by Katrina Allemang
From a spectator perspective…….
Ah….Memphis. Back again. This time was slightly different though.
We arrived on Tuesday, January 20th. First stop…Rendezvous….second stop…Beale Street. We strolled down Beale Street taking in the familiar sights, sounds, and smells. Not sure what to expect from the competition or where the guys will be playing. It was still Memphis, just the way I remembered, with the exception of the new Hard Rock Café. The new Hard Rock Café is absolutely gorgeous. We imagined the sound would be equally as impressive.
What was different this time? For me it was the first time supporting a solo/duo act. It also meant different venues to sit and enjoy the competition from. Hunt –N– Gator played Wednesday and Thursday evenings at Club 152, 3rd floor. In order to get to there, you had to walk through the main floor where the band competition was going on, up the nifty “party” elevator to the 3rd floor. The feeling was much different than a typical “bar”. The guys performed on a small stage while seated and the crowd watched from their chairs that were set up in neat rows. Seemed more like watching a recital and less like a bar show. Not to worry though, drinks were still enjoyed, as there was a bar on the 3rdfloor, but it was off to the side and did not impede the enjoyment of the acts. We were able to take in other solo/duo competitors, as they performed at other smaller venues. All in all, the solo/duo venues seemed more intimate.
Unfortunately, this was the last stop for our favorite guys for the competition.
Another new for me was sharing an apartment. We’ve decided this is the way to go when staying in Memphis. We shared a 2 bedroom, 1 bathroom apartment with Dave Hunt and Debbie Brokus. The price was better than a hotel and it was private. We had a beautiful view of the bridge and Mississippi River from our bedroom. The view from the living room was that of a cute little park with a nice fountain in the middle. It was a gathering place for school kids who would sing a capella. Horse drawn carriages adorned with colored lights would pass through regularly. At night it was almost eerie because all you could see was a floating ball of light.
What else was new? I introduced Hunt and Debbie to the Memphis Zoo. Being that it was cold for Memphis, the zoo was nearly empty. It felt as if we were touring our own private zoo. It is not a huge zoo but still decently sized. We were able to see most everything in about 3 hours. I would certainly recommend a zoo trip for anyone who goes to Memphis. They have panda bears!
We tried some new food joints and were highly impressed. We stopped at the Four Way for fantastic soul food. Not fancy but oh so delicious. This restaurant was featured on the Food Network, and its claim to fame is that it was a regular hangout for Dr. Martin Luther King. I would not mind making it a regular hangout for myself. Another must-go-to-again place.
As fabulous as the Rendezvous was, we found someplace we liked better…..Central BBQ. We heard about it from the Jim Shaneberger Band, and we were so glad we listened. When you walk in, you are greeted with a huge smile. The menu is listed on the wall next to you. You walk up to a small counter and the cashier takes your order and you pay for your meal, take a number and sit. You don’t have to wait long before your mouth-watering meal arrives. The conversation after that is nothing more than a bunch of “mmmm” noises. Central BBQ is located behind the famed Lorraine Hotel. We were able to get our barbeque fix and see the Civil Rights Museum at the same time.
On Friday evening, Dave Allemang and I decided to take a break from the competition and take a drive down to the Crossroads. That was an unusual experience. The drive was a short 1 hour and 20 minutes through the delta. We arrived in Clarksdale, Mississippi around 8PM and there was no one around. This had us scratching our heads. Friday night and desolate. We found the Ground Zero Blues Club which is owned by Morgan Freeman. Very cool vibe and food was decent. The only thing missing was a band. You could tell this would be the place to be when a band is on stage. There was writing all over the walls, tables, and mismatched chairs. It was great!!
The last new thing for us was the finals. This was the first time we got to experience the newer format for the finals. We were able to watch the entire finals, both solo/duo and bands. The newer format consists of alternating between the solo/duo and band acts. The energy was high the entire time.
The highlight for Hunt –N– Gator came Saturday evening. We had finished watching the finals and were strolling down Beale Street for the last time when the guys were approached by a lady who had nothing but praise to give them. She was a Memphis local and had caught their act earlier in the week at Club 152. She remembered them and recognized them on the street a few days later. Their performance made a lasting impression….a good impression. The guys were delighted and humbled.
The semi-finals are still elusive but a goal to continue to strive for. I’m looking forward to visiting Memphis again.
