays
13 ~ All Night Long Aaron Burton 2. Driven Man*

Chef’s Suggestions: The Stuff Ya Gotta Watch

Empire Roots Band Music From ‘The Harlem Street Singer’ Empire Roots Band 8. Hesitation
Belmont Boulevard JW Jones 7 Magic West Side Boogie
Living By The Minute John Hoyer & The Shadowboxers 5. Let It Out
A Long Way From Home The Suitcase Brothers 5. Kidney Stew
Natural Born That Way Nathan James & The Rhythm Scratchers 3. Natural Born That Way
One Heart Walkin’ Austin Walkin’ Cane 1. Sweet Tea & Bourbon
Spaghetti Juke Joint Fabrizio Poggi 1. King Bee
Inside Out Roly Platt 10. Funk Shui
Decisions Bobby Rush/Blinddog Smokin’ 3. Bobby Rush’s Bus
Dust My Broom Preston Shannon 9. The Feeling Is Gone
Double EP Dave Muskett 1. Pet That Thing

Amuse Bouche: BMA Nominees

Another Murder In New Orleans Bobby Rush
Can’t Even Do Wrong Right Elvin Bishop
Bad Luck Is My Name John Nemeth
Let Me Breathe Janiva Magness
Things Could Be Worse Sugar Ray & The Bluetones
8. Skinny Little Women Bobby Rush
9. Bo Weevil Elvin Bishop
1.Three Times A Fool John Nemeth
4.My Next Ex-Wife Rick Estrin
10. Need A Little More Time Sugaray Rayford
7. Blues Overtook Me Charlie Musselwhite
5. Still A Fool Kim Wilson
10. Tonight With A Fool Mark Hummel
13. Too Close Together Rick Estrin
4. Living Tear To Tear Sugar Ray Norcia

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

Lionel Young Band: The Road To The IBC (re-post/edit)

Yes, we have done it again. With the IBC just a shot away I recalled that we had interviewed Lionel Young about his 2 – yes 2 – IBC titles. One for the band category and one for solo/duo category (the only one to do this).
So here is an edited version (as much as I could) for y’all to read and get jiggy with.
*****Be sure to see Lionel and Johnny Long at this years IBC at The Rum Boogie Cafe Saturday, January 24th from 5:30-9:30.  Also rumor has it he will be appearing at Jenn Ocken’s ‘Blues On Beale Street: Memoirs of IBC” VIP party at Silly Goose on Thursday, 2:00-4:00.

Oh wait he might even be the man about town, so keep your eyes peeled for this super artist.

Lionel Young is the first double champion in the history of the IBC. Lionel Young won the 2008 IBC in the solo-duo category, and the 2011 International Blues Challenge (IBC) band competition as The Lionel Young.

I first met Lionel on the October 2009 Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, the infamous ‘cruise to nowhere’. That was the cruise that ran into hurricanes and we did donuts in the Pacific Ocean. It seemed that Lionel was everywhere on that cruise, whether it be playing as a band or jamming in with Debbie Davies, Fiona Boyes and the historic late night jams. He was impressive not only in his musical prowess but also for his openness and friendliness.
I wanted to speak to him because he has roots in Rochester, NY – adopted home of Son House (and me).


B411: You have won the International Blues Challenge twice now, one in 2008 for Solo/Duo, and in 2011 as a Band, congrats !
What made you ‘go back to the drawing board’ and form/re-form as a group?

LY: When I did the IBC the first time in 2008, I originally wanted to bring a band. The seed was sown then to come back and do it that way. It’s just so much funner to play music with others than by your self. It was always in the back of my mind. That’s why there were 6 of us in Memphis.

B411: How has the dynamic changed within the band, and do you think this is the best vehicle for what you are playing?

