Sitting in Buddy Guy's darkened blues club, Legends, while enjoying the Big Bayou Blue Plate and checking my notes, various conversations drifted past. It was the night of the IBC regional finals. Only three of the eleven acts would be making the trip to Beale Street in January, including the single youth entry. They were to be judged by an impressive list of "Who's Who in Blues," albeit all male, on "Talent, Vocal, Blues Content, Stage Presence and Originality" according to The Blues Foundation.
Several hours later, I came away with three observations:
- First, anyone from Chicago can be proud of the quality of talented artists that stepped on stage;
- Second, at the risk of sounding sophomoric, after the initial disappointment for those who wouldn't compete, came the realization that the success, was not about who performed best with such close votes on that particular evening;
- And, third, I can't imagine not writing about them in the near future. There were no losers in Legends, at least that performed. The musicians who played on stage are not the future of Chicago Blues. They are indeed the present.
Three acts competed in the solo/duo category, each with a vastly different style from each other. First up was Southsider Diamond Jim Greene, who demonstrated his wonderful storytelling in the tradition of fine Delta Masters. Watching him play his guitars, I became acutely aware of my ignorance, and wondered how I had missed such a talent. I will go see him again. And again. And you should too.
Nigel Mack, was also impressive, managing to play harmonica and guitar at the same time, and maintain an engaging stage presence. He did well with Willie Dixon and Robert Johnson as well as his own original song which will be on his upcoming CD, Chicago Bound. That will make the Christmas list here. Originally from Canada, Nigel has been in the area since 2003. He, too, is on the must see list.
Last, Matt Hendricks with Bill Curtiss on drums, gave an outstandingly solid performance. I usually can place a dialect, but not his. His song Crawdaddy and If You See Me were clearly marks of exceptional songwriting talent. A modest man, he told the crowd after accepting the award, "I'll make you proud in Memphis." I suspect he will do just that. You can spend New Year's Eve with him at Legends, if you want to see him sooner.
I found myself wishing we could send three.
As if deciding between those apples and oranges wasn't hard enough, the bands were even more diverse. The $15 cover charge, which goes to help defray costs to the winners, was well worth the chance to see all of the performers.
First up was Dave Herrero. It was my first time seeing him, and I liked what I saw. Dave had excellent crowd involvement and the air of a true entertainer. Not only did the words, playful and fun describe him, so did, savvy and intuitive. I nearly spit out my sweet tea however, when he educated the crowd on his ethnic composition. I love a musician who can make me laugh. Dave has a couple other things going for him as well. Uncle Felix on the bass, a drummer whose name I didn't catch, and a new CD. Add another to the shopping list. You can catch his Austin to Chicago CD on cdbaby.com. It is described as "A vintage Texas blues sound with a modern twist." But go see him live, you won't be sorry.
Next was Linsey Alexander delivering an interesting set. He is cut from a similar cloth to many of my personal favorites, I enjoyed the set, up until the last song and comment. He ended it doing a cover of The Marshall Tucker Band's "Can't You See?" because there were so many "Caucasion faces in the crowd." I have to ask, if my skin had been darker, would we have got a better song? It certainly isn't one that's listed on his CDs. But, I really can't hold one song choice against him, at least for long. I would hire him, if I could afford him.
Toronzo Cannon was, well I can't reprint my notes, because I used a word that gets censored a lot. But let's just say, he was fricking fantastic. Four members, all energetic, original music, worked the crowd. He is at Blue Chicago on November 27 and 28 with Big Time Sarah. Start a new black friday tradition, his CD My Woman,should fit any blues lover's christmas stocking.
The Alex Wilson Band was one of the most exciting surprises of the night. Matthew and Marc Wilson along with Alex, delivered true "Red, Hot, Smokin' Blues" and yet there was something completely fresh including original songwriting. I had the sense of a new voice in blues, one that would appeal not to just those of the blues rock fervor, but to those of the next generation of blues fans. Look for the "The Moon is Shining" from their Tell Me Why CD. If you want to catch them in Chicago, check them out on 12/12/09 at the Bluegrass and Blues Festival according to their website.
Rockin' Johnny added yet another dimension of blues with a style that blended from folk blues to rockabilly and back. The words "Modern King of the Chicago Westside Blues Guitar" have been coined on such sites as Myspace. Johnny had two CD releases in the late 1990's - Man's Temptation and Straight Out Of Chicago. I want to see him in six months, my guess is, he will be better than he was before taking a break from the scene.
Chainsaw Dupont put on a great show, one that most didn't mind waiting for. He is a long time Chicago favorite. Chainsaw has four CD's out on CDBaby, with more coming. He performed Flame of Love from his Ghost Kings of Beale St 2007 CD. That one made the list as well. See him at www.chainsawdupont.com
The woman of the night, was Grana Louise. At 56, dressed to the nines, she tossed her shoes early on, and belted out blues as only a true "Mojo Mama" can. Her song, Big Fat Daddy, from her Generations CD brought smiles and laughs to the crowd. Grana also managed to evoke crowd participation, as she moved into an acapella number. She has the ability to wander into soul and gospel territory and back to ribald blues women. Just like the city she will represent,she is diverse, larger than life, and one suspects, has a big heart.
Who will be found to be the best unsigned blues band at the 26th International Blues Challenge? The band, that garners the most votes, based upon who plays the best from Jan. 20 - 23 in Memphis.