Saturday, February 02, 2008

Blues Blogging

As a show of support for the International Blues Challenge that we spotlighted last week, Chuck Porter of WEVL fame is posting updates here from the IBC, one of this city's signature music events.

Here's the latest as the Blues Challenge is poised to begin in earnest:

We’re are on our last venues for the semi-finals for Friday. We all need sleep but thank goodness, it has really been smooth tonight.

The day consisted of lots of meeting new people, seeing more friends and exchanging cards for the next event. I received a bunch of CD’s today - one including the new Barbara Blue CD and an Albert Collins’ “Live at Montreuax.” My radio show, “Blues Today” on WEVL, was loads of fun this morning as I usually play local blues to “show them how it’s done.” I played Reba Russell, Ollie Nightingale, Blind Mississippi Morris and the Pocket Rockets, Billy Gibson, Barbara Blue, Dr. Feelgood Potts, Daddy Mack, Robert Nighthawk and “I’ve Been Dipped In the Water” by Syl Johnson and the Hi Rhythm Section.

When I arrived at the hotel after the show, I met some new friends that were outside the hotel on a break. They were from Houston with one of the two having a spouse in the competition. Like always, I said hello and I started telling my stories of Memphis - Rufus Thomas stories, stories about the Lorraine Motel and who “Lorraine” was, Albert King and the fact that I obtained his king-sized bed at auction on Beale Street (another story entirely), B.B. King and his recording of “3 O’Clock Blues” at the YMCA on Pontotoc St. and the Dorsey Brothers (The Rock & Roll Trio) being born South of Linden Avenue on Cynthia and Pontotoc just down from the YMCA. We also discussed the reason why all streets running east and west from the Mississippi are named Avenue except for Beale.

I enjoy telling the Memphis stories as much as working with the Competition.

At 3:00 pm in the Doubletree Hotel lobby, I sat up my Bose PAS L1 (seems too fancy for the blues) but it’s a new PA system. (Disclosure: I am one of the local representatives of Bose for this incredible system.) To spare the details, it made the lobby of the hotel sound good.

I wasn’t familiar with the individual that was going to perform - Spencer Bohren, an artist from New Orleans. He was asked by Jay Sieleman, Blues Foundation Executive Director, to perform on the behalf of the Foundation for “Blues In the Schools” around Memphis during the competition. The talents of Mr. Bohren by far captivated me as much as anything else I have seen in some time. I am a teacher at heart and he is one of the best.

He started out by lining instruments up around him starting with a banjo, a guitar that dated into the 1880’s, a metal guitar, a 1950’s Gibson and an electric guitar. Mr. Bohren began with a story of a black sharecropper walking down a road watching Maggie all the time describing the hot sweaty picture of this man. The song, “Down the Dirt Road Blues,” was taken through history using the instruments and the lyrics. He took it through Kentucky, Appalachian blues, into country of Georgia and Hank Williams, then Elvis, then Carl Perkins, then Bob Dylan then the Beatles, and the Rolling Stones. This was an educational experience that every American should know about their music.

By 4:00 p.m., our HQ is the Handy Bar on Beale. Judges are missing from a club, a volunteer has not shown up and Joe is beginning to stress. As always, everything works out and the buzz on the street starts with whom to go see.

At 10:48 p.m., the radio tells us that B.B. Kings is at capacity and the fire marshal will not let anyone else in, including our runners. It’s now 11:45pm and the winners are about to be announced in the clubs that are having blues jams with the bands that were in the competition. The word on the street is that several winners from past contests and big names from the blues world are participating in the jams.

Final orientation is at noon today, and I’ll be there alongside Joe for moral support. The solo and duo first in the early afternoon and the finals will be around 8 p.m. The talent is the best it’s ever been. It should be an incredible show.

If you have to miss the Challenge this year, please make plans for next year. The results of the semi-finalists can be found at

I’ll be back with the final day and the final results on Saturday. Then I’m going to sleep and get up to watch the Super Bowl. Nothing else!

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