LY: The dynamic is in the process of shifting from being focused on doing our very best at the IBC to conquering the world as we know it. I’m having a little fun with this question but that answer is partly accurate. We want to focus on touring well, playing with the same commitment,drive and integrity that we had in Memphis. I want us to set our sights higher in the recording department by aiming for a BMA or eventually a Grammy. I’m not sure if it’s the best vehicle for what I’m getting into or not. I’m sure it fun though. It’s kind of like driving a high powered car. It’s more of a luxury. I still like to play by myself too, but I prefer to play with others.

B411: Speaking of winning the IBC’s, did you learn anything about the process, and intimacies of the Challenge, the first time that helped you prepare for the second, and resoundingly successful second attempt?

Lionel YoungLY: Yes I did. I hate to sound cliche, but the more time you put into preparation, the better you’ll do at anything you want to do. We spent a lot of time preparing. I wanted to do my best to put us in a position to win. First, I picked the best players I could find. There I started backwards. I started with the sound I wanted in my head first and picked musicians who best fit that image. Most, but not all were already my friends but friendship wasn’t a priority. Some I’d played with a lot, some not so much. The most important thing was that they were great players that took pride in themselves and the way they played and knew how to play in the texture of the band. Before we played a note to prepare for the local preliminary rounds of the IBC, we worked backwards starting with the judging criteria. We’d talk about everything we did and would choose music according to the judging criteria, trying to maximize the heavier criteria like blues content, showing instrumental and vocal talent. We picked music that showed a good variety of rhythms and feels. We tried to be as original as we could be choosing songs that we wrote. If we did any covers they wouldn’t be something you’d hear at a blues jam. They’d have to serve the purpose of scoring high in other criteria. We dressed up and had a blues dance instructor help us with stage presence & stage show issues. We went in the studio and recorded the “on the way to Memphis” CD which prepared us musically to have a CD’s worth of music really down and tight.

That was one of the hardest things we did. We timed everything, both the songs individually and sets as a whole so we wouldn’t go over. The recording helped us with that. We even took a chance and did an all acapella song that ended up being a our secret weapon. It was a chance to score high in vocal talent if we did it well. We covered Sam Cooke’s “Bring It On Home”. Not an original tune but an original way of doing it. We tried to do what I knew other bands wouldn’t do to set us apart, like play a real slow blues or play real quiet or with good dynamics.

I knew that making decisions to do stuff that set us apart would be advantageous going into the first IBC in 2008. Almost everyone else in the situation tries to bang you over the head with their music. The IBC a high pressure situation. Because of that we knew that most acts would play louder and faster but not slower and quieter. That’s something I really learned from Josef Gingold, one of my violin teachers. He unlike most people, could play so quiet and beautiful, it would take your breath away. One thing I noticed about guys like BB and Buddy Guy and all the really good bands is that they can play really quiet. People listen harder and get sucked in. All this equipment and watts and amps doesn’t matter as much. Don’t get me wrong, I like to play loud and proud like anyone else. That’s something that just feels good, but loud noises scare the little children and take away many people’s ability to hear. Also, I really tried to connect with the audience by simply looking up. You’d be surprised how many people don’t do that and how important it is to do. Most people want to feel something, a connection to you of some kind. That’s just another thing to think about for any performer. It’s really why you’re there.

B411: Where there differences in the approach you took for these two different categories or was it about the same?

LY: The approach I took was the same, working backwards from the judging criteria. The difference between the two was that I had much longer to prepare for the band which was needed. Getting 6 people on the same page on anything is tough enough. Just getting 6 in demand musicians in the same room for a rehearsal can be challenging. Naturally, 6 people are harder to manage than just one. In 2008 with the solo/duo, I really didn’t get serious until the weekend before the contest. Like many who go to the IBC, there was a send off performance before we left. I felt I played terrible there so I got to work and prepared seriously, practicing for as many hours as I could. In a way it felt like I’d been preparing for it all my life, but if I didn’t really have what I wanted to do down, I would have felt that I wasted an opportunity . I learned an important lesson. Sometimes playing badly can be good for you. It can spur you on to play well later.

B411: You were taking violin lessons when you were six years old at The Eastman.  How did this happen?

LY: It happened this way. My mother saw an article in the local newspaper about a woman who was going to start teaching violin a revolutionary new way. Her name was Anastasia Jempelis. The way that she was teaching is called the Suzuki Method derived from a man from Japan, Shinichi Suzuki. It focused on a thing called the mother tongue method, which is a way of learning music on an instrument by ear or imitation.

B411: Who were your early influences, and who would you say are at your musical Roots?

LY: I would say my earliest strong musical influence was from my family, which was very musical. My mother played piano and organ very well. She played organ in the church we went to. Both of my parents had strong musical tastes. My dad grew up in New Orleans & had lots of records, mostly jazz. My sister was a good pianist in her own right and listened to a lot of soul, R&B and funk. I would often raid my dad and sisters record collections so their music got into my musical veins. My favorites were people to listen to out of their collections were Stevie Wonder, RayCharles, James Brown, Aretha, Miles Davis, and Funkadelic. This was along with the fact that my brother played the cello and I played violin early in our lives. I was 6 and he was 5 when we started. My brother now plays in the Boston Symphony. I consider us lucky to have lived in a city like Rochester and have an Eastman School of Music to go to. Our teachers and fellow students became strong influences. Every week we were exposed to high level musicians playing. Those were my strongest earlier influences. It was later on that I became obsessed with Hendrix and the Beatles, and even later after digging up their influences when I caught the blues & boogie woogie flu that I felt I had to play the blues. Also, I was a good researcher. I’d go find out about and listen to all of these old records for hours on hours. For a little while in high school, I got so obsessed with violin music and the blues, that I’d skip school and go to the library to listen to and later play music all day. How square is that? I think at one point I skipped a couple weeks straight doing nothing but that until it was found out. I got into a little trouble with the school and my folks. It was my passion and I couldn’t stop. I haven’t stopped yet.

B411: I saw you on the October 2009 Bluescruise, and was blown away with your playing and stage presence, it was warm and affable, yet you took no prisoners when you played. It seems to me there is a large difference between classical performances and blues performances, and crowds – do you like the engaging persona of blues audiences, and did you find this in classical performances ?

LY: Here’s what I’ve found about those audiences. I don’t think that there is that much difference. People are people. The music is either good or bad. When the music is good, classical or blues audience will react to it. I’ve seen and experienced classical audiences go nuts crazy over a good performance. It could have a deep effect on you like it did me sometimes. I remember seeing a Vladimir Horowitz recital, and an Ornette Coleman show not long after that had about the same lasting good effect on me. They both gave me so much energy that you almost feel like you could run through a brick wall.

B411: Can you tell us some more about your classical training, and some of the events you played at thru those connections?

LY: Some the more memorable events were traveling to Europe, specifically Austria and Switzerland as a teenager with the Pittsburgh Youth Orchestra, getting a full scholarship to Indiana University and studying with Josef Gingold. Playing in LA for part of the summer at Universal Pictures Studio Orchestra, playing at Carnegie Hall in New York, going to the Olympics in “88 in Seoul Korea with the National Repertory Orchestra.

B411:Would you say these prepared you for the move to the blues scene?

LY: Most definitely these prepared me to move to the blues scene. Any time spent in front of an audience prepares you for any other time. Being in front of an audience isn’t natural but becomes more natural with practice. That’s why a lot of people get stage fright. I got it too. That doesn’t happen much any more. I get a little anxious sometimes, but not like when I was a kid when my legs would shake and my mouth would be dry and it was hard enough to stand there and almost impossible to make music. You have to relax and breathe. No matter what kind of music you’re playing, you can only communicate your state of being.

B411: The Blues, why? Did it just present itself to you one day, or was it always there waiting to be discovered by you?