Dave Thomas of the KVBA; Terry “Hoot” Gibson of Bosco-Gee
It’s been a sad week for music lovers and fans of the blues, who have recently received the news of the passing of Dave Thomas, one of the founding members of the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association, and Terry “Hoot” Gibson, long-time bassist for well-known blues band Bosco-Gee.
Dave, a local business owner, was one of a dedicated group of musicians and community members who came together in 1993 to create the KVBA for the express purpose of putting on a festival. That first festival took place in the summer of 1994 and was such a huge success that it continues today, with the 22nd Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival scheduled for July 2015. Interviewed for an article reviewing the history of the festival shortly before the 20th Annual Kalamazoo Blues Festival in 2013, Dave said, “It’s amazing that we did it. Kalamazoo had (and still has) so much great music and such great talent, and we wanted to bring the community together to celebrate it. Everyone worked together, out of the love for the blues.”
Dave, who passed away on February 7, 2015, had coped with several years of a serious health condition with bravery and humor. He’s remembered by all of us who knew him as not only a lover of music and founding father of Kalamazoo’s blues community, but a warm, kind man who always had a smile and a good word for everyone he met.
Terry Gibson, known affectionately as “Hoot”, died unexpectedly on February 9, saddening family and friends, including the members of his former band, Bosco-Gee. Hoot, who had played bass for 6 years with the well-known group, and who was there when Bosco-Gee competed at the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in 2012, leaves behind warm memories and fond thoughts.
It’s Going To Be A Night To Remember: Tab Benoit, Samantha Fish, and Mike Zito at the State Theater, Friday, March 6
Kalamazoo’s Out Of Favor Boys To Open at 7:30 pm
As anyone who’s been around the Kalamazoo music scene in the last dozen years or so knows, Tab Benoit’s is a name to conjure with. Born in the deepest bayous of southern Louisiana, steeped in the local Cajun culture, raised on the blues from his youth, and pulling it all together with a guitar since his teens, Tab Benoit began bringing his unique, high-intensity sound to the State Theater as part of the Budweiser/WRKR Blues Series in the early days. He quickly became a local favorite, drawing a loyal fan base who eagerly awaited his next arrival, looking forward to the next chance to spend an evening with Tab as he poured out the intense, Cajun-flavored blues that’s become his trademark sound.
Among those early fans was Danny Ouellette, a local guitar player who was playing with Crossroads Blues Band when he first met Tab. Crossroads was hosting the popular Thursday night blues jam at Wonderful’s Funky Basement, the legendary Kalamazoo club that closed its doors in 2007. Danny remembers a night at Wonderful’s, “probably the second or third time I’d met Tab, when he had shared a bill at the State with EC Scott. We all sat downstairs until very late….3-3:30 am—while they told stories about each other at various festivals and events through the years. It was a really great opportunity for the young players we were at the time to spend the time with these amazing musicians.”
Danny, who with Tony Sproul (also an alumnus of Crossroads), Joel Krauss, and Tim Brouhard went on to create the Out of Favor Boys, has a storehouse of such memories, recounting the way that he and the other band members interacted with Tab over the years and developed a solid friendship. After Wonderful’s left the scene, to be replaced eventually by Marty Spaulding’s 411 Club (which opened Labor Day weekend, 2008, and closed Halloween weekend 2014), Tab and members of his band would head over to the 411 after the show at the State for a late-night wrap-up of jamming with local musicians, including the guys from Crossroads and the OFB. Danny says, “I remember another night, maybe a year or two ago, when we stood outside the 411 with Tab, again until very late, talking about his hero Evel Knievel, his time doing stand-up, his time as a place kicker for the LSU football team….just total nonsense….just stories of our lives.”
As the relationship developed, it became a done deal for the Out of Favor Boys to play before Tab’s performances at the State, something they’ll be doing again this year, when Tab shares the bill on March 6 with Samantha Fish and Mike Zito. One of Danny’s more special memories is of one of the most recent times the OFB opened the night at the State. “Tab had finished his sound check before ours, and he handed me his guitar and asked me to play while he went out and walked around in the house. THAT was pretty thrilling.”
It’s also become tradition for Tab to jam with the OFB after the show, and rumor has it that we can hope for that to happen this year at the Old Dog Tavern, where the OFB will be performing after their opening set at the State. The Old Dog is a short hop from the State (one of the beauties of the Kalamazoo music scene is the proximity of so many great venues for live music), and music-lovers who aren’t ready to let the good times go will be heading on over to the Old Dog to let them roll instead!