LY: I think in a previous life, I played the blues guitar or bass. For a while, I tried to play with a slide on the violin. It almost worked but it wasn’t quite right. It was when I first took a slide to guitar that I really felt that I’d done it before. Everything just fit. I seemed to know where things were without any real practice. The real blues is always there waiting to be discovered by everybody. It seems like it was always there in my life. Why not blues? It’s great music and I love it. It’s changed me and I know it’s changed most of you. It shows up at transformation points, and turns negative situations into positive energy. It has everything I need in it. In it there’s a microcosm of everything else. It feels like it’s essence has always been here.

B411: There is a history of violin in the Blues, from the Jug Bands, to the Folksy Good Time Music of the 60’s, to Papa John Creach – did any of this inspire you, or encourage you to pursue the

LY: To tell you the truth, no it didn’t really encourage me to pursue playing the blues though I wish I could say it did. I was more into the general sound of the Blues. As we all know, it would appear in all kinds of music and in many ways like for me Aretha or Count Basie or Ray Charles. I was more shock influenced by the sound of Hendrix, Blind Willie Johnson, Howlin’ Wolf & John Lee Hooker. It was later when I heard Charlie Patton or early Muddy or the Mississippi Sheiks and Sugar Cane Harris that I realized that the violin had been there all along. By then in my life I was already deep into the blues music, so it did inspire and encourage me but I’d already tried to play the sounds I heard on the violin. Nothing inspired me more that hearing Hendrix. I can still remember trying to imitate what he did on the only thing I knew how to play at the time, the violin. I think that the violin was kind of fazed out of the blues and popular music. My guess as to why that happened is that it probably had to do with how it was perceived, like it was old fashioned or it was king in some bygone musical era. Also, I think that this happened partly because it wasn’t loud enough compared tohorns and later the electric Guitar. I got a chance to speak with Claude Fiddler Williams a few years ago (1999) in Kansas City. He played violin and guitar with Count Basie. He told me that as a condition to get signed, John Hammond senior told Count that he had to get rid of the strings, so he was out.

IMG_9689_7422_edited-1I believe that the time for the violin to be out of the blues and other popular music is forever moved to the past. I see it coming back. There’s just too many of us violin players and there are so many newer electric violins that volume isn’t an issue any more. I’m so glad you asked this question. In a way for me, when I saw it, it was like opening Pandora’s box. I sincerely believe that part of what my spirit in this body is here to do is tied in with the violin and is connected with winning the IBC in Memphis this year. The violin has enjoyed many years of being the alpha or dominant instrument in the orchestra. I’m in love with it. It can do so many different things musically. It’s said to be the musical instrument most like the human voice. I could see no reason why it wouldn’t have a more prominent place in blues or other popular music. I have to admit that in coming to this years IBC, I had something to prove.

After I won the solo/duo part of the IBC in 2008, I was a little bothered at how I was perceived. I’m not whining, I’m just saying. I’d hear whisperings about how the only reason I won was because I was playing a “novelty instrument”. That’s bullshit! I heard that some people were even upset that a non guitar player won and that my winning was just a fluke. That attitude (when I’d find it) really pissed me off. It discounted how hard I worked and the true love I had for the blues and all the great people that influenced me. It doesn’t matter what you play as much as how you play, who you are and what you have to say. I really believe that. If someone played fork or a paper plate really well and could sing and make you feel something, theoretically they should have be given the same consideration at the IBC as someone playing a guitar, piano or harmonica. I saw that if I really believed that, I had to prove it and win the IBC again against all odds. By that I mean playing a violin primarily and winning twice. Winning once is hard enough. That can be a charm or a curse. It can be an obstacle if you attempt to do it again because the IBC process is based on subjective opinions. It’s not who makes the most baskets or who crosses the finish line first. A judge could consciously or unconsciously score you less high just because you won it before giving someone else a chance. I saw that happen so I knew that whatever I did had to be strong enough to overcome that too.

B411: Looking at your ‘set lists’ on-line, we’ve got everything from W.C. Handy, Sinatra, and Sly Stone to Count Basie and Jimi Hendrix. It sounds like my CD collection.
How do you go about selecting music to cover, what do you look for?

IMG_9492_7225_edited-1LY: First I get a panel of experts together and poll them on what covers they like. Then I use a computerized rating system. Just kidding. I play what’ll fit the situation or what I’d like to hear in the moment.

B411: Not to be overlooked, your songwriting stands well on it’s own. Do you have any influences as to style of writing, someone who you have heard and say ‘yeh that’s it’?

LY: I’ve heard a lot of people and said,”yea that’s it”. One of my best influences is a guy by the name of Johnny Long. He wrote and played lots of great originals. I know he’s recorded for Delta Groove records. I played with him for a while and he introduced be to Homesick James at one point. He’s just great. Everybody should know him. I wouldn’t be who I am in the blues world without his influence and example. I love the way Sonny Boy Williamson wrote a song. Always interesting and makes you think. In a much different way, I love Otis Taylor because he breaks new ground and writes about heavy stuff. I like James Taylor as a song writer and have met and played with him. Most of what I right about comes from my experience in one way or another. Lately I’ve been writing about warnings and concerns around the topics of our environment and what I envision happening in the next year and 1/2. The way I see where we’re at now is that we feel like we’ve been given platform to sing and speak on the challenges we’re facing as people who are facing extinction. That’s the stuff I care about. How are we gonna survive this next couple of years. Not just me, but everyone. I know that we’re better and stronger if we help each other. That’s part of why I take music so seriously. It brings people together. We need good music now today more than ever.

Until next time,

Love, Peace & Chicken Grease,
© 2011/2015
photos: Leslie K. Joseph

A Baker’s Dozen of Blues: January 12, 2015


Happy Birthday to ‘A Baker’s Dozen of Blues‘. We are one year old and are amazed and thankful at our reception by all of you. We will keep on bringing y’all the freshest and tastiest blues tunes around for a long time to come.

This is about to turn into party central in the blues world. Two world class events going on at the same time (wish it wasn’t like that) The International Blues Challenge in Memphis, and the Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise will rock the world from sea to shining sea. A big shout out to Roger Nabor and the ‘repeat offenders’ (we miss ya) and the ‘virgins’ who will have a ‘perma-grin’ on their faces by 3pm on sail away day.

Our #1 placeholder is none other than that band who seems to be in every category of the BMA’s this year, The Mannish Boys, can’t wait to see them rock the house in Memphis this May.

Our sole new addition to the Baker’s Dozen is none other than Tas Cru. Tas will be all over Memphis this coming week doing Blues for Schools, mulitple benefit jams and just being..well Tas. If you are in Memphis be sure to say hi to him and support what he is doing.

Our ‘Amuse Bouche’ continues to feature BMA Nominated bands, songs and artists.

A Baker’s Dozen of Blues, on MojoWax Radio presented by Blues MusicMagazine at
Broadcast times are as follows:
 10pm EST
Wednesday – Noon EST
  11pm EST
  4pm EST
Saturday – 2pm EST


Baker’s Dozen: Current Chart & Playlist on Radio Show

CW LW CD TITLE Artist/ Web Site Track#/Title
1 2 Wrapped Up & Ready The Mannish Boys 4. Wrapped Up & Ready
2 3 Hey Hey Markey Blue 8. With You*
3 4 Love The Way You Roll The Alexis P. Suter Band 8. You Don’t Move Me No More*
4 5 Man & Guitar Ian Siegal 7. I Am The Train
5 6 Gotta Keep Rollin’ Rob Stone 3. Lucky 13*
6 7 Live My Life Stacy Mitchhart 4. Voodoo Doll
7 8 Blues Stories Diana Braithewaite & Chris Whiteley 4. Bye Bye Bird*
8 9 100% Pure Sauce Boss 2, Marquis De Swamp*
9 11 Modern Sounds of Ancient Juju Howell & Devine 3. She Brought Life Back To The Dead
10 10 Cryin’ Mercy Altered Five 10 Urgent Care
11 11 Bluesamericana Keb’ Mo’ 9 More For Your Money
12 12 The Other Side Niecie 7. Skin To Skin
13 ~ You Keep The Money Tas Cru 2. A Month of Somedays*


Chef’s Suggestions: The Stuff Ya Gotta Watch 

Empire Roots Band Music From
‘The Harlem Street Singer’
Empire Roots Band 8. Hesitation
Belmont Boulevard JW Jones 7 Magic West Side Boogie
Living By The Minute John Hoyer & The Shadowboxers 5. Let It Out
A Long Way From Home The Suitcase Brothers 5. Kidney Stew
Natural Born That Way Nathan James & The Rhythm Scratchers 3. Natural Born That Way
One Heart Walkin’ Austin Walkin’ Cane 1. Sweet Tea & Bourbon
Spaghetti Juke Joint Fabrizio Poggi 1. King Bee
Inside Out Roly Platt 10. Funk Shui
Decisions Bobby Rush/Blinddog Smokin’ 3. Bobby Rush’s Bus
All Night Long Aaron Burton 2. Driven Man
Double EP Dave Muskett 1. Pet That Thing

Amuse Bouche: BMA Nominees

Common Ground Dave & Phil Alvin 1. All By Myself
For Pops Mud Morgenfield & Kim Wilson 13. Trouble No More
Livin’ It Up AndyT. & Nick Nixon 11. Whatever You Had You
Ain’t Got It No More
Sugar Ray & The Bluetones Living Tear To Tear 3. Things Could Be Worse
Mark Hummel The Hustle Is On 1. Blues Stop Knockin’
The Mannish Boys Wrapped Up & Ready 5. It Was Fun
4.Big Mama Alexis P. Suter  
9. I’m A Little Mixed Up Diunna Grenleaf  
6. Koko’s Song EG Kight  
10. Brand New Day Ruthie Foster  
1. Confessin’ The Blues Trudy Lynn  
13. My Heart’s On Empty Candi Staton  
6. No Regrets Missy Anderson  
5. It’s Tight Like That Sharon Jones  
1. Hug Me Like You Love Me Sista Monica  
9. Southern Girl Vaneese Thomas  


Love, Peace & Chicken Grease
© 2014
Where Blues Thrives
Photos: Leslie K. Joseph, Blues411

Mick Kolassa: Advice From an IBC Judge (re-post)

Originally posted October 23, 2013 this overview by Michisippi Mick Kolassa should be a road map for any band or individual performing at the IBC’s.
It covers all aspects of what is going on and how you can make a difference in your scores and objective viewing by the panel of judges. It holds true from first round to finals and even for the ‘afterlife’ of the IBC’s.

Read and and take it to heart, as it comes from a former judge of the IBC. Mick is also a member of the Board of Directors of the Blues Foundation and a world traveled musician.
Once again I thank Mick for his dedication and his writing of this article, and for sharing it with our readers.
See ya in Memphis . . . .


1530424_10203598699312460_180786668436700902_nAdvice from an IBC Judge

I have had the distinct honor of being a judge at the last few IBCs in Memphis. I’ve also done surveys of other judges and of IBC attendees and ran a judges’ orientation at the last event. IBC contestants often ask me about the event and if I have any tips that may be of help, so here goes:

Remember at all times, this the International BLUES Challenge, not the “blues influenced” challenge. Blues is a big tent but a lot of acts step way over into rock or pure funk – and that can hurt your score if you do it too often. The further from blues you stray the less chance you have of making it to the finish line. You can disagree all you want but that’s just the way it is.

Remember also that categories such as musical talent and vocal talent are judged across the entire act, not just the front person. It’s good when several people in a band can sing, but remember that you have 20 minutes to prove your stuff and if more than one person is doing the vocals your act will be judged by the weakest singer, not the strongest. The same is true across the instruments, a fantastic guitarist can be overshadowed by a so-so harp player or bassist – the entire act is being judged.

Guitarists: You get to show us your stuff in 20 minutes. If you come on stage with 6 or 7 effects pedals you are not impressing us, you are often hurting yourself. The same goes for those who use a Wah-wah on half or more of the tunes. Show us what you can do with the guitar and save the multiple effects for later. Too often good guitarists at the IBC have hurt their bands’ chances by going too heavy on the effects and not taking care of business. A little is fine, but too much will hurt you.

Harp Players: Show us a variety of styles and tones. If you play every tune through that same distorted mic you are telling us that you are limited, not that you are the next James Cotton.

Rhythm sections: A good rhythm section supports the rest of the band, a great one moves them forward. Drummers MUST keep time but should also add to the music – that’s why those rudiments are so important! Use them to add some fills and accent the tune itself – move it forward. Same with the bass, you can play that same riff and support the tune or you can mix it up and move it forward. Don’t try to steal the show but do let us know you are there!

'Michisssippi' Mick photo by: Jay Moore

‘Michisssippi’ Mick
photo by: Jay Moore

Vocalists: Use all of your voice; show us your range, but don’t step too far over the edge. Even a voice with a fairly limited range can sound tremendous on the right tunes, but taking it just a little farther than your voice can go can cause a disaster at the IBC. Know your strengths and weaknesses – use the first and avoid the second. If you have had trouble hitting that note before don’t try it at the IBC unless you are really confident and you can hit it four nights in a row!

Stage Presence can mean different things to different people. Sure, Clapton used to play with a cigarette in his mouth and an open bottle on his amp, but you need to remember two things: he doesn’t do that anymore and you aren’t Clapton! It’s perfectly fine to show up at a regular gig wearing jeans and a T-shirt, but this ain’t a gig, it’s the most important battle of the bands on the planet and it could be the launch pad for your career. You don’t need a Zoot Suit (please, not everybody can pull that off) or uniforms, but think about the look – you are being judged on the whole package – not just your music but your show! Taking the time to look good also tells the judges that you respect the event and respect them. Casual or other relaxed COSTUMES can work if they fit with your act, but if you are plugging in an electric guitar and plan to wear bib overalls ask yourself if you are Buddy Guy – and even he doesn’t do that anymore!

Originality is a wide open category. I have heard a lot of “original” songs played at the IBC that were just reworking of old tunes – the lyrics might have been “original” but not the rest. I have also heard people play old standards that they took to an entire new place – that’s originality! If you do any covers then own them, don’t just play them. It’s fine to “cover” a classic blues tune note for note at a gig, but if you can’t add to it DO NOT DO IT at the IBC! It’s pretty common for at least one band in each IBC to play “Walkin’ the Dog,” and I’ve heard some well done versions BUT they have all been straight covers. PLEASE remember that this event is held in Memphis, on Beale Street. If you are going to walk a dog down Rufus Thomas’ street then it better be one helluva special dog! You are more likely to lose points playing that, or any other standard, no matter how well it’s done. Wendy DeWitt, an IBC contestant in 2012 summed this category up nicely when she told the audience and judges: “If you don’t recognize the song it’s original.” She then went on to play a version of Summertime in a way nobody had ever done before – as a boogie woogie version of the Rimsky Korsakov classic “Flight of the Bumble Bee” – that was original!

My final word of advice is this: enjoy the opportunity of performing at the IBC! Not only is it a rare opportunity for most acts to be playing on Beale Street, you will be exposed to one of the biggest audiences of blues fans anywhere – fans who really know their stuff. You will also be exposed to hundreds of other musicians, in addition to promoters, managers, record label execs and others. You can win big at the IBCs without winning the competition. Some acts that are now huge didn’t take home the trophy, and many never even made the finals. It’s fantastic to win, no doubt, but nobody loses at the IBCs.

Until the next time comes along,
‘Michissippi’ Mick Kolassa

© 2013, 2014
Where Blues Thrive


Mick Kolasssa