It’s that quality of personal commitment to his music and the people he connects with, as well as the music itself, that makes Tab Benoit one of the most popular acts to perform at the State Theater. Tab plays the music that he inherited from his roots and developed as his own, and there really is nothing like it. He carries on the commitment to his homeland in his environmental activism, having made the preservation of the endangered delta wetlands his personal crusade, something he speaks about to his audiences as he performs. It’s a multilayered experience to come to a Tab Benoit show, and something truly not to be missed.
AND: as if getting to hear the Out of Favor Boys and Tab Benoit on the same night weren’t enough, the State Theater is offering further incentive to come down the night of March 8 by featuring Samantha Fish, the youthful guitar sensation whose 2011 album Runaway earned her the Blues Music Award (BMA) for “Best New Artist Debut” in 2012, and Mike Zito, the multiple BMA winner and co-founder (with Devon Allman and Cyril Neville) of the blues and rock supergroup Royal Southern Brotherhood. It’s going to be an incredible evening of some of the absolute best blues music you’re going to hear in a long, long time, so do not wait to reserve your tickets now!
The show starts at 7:30 pm (the tickets say 8:00, but the OFB open up at 7:30), with doors opening at 7:00. Ticket prices range from $25 to $30, and are available through Ticketmaster and in person at the State Theater box office. The State Theater is under new management and amazing things are happening to this beautiful venue, including renovations and upgrades to the stage and backstage area, seating accommodations, and sound and lighting system. That’s just one more reason for you to put this unique night of blues on your entertainment calendar now.
By Lynn Headapohl
Once again, our blues fans brought an excited air to Shakespeare’s Lower Level in Kalamazoo for the second show in the Second Sunday Series, the KVBA’s fundraiser for the 2015 Blues Festival. Thank you every one of you for inspiring the bands to reciprocate that great blues feeling in the music they presented!
The opening band for the day was “The Gator Blues Band”, a tight three-piece outfit known for their open jam sessions around western Michigan. This band was fronted by vocalist and guitarist Jim Klein and supported by Tom Elliot expertly on bass and vocals. Brian Taber guided their rhythm with a crazy offbeat kick flip jazz style on drums. Unfortunately, this writer arrived toward the end of their show, but I can tell you that when I walked in, it was hot. The band was playing Jimi Hendricks, “Third Stone Form the Sun”. Then they moved to the Kenny Wayne Shepherd tune “Shame, Shame, Shame”, where guitarist Klein used his Suhr guitar to bring the song to life with a wonderful slide reverb twist.
Next, they brought up vocalist and harmonica player Joe Ferguson from Big Boss Blues to join them in a great R &B review consisting of the perfect blending of vocal harmonies on “What’s Goin’ On”, “Old Love”, and “The Way You Do the Things You Do’’. They closed with a full-out jam of “Drinkin’ Wine” that included a blistering harmonica solo from Ferguson.
Big Boss Blues then took over the stage with an explosion of sound worthy of its name with the first note. Big Boss Man Charlie Schantz commanded the most out of his beautiful Les Paul, and it did not fail him. He was flanked by Bill LaValley on his ’76 Precision bass, Eric Busch on drums, and vocalist Joe Ferguson on harp. Together, they brought us their powerful Memphis-bound IBC set, opening with “Treat Me Like a King”. Each player stretched out to show his extraordinary chops. LaValley moved deftly through the rhythmic changes as “young gun on drums” Eric Busch coasted through his jazzy, rock and blues edged chops. Then lead vocalist Joe Ferguson showcased his fine tenor R&B sound on “No Money”, transitioning to “Queen of the Midnight Bayou”, a song that had that wrenching “N’awlins” sound. On this tune, Eric’s tom work really brought out that deep bayou backbeat. The band moved through a funky little tune with plenty of vibrato and reverb before the Boss took us back in time with Fats Domino’s “Ain’t That A Shame”. Ferguson augmented our expectations of the song by making his harp sound like a saxophone. He then went on to sing Howlin’ Wolf’s “Who’s Been Talking”, playing his harp and teaming with Schantz who supplied him with fine fills that brought that smoky blues sound to life. Guitarist Schantz went on to deliver a nostalgic version of “Route 66” that truly captured the sound of the 1940’s composition first recorded by Nat King Cole.
Ferguson’s vocals shone on Robert Cray’s “Backdoor Slam”. Schantz’s Crybaby provided Wah pedal deluxe as the unit worked together, cookin’ the blues to a hot steamy boil with a perfect throb. They closed the set with “Take Me To Memphis”, a southern Blues with an “Ico Ico” beat wrapped into a funky bluesy romp.
One set and the crowd couldn’t help but see that guitarist Schantz was a master of the slide, wah, picking…you name it. He will make you a believer. Each player in the band makes the listener pay attention to his individual talents in their own right. They seemed to say, “Let me share my joy with you!”
Schantz picked up his hollow body Gibson to begin the second set with Joe Ferguson singing a whole new funky registration of “Some Kind Of Wonderful”. Schantz then got his “Mojo Working” as slide guitar and harmonica danced to the simplicity of LaValley working the rhythms with drummer Eric Busch, who provided this band with a rich texture as they moved as a unit. The group played a Tyrone Davis tune before performing an original called “Wealthy Street”. Next, they served up Willie Dixon’s “Seventh Son” and “No More Maggie”, a rollicking tune in which all the players had a little fun.
To close the show, the band was joined by Bobby Wilson who brought his Gibson 335 hollow body to treat the crowd. The two guitarists worked out at length, trading slide riffs back and forth with the harp as the bass and drums rocked out a full version of “Statesboro Blues”, and then closed with “Roadhouse Blues”. All delivered a truly spectacular performance to bring another Sunday afternoon of smokin’ hot blues to an end.
And what an afternoon of blues it was!!
To find out more about the Big Boss Blues, go to Facebook:
To find out more about the Gator Blues, go to Facebook:
Third Second Sunday Series Fundraiser Will Support The 2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival
Are you looking for a good way to warm up on one more cold, snowy winter Sunday? Of course you are! Plan to come to Shakespeare’s Lower Level in downtown Kalamazoo at 3:00 pm on February 8 to hear a pair of smokin’ hot blues bands at the third of four shows in the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association’s Second Sunday Series.
First up will be Lansing’s Stan Budzynski and 3rd Degree, taking the stage at 4:00 pm. Featuring Stan Budzynski on guitar and vocals, Ron Bretz on bass and vocals, Dan Mead on drums, and Greg Hodge on keyboard and vocals, this seasoned group has been bringing its love of “Chicago Blues, Motown, Classic Rock, and all good music” to area stages since 1998. If you’ve missed their performances at the Kalamazoo Blues Festival and other venues, now’s your chance to make up for it!
Next on the bill, at 6:00 pm, Martila Sanders and Gee-Q will fill your heart with excitement, kicking out a powerful sound reaching across multiple genres, including soul, R&B, classic rock, blues and an ever-growing list of powerful original material. Band members Michael Gee (guitar and vocals), Bob Hunt (sax and synthophone), Jimi Tulk (drums and vocals), Mike Swartwood (bass), and of course lead singer extraordinaire Martila Sanders come together in a seamless unit that has to be heard to be believed.
The really great thing about this show is that, besides getting to hear great music and hang out with all your friends, both old and new, you get to support the 2015 Kalamazoo Blues Festival when you come down to the show. The charge for all this fun is only $6.00 at the door, and every penny of it goes to help make the 22nd annual Blues Fest a reality. Shakespeare’s has great food and drink, and you’re sure to have a good time.
So put the KVBA Sunday Series on your calendar for February 8! Doors open at 3:00. See you there!
One of the best-known rock and blues voices to come out of the 1960′s is scheduled to take the stage at Kalamazoo’s State Theater on the evening of Tuesday, March 17 (that’s St. Patrick’s Day, for those of you who are looking for something really special to go with your green beer). As a founding member of the one and only Allman Brothers Band and in his own storied solo career, Greg Allman has long been a gifted natural interpreter of the blues, his soulful and distinctive voice one of the defining sounds in the history of American music.
Allman, whose 2011 album Low Country Blues is a collection of classic blues songs produced by T Bone Burnett, will bring his signature sound to the State, offering a chance for long-time Allman Brothers fans, blues lovers, and everyone else to hear the man behind the legend.
Low Country Blues marks the legendary Rock & Roll Hall of Famer’s seventh solo recording and first in more than 13 years. The album finds Allman putting his own stamp on songs by some of the blues giants whose work has long informed his own, from Muddy Waters and BB King to Buddy Guy and Magic Sam. Named for the coastal Georgia region Allman calls home, Low Country Blues stands as a high water mark in an already remarkable body of work, rich with passion, verve, and the unerring confidence of a true survivor.
Allman’s instantly identifiable voice remains a wonder, wringing nuance and history from every lyric. “I have an evolved throat,” he says. “I think I’m a little more meticulous now. I’m a real stickler for melody. I used to think more about beat than I did about melody, but now I think about both of ‘em. See, you’ve got to have beat, because first of all, you’ve got to feel something as well as hear it. Both of those entities have to be really personified in my book.”
Over 45 years of performing have honed his distinctive voice into a “smoky, honey-thick, weathered growl”, that wraps around songs ranging from familiar Allman Brothers favorites to more recent selections, and the intimate setting of Kalamazoo’s unique entertainment venue will be the perfect place to appreciate it.
It’s going to be a big weekend in Marshall on Friday, February 6, and Saturday, February 7, when a great lineup of local and area musicians will perform at the two-day celebration of blues and winter enjoyment. Kicking off the festivities, the Duffield/Caron Project will be performing at the Franke Center for the Artsin the Lower Level from 9 to 11 PM on Friday, February 6 as part of the downtown Ice Wine and Blues event. This will be a relaxed, laid-back, and seriously fun evening of music provided by Kalamazoo’s piano and vocal duo, featuring Tom Duffield on the keyboard and the wonderful singing talent of Lorraine Caron. Refreshments will be available, and all your friends will be there.
The excitement really kicks in the next night, Saturday, February 7, when Adrian Bagale, Kjell Croce, and Derek Smith, are set to perform in the lower level of the Franke Center from 5:00 to 6:00 pm, followed by popular Kalamazoo band Out of Favor Boys, who will play from 6:00 to 7:00 pm. Special guest The Matt Besey Band will take the main stage at 7:00, with headliner Harper and Midwest Kind letting loose with their unique brand of high-powered blues, roots, and world music at 8:00. It’s going to be a night to remember, so mark the Marshall Winter Blues Fest on your calendar, and get your tickets now!
The 31st Annual International Blues Challenge passed into history last night in Memphis, with Eddie Cotton, sponsored by the Vicksburg Blues Society, taking top honors in the Band Category and Brian Keith Wallen, representing the Dayton Blues Society, declared the winner in the Solo-Duo Category. A detailed update on this year’s IBC, including a complete list of semi-finalists, finalists, and winners, is available on the Blues Foundation site. Additional photos and details can be found by going to the Blues 411 site on Facebook.
Chris Canas, sponsored by the Detroit Blues Society, was the sole Michigan-based band to advance into the semi-finals, held Friday night, January 23. The Jim Shaneberger Band and Hunt & Gator, representing the KVBA, and Big Boss Blues, sponsored by the Capital Area Blues Society, each made strong showings, delivering highly praised sets in the quarter-finals and, according to all reports, having a great time at the largest gathering of blues musicians in the world.
From the truly amazing abundance of music to be found on Beale Street and the surrounding area, to the plethora of restaurants such as the Flying Fish, Rendezvous, and Interstate Barbecue, to area attractions like the Ornamental Metal Museum, Stax Museum of Soul Music, and Morgan Freeman’s Ground Zero Blues Club in blue-history mecca Clarksdale, Mississippi, a trip to the IBC offers the opportunity to enjoy a great variety of entertainment, while rubbing elbows with hundreds of like-minded blues fans. The KVBA congratulates the Jim Shaneberger Band and Hunt & Gator for their fine jobs in the competition, and encourages everyone to look forward to next year!
Jim Shaneberger Band, Hunt & Gator Nail Their Second Sets; Awaiting Word From The Judges
Notes from Ralph Yingling, KVBA President, in attendance at the IBC: ”The vibe down here this year is a lot better than last, which can primarily be attributed to the weather.” (For those of you who don’t remember, last year’s IBC was a real challenge of freezing temps and icy winds, pretty much wiping out the usual street scene.) ”Last year’s polar vortex halted much of the spontaneity that is a hallmark of the IBC. Lots more action this year on the part of attendees, folks in the streets, smiles, and so forth. There continues to be an abundance of talents, varied styles, and the contributions from all quarters, young and old. The blues really is alive for at least four more days!”
At this writing, we are awaiting word on whether any of our west Michigan bands have advanced to the semi-finals. Preliminary reports are that no matter the decision of the judges, we can be justifiably proud of our musicians!
A few more photos from the scene: