Ramblings on My Mind -Greg JohnsonGreg Johnson / CBA President

Greg Johnson - CBA President

I want to start this month’s column out with a big announcement. The Cascade Blues Association’s 30th Anniversary Concert has been scheduled for Sunday, May 21 to take place at The Crystal Ballroom in Portland. A huge thank you goes out to Terry Currier and Joey Scruggs for obtaining the room for our event. I am currently working with Joey to create a line-up that will represent our local artists from all eras of the Cascade Blues Association’s history. Please keep this date on your calendars because we want this to be an extravaganza for memories.

As you know, I have been a volunteer for The Blues Foundation for many years for both their International Blues Challenge and Blues Music Awards events. Each of these bring back so many fond memories every year. This year’s IBC created a good many for certain.

First and foremost was witnessing our own entry for the CBA, Rae Gordon & The Backseat Drivers, make it to the finals stage at The Orpheum Theater. It was especially a thrill having them there as I am one of the stage managers making sure that everything runs on time. From the very first vocals of their opening number, “Swing Me,” I knew that this was going to be one of the band’s finest moments. After a little glitch with being introduced before the sound crew was ready to let them start and a few minutes pause before they did that brought edgy nerves for the band I’m sure, they responded with a picture perfect performance that had the large audience cheering loudly with approvals. But it didn’t stop there. When they delivered their take of Otis Redding’s “Dreams To Remember,” truly a challenging song to take on in the city where it was recorded, Rae and the band left nobody doubting their right to be on that stage. Certainly the judges took note, declaring the band the third place winners for the day in what was said to be an extremely tight race between the top three bands. Congratulations big time to Rae & The Backseat Drivers! You did the CBA proud!

Rae and the band were also part of the Greater Pacific Northwest Showcase, which the CBA and the Washington Blues Society have helped put together for a few years now. Tony Frederickson from Washington Blues Society, White Rock Blues Society’s Rodney Dranfield and myself served as emcees for the day with all Northwest representatives including the youth acts performing along with guest sets from Ben Rice and Sammy Eubanks. Every artist that took part were sensational, and my personal favorites had to be Timothy James & Ryan Stadler handling the stage like they were decades old pros; Ben Rice’s star-studded set with Pat McDougall, Dave Melyan, Kivett Bednar, Ilana Katz Katz and Mark Telesca; and the Hank Shreve Band’s tribute to the great Paul deLay – I have said it for years now, nobody can play those intricate harmonica parts of Paul’s better than Hank Shreve, and he proved it here. My fiancé Cherie Robbins has been a big part of the showcase the past couple years as well, and Tony Frederickson will be passing on the scheduling of the acts directly to her for next year’s showcase as he will run with the event advertising.

Along with Cherie, who worked the entire week as judge’s assistant/time keeper at Club 152 and as judge’s assistant for the solo/duo judges at the finals in The Orpheum, it was nice to see another CBA member, Jeff Levine volunteering this year, too. Jeff worked as a judge’s assistant for the week at Alfred’s and he has written his reflections of the event featured in this month’s paper. Check it out.

Working as the venue coordinator in Club 152 I had the chance to meet and hear so many terrific artists. The overall winner of the band competition, Dawn Tyler Watson, competed the first two nights of quarterfinals in the room and it was obvious right from the get-go that this was an act that was well worth catching. Another fun act who Cherie and I also got to talk with for a while away from the competition was Norwegian bluesman J.T. Lauritsen. J.T. played all three nights in our venue and working between accordion, piano and harmonica as well as vocals proved that European blues is alive and in good hands.

The best part of the IBC is not about the winning, it is about the networking between the artists and the industry people on hand. Artists can make friends for life with each other through the IBC and it is working together that can make magic happen. It may be a competition, but it is the scores by the judges that they’re going against, not so much each other. They just need to be themselves and do what they do best. One of the greatest acts of camaraderie that I saw during the event came during the quarterfinals at Club 152. While performing their first song in a set a guitarist broke a string on his guitar. Being professionals, the band kept going as he started replacing the broken string, though this may have cost them points in their delivery with the time lost not having him playing with them. Without thinking twice, fellow competitor Jimmy Adler jumped up, grabbed his own guitar and handed it to the man on stage so that they could continue without losing a key member of their band for an extended period. Bravo Jimmy Adler for a true act of kindness and sportsmanship. That is what the IBC is all about.

On a side note, I recommend to anybody traveling to Memphis to catch as much great Southern food and Barbecue and to visit the museums around town to learn the history about the music and city. But two things that you should witness are more with viewpoints of the city that when travelling for the music you may not think of. After the event is over every year, Cherie and I get together with our friends (and IBC/BMA producer) Joe Whitmer and his wife Sara for a private day away from music. The past two visits they have taken us on excursions around their city. Last year we took the elevator inside the Bass Pro Shops Pyramid to the observation deck some thirty stories above the Mississippi River. I am no fan of heights believe me and could not pull myself onto the open air deck for too long, choosing instead to look through the windows inside, but this is a view of Memphis and the surrounding area not to miss. They also drove us last year across the river into Arkansas along the Mississippi River Bottoms where a new park and trail was being constructed that would take a path circling the city and the two bridges, much like the Esplanade along the Willamette River in Portland, only connecting to a 70-mile trail on the Arkansas side. The view of the Memphis skyline from the Bottoms is incredible. This year, a good portion of the trail is now open. We walked with their dogs to the Big River Crossing at the Harahan Bridge, but due to the open ventilation of the walkway on the bridge, one dog became nervous and we didn’t make it all the way across – and here I thought I’d be the one turning back due to the height. But the view here is also well worth seeing. My point in all of this is go for the music, but there is so much more to see and do in Memphis and the neighboring states of Arkansas and Mississippi, try to make some extra time to explore the area.

 

Ramblings on My Mind -Greg JohnsonGreg Johnson / CBA President

Well, 2017 has started off with a little good news and some very sad. The good news for the time being is that we do not have to worry just yet about The Melody Ballroom and the status of our monthly meetings. This can always change at any time, but I spoke with the manager prior to the January meeting and was told that we would be given a 90-day notice one way or the other. Meaning if we need to relocate temporarily or permanently.  Hopefully only temporary for the remodeling of the building. That would give us time to find another location if necessary. But rest assured they like us at The Melody and the staff is hoping that we are allowed to continue there as we have for more than the past twenty-five years.

Because we do not know the status, I have not filled a lot of dates for the performers at the monthly meetings just yet. Normally these spots fill up quickly for the entire year, but I do not want to have to cancel anybody in the event we need to move someplace else, so have not pursued doing this too strongly just yet. I did have a couple cancellations early in the year and I sent out a notice on Facebook for acts to cover these upcoming dates and had good response, so we have them filled. I did have to ask a few acts to hold off because I wanted to give opportunity to those who have not performed for us in the past year first. Thanks to those of you who offered, I will try to work something out for you in the near future.

The year did begin with a bit of heartbreak, however. We knew that Jimmy Mak’s would be closing after New Years Eve due to owner Jimmy Makarounis’ on-going fight with throat cancer. But we did not expect to lose him the day after. Jimmy had built one of the absolute best venues in the country, bringing jazz, blues, funk and soul to fill the room night after night. Some of the finest musicians in our area made their name at the venue and Jimmy would bring in top touring, too, along with fundraising events for musicians in need.

Jimmy had spoken with me a number of times, asking about touring blues artists. He had also met with myself and Vice President Wendy Schumer with a desire to do shows with the Cascade Blues Association. We had talked, but never got around to creating an event in the realm he had in mind to bring the CBA a piece of profit with shows up to multiple times a year. But he was quite open for co-sponsorships and he did bring in some of the best touring blues artists from time to time including the likes of Janiva Magness, Joe Louis Walker, Shemekia Copeland and Dana Fuchs among the many who appeared on his stage. Local artists like Curtis Salgado, Karen Lovely, Lisa Mann, Linda Hornbuckle, and Louis Pain were frequent guests and regulars. It had been billed as one of the top 100 venues to see jazz in the world and for good reason. It was a Portland icon for venues to look at for success and it will be missed. Jimmy even more. RIP in Jimmy, you fought a long hard battle with cancer, but your legacy will always be here.

As a side note this month, I want to recommend something that I usually do not do. Of course I consistently try to tell you about CDs in our review columns, but I want to bring to your attention one of the finest magazines on the market, the Oxford American. I have been picking up copies of this literary periodical for many years, but specifically when they run their annual music issue. Focusing on the South and its culture. Oxford American offers stories and biographies of the musicians in their region with this issue each year. Usually for the past few years the issue would designate a specific state. One year it would be Arkansas, another Louisiana and so on. But the reason I suggest picking up a copy this year is because the theme is on the blues. Great pieces on artists like Big Mama Thornton, Bonnie Raitt, Cedell Davis, as well as the spread of the blues around the world are featured, all written by some of the South’s most creative writers. The issue also comes with a CD compilation based on the music theme every year and this is one to note with twenty-three songs missing the various aspects and approaches to the music. From the classic musicians of the genre like Charlie Patton, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, and Bobby Rush to modern artists like Adia Victoria, and the Alabama Shakes. There’s also world visions by West Africans Bassekou Kouyate & Ngoni Ba, the street smarts of the late Gil Scott-Heron and the guitar mastery of John Fahey. Oxford American is worthy of reading through with each issue they put out, but if you love the blues you don’t want to miss their latest release.

Greg Johnson / CBA President

This past December marked the thirtieth anniversary of the Cascade Blues Association becoming a business and a non-profit organization. There have been a number of changes since the inception, not only in how the company is run and the events that we hold, but definitely in the make-up of the music community itself. The CBA strives to continue to support the blues scene in Portland and the Northwest despite the coming and going of venues, and laws and personal economics that alter the way we go about attending events as often as many of us might have in the past.

The CBA had faced challenges with a drop in membership at the beginning of the year, which we recognize and made a point to correct. I am happy to say that as the year came to an end we saw an increase over the preceding months that have brought us back to the 1000 member levels once again and steadily rising. This took a lot of work on the behalf of our Membership Secretaries Fred and JoAnn Morgan, who tirelessly sent out notices for renewal and requests to expired members from the previous two years asking them to consider coming back. And so many did. Thank you.

We still print out the BluesNotes for our members every month, despite many other blues societies turning to online publications only, or cutting back to bi-monthly or quarterly printings. Our members have stated that they want to receive the paper, so we will continue doing so at this time. It is a great expense on us and very time consuming. But we have also gone toward the more modern edge as well with Vice President Wendy Schumer putting together our monthly e-mail blasts with much of the BluesNotes content to our members. So now, no matter how slow the mail may be coming to your homes, you can still get the news delivered to you electronically.

One event that we have held the past ten years of so is the Red, White & Blues Dance (formerly the Sweetheart Dance). We have decided that this will not happen this year as we are more interested in holding a Thirtieth Anniversary event instead.  We simply do not have the funds in our accounts to hold both and feel that the anniversary celebration is more important this year. We will look at the Red, White & Blues Dance again next year.

As for the Thirtieth Anniversary, we are currently looking at what we may be able to afford to present such a celebration of our blues community correctly. Venues are being approached to find one the proper size, dates available and for a cost that we may be able to handle.  Sponsorships may be requested to assist, but we will need to work the details out for that yet.

Our monthly membership meetings will have an increase in admission for non-members, going from $3.00 to $5.00. This is the first time we have increased the admission since we first began charging for non-members. We still intend on our members having free admission, though many other blues societies charge their members like everybody else. This means your annual dues will save you even more as at this time we do not plan on raising those fees either. It does not seem like a lot, but believe me every small amount counts.

An even bigger challenge that we may face is the location for our monthly meetings. The Melody Ballroom has been sold and they’re planning on serious renovations for all levels of the building that may affect some of our upcoming meetings. We are set for January, but the new owners are supposed to contact us to discuss the future changes. We’re hoping that we will continue to be able to hold our meetings here as we have for well over two decades. Cross your fingers everyone! Thanks to Kathleen and the Kaad Family for being so generous to our group for so long. We will miss you and you the very best.

But no matter what challenges the CBA may face over time, we will always be 100% in support of our musicians, venues and regional events. We still plan on holding our signature events such as the Journey To Memphis and the Muddy Awards, and we ask for you to help us out when you can. And if we need to find another location temporarily for our meetings we will do so. Please thinks about volunteering for events, special committees that we have, or for the BluesNotes. Or consider becoming a Board Member if you have the time and commitment. We’re always in need of extra assistance and support for our blues community is always appreciated.

Let’s look forward to starting off the next thirty years of the Cascade Blues Association as continuing to be one of the best blues organizations and communities possible.

Portland/Northwest Blues Strong!!

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson, CBA President

For the past several years I have made a tradition of naming my top ten favorite albums of the year in this column in December. As I have stated before that my choices can differ from day to day, there are just too many great recordings to choose from. And that means there are a number that could’ve been included on any other given day. I also made it a point that all choices had to be released in 2016. That left out a true favorite that came out in late November 2015 that I didn’t pick up until January, but I have to abide by my own rules here, so Jonn Del Toro Richardson’s Tengo Blues couldn’t make the list. But do pick it up, it’s a fantastic disc. The same for two local artists that were released in 2016 and could easily make the ten selections tomorrow or another day: Lisa Mann’s Hard Times, Bad Decisions and Mitch Kashmar’s West Coast Toast. Tough choices to make, but here are the albums in no significant order that have found a significant time on my play list and continue to do so.

Top of the heap this year, with no question whatsoever from my mind, is our own local hero Curtis Salgado’s latest The Beautiful Lowdown. Whenever I think that Curtis has reached his peak he amazes me by putting out something even more incredible. This is a flawless disc with great local and national talent behind him. It is soulful and deep. Every track knocks it out of the park. It won the Muddy Award for National Recording, I highly anticipate that it will be up for several Blues Music Awards as well.

If there is any one album that bleeds and breathes the blues this year it has to be John Blues Boyd’s The Real Deal. This is pure authentic traditional blues to its very core. The Little Village Foundation is doing great leaps by bringing forth lesser known artists and putting them in the forefront with a backing band that dreams are made of that often includes Kid Anderson, Jimmy Pugh, Rick Estrin, Big Jon Atkinson, and Aki Kumar. They did so last year with Wee Willie Walker (who also has a sensational new live album this year) and they have hit gold again with John Blues Boyd. I knew from the very first listen months ago that this was going to be one of my selections for the best albums of the year. It’s just that damn good!

I have known Dave Muskett for a number of years and always enjoy his performances. Perhaps that may be why I have been enchanted with his Recorded Live At The Slippery Noodle Inn release with the Dave Muskett Acoustic Blues Band. It is a simple and raw recording, capturing all the good times feel of his show. He offers great playing, superb songwriting and the sound is spot on.

As I have stated before, I am a sucker when it comes to a soulful vocalist. One artist who has been on my list before reappears here with another masterful soulful performance — Johnny Rawls’ Tiger In A Cage. Whether he is singing his own original material or a cover by The Rolling Stones or Sam Cooke, Johnny Rawls knows how to do it right with a voice that just drips soulful blues manna.

Another soul vocalist returning is Dave Keller. His previous release Soul Changes from 2014 still remains one of my most favorite discs of the decade. His latest, Right Back Atcha, is a winning follow-up. Not only does Keller have the perfect voice, he is a gifted songwriter who says the words of love in his lyrics that you wished that you could speak to yours on the spur of the moment. One listen to a song like “Deeper Than The Eye Can See” speaks volumes: “If you could see my insides, like an x-ray machine, all my feelings and you’re all my dreams, your love goes deeper, deeper than the eye can see.” Wow!

One album that completely took me by surprise this year that I can’t stop listening to is Peter Karp’s live album The Arson’s Match. A collection of songs he had written earlier in his career that had little distribution are brought back to life on stage with a band that includes a dream cast with Dennis Gruenling on harmonica, Dave Keyes on piano and a guitarist named Mick Taylor that just happens to be one of my all-time favorite players. Karp’s own guitar work and vocals are simply captivating.

Yet another album that I knew would be included as soon as I heard it for the first time early in the year is Janiva Magness’ Love Wins Again. Janiva is again singing songs with deep meaning from her life’s experiences, but things are so much brighter nowadays since she has found true love. And it’s reflected in her lyrics. Though there are hardships also present, she lets us know that as long as there is love everything will work out in the end.

Salem-based Gabriel Cox’ debut disc a couple years ago was such a wonderful surprise. He has an amazing voice and his songwriting skills are off the chart. His sophomore release I Surrender displayed that the first recording was no fluke. He has the goods and it makes me anxious to hear what he will come up with next. From the opening call and response a capella of “Willie Brown II” to the beautiful closing title track, Cox has my full attention.

Luther Dickinson stepped away from The North Mississippi All Stars, taking a number of his previously released songs and took another look at them. Blues & Ballads: A Folksinger’s Songbook, Volumes I & II  places them into an acoustic atmosphere, recorded live in the studio and working on the concept that the greatest works of art are never truly completed, but something that lives and grows over time. And it all sounds fresh and new all over again. Absolutely brilliant!

Doug MacLeod is another friend whose new releases are always something I look forward to. Even more I love his performances as he never uses a set list and plays exactly what may be on his mind at the time. Filled with great storytelling, every show is unique. Live In Europe captures just one of those nights where everything is clicking. But that could be almost any night when it comes to Doug as I have seen him perform more times than I can count and he has never given anything other than a remarkable show every time out. So a live album is the perfect setting for him, as it is his natural element.

Let me repeat, this is a list of recordings that I have been listening to repeatedly. They are the ones that came immediately to mind when putting this list together. But there are so many others that could also fall into here on any given day. Tedeschi Trucks Band, Bobby Rush, Fiona Boyes, Terry Hanck, just so many wonderful albums from 2016. But this is my list and I’m sticking to it. If there’s something here you’re not familiar with, check them out. They may surprise you.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson, Cascade Blues Association President

The Cascade Blues Association, like many non-profit organizations its size, is made up of members and especially volunteers. We are only as strong as those volunteers who help us throughout the year, either at events or serving on our Board of Directors. Each year, the membership is invited to elect the new Board Officers in December. As of the past few years we have held a very small Board, currently we only have seven people, which means that these individuals are putting in a very significant amount of time and energy bringing everybody the events and happenings expected from the CBA every year. We can have up to fifteen people on the Board. I know of one similar blues society that has close to twenty people serving on their Board currently. Imagine how much more we could accomplish if we had that many people.

The more we have, the easier it is for all of us to get things done. With more people we can expand our visions. We can go after grants, we can do marketing to help us gain more attention for our blues community, member drives, fundraising, and we can come up with even more ideas to make the organization stronger.

Our events do not have to be run by Board members. We are open to volunteers taking on the lead for events that we have. That was the case with the original organization of the Rummage Sale with Rae Gordon taking the helm the first few years and Cherie Robbins this year. It is a lot of work and we need to thank them for bringing their assistance and lead to us.

So often I hear it said that the CBA is a clique. That we support the same acts and nobody else. That is nowhere near the truth as we try to support everybody as much as we can.

The BluesNotes for example is a labor where we attempt to seek out all special events and touring artists to let you know what is happening. That outlet is put together by only four people for the most part from writing through editing and publishing. It is time consuming and we have asked for help numerous times. And we offer the Bandstand for acts to promote their events themselves at no charge. Then look at the calendar. Without that how many gigs might go unnoticed? If these two outlets are not utilized then you’re doing a disadvantage to yourself as an act.

If you believe that the CBA is a clique, make a difference. Join the Board, run for an elected position, write for the BluesNotes, volunteer. You can help make a change, but if you just sit back and vocalize your dislike it will not make improvements that you may envision or expect. It takes a lot more than just a small handful of people to accomplish that. Each Board member has but one vote for any new project or idea, so you can make a difference by becoming a part of it.

In the long run, the CBA belongs to its members. The purpose is to promote our local blues community. All of it. We have a large membership, those on the Board can be overwhelmed with so much going on with its current size. You can’t expect much change from a small group trying their best as volunteers to keep up with all expectations every year. They are not gaining anything from doing this, no free perks or reimbursement.  It is all done for their love for and desire to see the blues community enriched and recognized. With as many members that we have, there should be more willing to step forward to contribute. We need your help. Please.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

Well this month’s Rambling column is not so much a rambling from my part, but rather an explanation. Every now and then, people ask just what they receive for their $25.00 membership to the Cascade Blues Association. Well, let me give a few examples here.

First off, your membership card guarantees you free admission to our monthly general membership meetings. Those who are not members are required to pay $3.00 to get in. If you attend every meeting of the year it’d cost you $33.00 — right there you have saved $8.00. I only have included eleven months of meetings here as the November meeting is our annual Muddy Awards show. Non-members for that event pay $5.00 for entry, where you’re getting in free for one of the most anticipated blues events of the year in Portland.

The Cascade Blues Association also co-sponsors multiple events and concerts throughout the year, and these co-sponsored events offer discounts to our members for admission. Most of the time it might be a $1.00 discount, but it can vary and has been as much as $5.00 or more at times. Go to a lot of shows and the $25.00 membership is starting to pay for itself quickly and then some.

Every summer we have held a members only picnic. Your membership allows you entrance into this event. We have also held a Holiday Party in December, which again as a member you have free access. The Holiday Party is open to the public, but there is a $5.00 entry fee.

You receive the CBA’s BluesNotes publication delivered to your home monthly as part of your membership. Many other societies have gone the route of only offering their monthly, bi-monthly or even quarterly publications online only. We continue offering this hard copy to our members because they have said they prefer to have it that way. This costs us a great deal every month with editor fees, printing, and mailing. It far outweighs the funds that we receive through memberships each month.

We have heard the complaints that the papers do not always arrive before the end of the month to your homes. The BluesNotes have been put together the same way, the same dates each month for well over two decades. Submissions must be received by the 15th of the month prior. Everything is proof-read before it goes to the editor, who then puts the paper together over the next two to three days. Then it is again proofread and edited until it is ready to be submitted to the printers. They usually receive that by the 20th and then give them a day or two for printing and it is sent to the Post Office. This is where we lose control of how the paper is delivered. We have asked how the time frame varies when all are delivered at the main branch at the same time. The papers are mailed as bulk mail at a non-profit postage rate. Because of this, when it is sent to your local post office branches it is up to the staff there as to when it will actually be sent out on their routes, thus meaning that some people will receive their papers before others.

Another perk of being a member is having the right to vote for the Muddy Awards. All of our nominations and final votes are done by our members. We had been talking for the past few years of doing our voting online and we made that jump this year. Things don’t always flow as intended with new methods and we did have some glitches. A lot of people received “404” error messages. Often it was found when researched that either memberships had expired or for some reason were not showing up in our membership lists. But our webmaster was quick to respond and offered to assist anybody needing extra help to get things under way. We hope that you were able to get into the nomination program and if you did have problems you contacted the webmaster. Final ballot voting will be handled the same way as will future Muddy Award voting. New programs often take a little kicking and touch-ups to make sure that they’re working right.

Sometimes change is difficult for people to adhere to. We gave notice in the BluesNotes, at the monthly meetings and at the summer picnic that the Muddy voting would be done online this year. It only makes sense. Most people have means to go online with home computers and smart phones. There are other outlets available for those who do not own their computers to gain internet access, such as the public libraries. And we offered assistance to help those still having problems individually.

Why did we decide to make this change and had been thinking about for some time? Simple, it is cost efficient for us to do it this way to begin with. When you add up two sets of ballots for each member, printing paper ballots and mail expenses adds up to close to $1000.00 every year. Then we had to have the post office checked almost daily to keep up with the ballots being returned and then one person individually going through each ballot and creating a matrix of every vote sent in. Then the ballots and matrix went to a second person to verify. This is quite time consuming and may encounter human error that would have to be double checked if calculations differed. By going online, the calculations are done by computer and are accurate. They also are met by the firm deadline of when the cut-off for receiving them occurs.

Overall, if you look at what you do receive through your CBA membership, the benefits far exceed the amount that you pay. A number of other organizations may only provide you with a membership card and sometimes a newsletter and that’s it. Many may not even have monthly gatherings other than to talk about business without live music, let alone a picnic, holiday party and awards event. We strive to bring you the most bang for your dollar each year, but we want to provide the best overall service to the majority of our members as best we can. If you have ideas on how we may improve we are open to your thoughts.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / Cascade Blues Association President

In my opinion, the Cascade Blues Association, or any other blues or music society, has a responsibility to not only promoting all artists equally, one and the same, but to help introduce newer artists to our area to the public. That has always been one of my own pet personal preferences when it comes to booking our monthly general meetings. I love having our members’ most loved and favorite musicians perform for us from time to time. They always bring a big crowd in. But they’re known already, which is why they bring their fans to the meetings and pretty much everywhere else they play, too. But at the meetings, we have an opportunity to bring you acts that you may have heard of but haven’t taken the chance to see in a venue, or new people just trying to get a break into our community.

This month’s meeting, as just about all of them, was booked many months in advance. You never know for certain what may occur between the time they request to play a meeting and when it actually comes up for the performance. Unfortunate circumstances may occur, as happened with drummer Ashbolt Stewart needing surgery on his shoulder that would take him out of being able to play for a couple months. The band he works with, The Pollinators, were scheduled for the September meeting, but had to cancel. I was in a tight spot with a fast approaching deadline for the BluesNotes and wanting to promote the acts playing the meeting in the paper. Plus, I was heading out of town for the Bronze, Blues & Brews Festival in Joseph in a couple days when the message came through. Thanks to social media, I was able to put the call out for another act, explaining my short time frame to fill the gig, and had responses within minutes.

But what made this even more fruitful was the fact that I had responses from newer acts looking to help out the CBA. Acts that could really use a little push to get their name to our audiences themselves. Though I had alerted people that I was taking the first act to respond who had not played at one of our meetings within the past year (because we want to give everybody a chance), I have made note of those who did respond and will approach them if another cancellation occurs or when it comes to booking future meetings.

The Journey to Memphis is another means where I see this same thing happen. Every year we receive applications from acts that I am unaware of or have only heard of by word of mouth. Some end up becoming quite popular over time, and some even become very close friends, too. I always like to believe that I was there to watch their careers grow and just maybe the CBA played a little part in their success.

Going back to social media, I have found this a great outlet for discovering new acts that I don’t know about. I will watch their pages online, check out their videos or listen to their music on various internet outlets. I even find venues that are new to me that I may drop into as time allows. We have so many options out there to explore and become aware of.

Sometimes this may make extra work for me when putting together the BluesNotes. Finding out about  new venues often means another location that I have to check on each month to see if they’re presenting an act that should be placed in our event pages. It’s not something that I dislike doing mind you. I just don’t want to miss out on letting everybody know about a show coming to town or a special event that will be happening.

But if I make any one point more clear than anything else I have stated in this column, it is this: as a blues society it is our responsibility to let our members know about everybody. There are no favorites that we’re going to focus on one more than another. Sure, we all have our individual favorite acts. But when it comes to promoting in the BluesNotes, the CBA websites, playing at our monthly meetings, or getting our attention by any means, everybody is on the same level. If you’re a struggling band trying to be heard, you have as much a place within the CBA as somebody who is working touring nationally or beyond. Everybody starts somewhere. And if they perform at a meeting, please show them the courtesy and respect of listening to what they’re doing. It is their craft, their art, their livelihood. They are playing to impress you and to show you the work that has come from their hearts. It is the culmination of many hours putting their material together. Please give them the opportunity to hear what they’re doing. That is my personal belief, and I hope it is the same as all of yours.

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

I hear it all the time. The blues are dying. Bunk! Though it may seem like there are fewer venues and a lot less media attention, the blues as a genre is definitely not on the verge of collapse. It may not look the same as it did twenty, thirty, fifty, or even one hundred years ago. But what does? That may not please everyone’s tastes. There will always be those who want it to remain exactly the same. But it’s all part of the evolution process. If you’re not growing, you’re dying. And believe me, the blues are most certainly growing.

Take a look at the recent Waterfront Blues Festival. I heard many state that there wasn’t much blues at hand. I know I saw a lot of traditional artists, not just Leo “Bud” Welch or Jimmie Vaughan, but a lot of local musicians that could be placed in that very same category. How about Bill Rhoades & The Party Kings/Queens leading the annual Harmonica Blow-Off? Or maybe LynnAnn Hyde & Stu Kinzel, AC Porter, Bottleneck Blues Band, Rogue Rage Duo, Steve Cheseborough, just to mention a few. How about stepping back to the real deal feel of The Ragpicker String Band or International Blues Challenge winners Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons? Jimmie Vaughan, Tedeschi Trucks Band, Dr John, Curtis Salgado, Tracy Nelson — they’re all recognized award winning acts recognized as blues performers.

Never in its history has the blues been so available as it is with online media. It is spreading world-wide faster than you can blink. Over the years we’ve seen acts at the Waterfront from far-off reaches as Israel with Lazer Lloyd, India with Aki Kumar, England with Ian Siegal, Brazil with Igor Prado, and of course one of all-time favorites Australian Fiona Boyes. That’s just a few off-hand.

When you look at the International Blues Challenge it is even more impressive with the climb in numbers of acts from all around the world, this past year alone saw twenty different countries participate. There is so much different flavors of blues music going on at the International Blues Challenge, both nationally and internationally, I have repeatedly stated from the stage in Memphis, “If you can’t find a style of blues to your liking on Beale Street during this event, you’re either not looking hard enough or not breathing.”

I am greatly encouraged by the number of younger players who are taking their hand at performing the blues. They may be laughed at or think that they’re weird by their peers for playing an “old music,” but their commitment is impressive. Look at how many of us have watched the growth of local artists like David Jacobs-Strain, Ben Rice, Mac Potts and Ty Curtis for example. They were all in their early teens or younger when they began and look at them now! I see bright futures for two more youngsters, Justus Reece and Timothy James, as they both pursue the genre and are turning heads already. And Christone “Kingfish” Ingram has caught your attention; he was recognized with the performance of the year at last year’s Muddy Awards through your votes. If you really want to receive an eye awakening, go to the International Blues Challenge and watch the Youth Showcase. It is simply amazing the talent levels that many of these young musicians already have.

It’s also nice to see that the Grammy Awards will be recognizing two blues categories in the future rather than just one. It’s a step in the right direction in receiving media attention again. Next, let’s get the blues Grammy Awards to be broadcast live and not regulated to the scrolling list of awards handed out earlier in the day. And while we’re at it, let’s push for the Blues Music Awards to get aired on all Public Broadcast stations if not paid networks. And not several months after they happen. Why should it be any less important than other genres?

The blues does not happen just one week out of the year in Portland during the Waterfront Blues Festival. It is a year-round happening going on all around town, and we have so many of the best musicians to be found anywhere. In fact, we have a plethora of so many that you cannot keep up following them all. There’s simply not enough hours in a day or days in a week to do so. But you all know that already. You are reading BluesNotes here, so you have a liking for the blues already. So let’s get out there and tell our favorite venues and other media outlets that we want more blues music included.

A dying genre? By no means.  As long as we all still love the blues, it’ll live on! Let’s spread the news that the blues are all right!

Ramblings On My MindGreg Johnson, CBA President

One of the greatest things about living in the Northwest during the summer is the opportunity to get outside. Sure, people from other places think that all it does around here is rain every day. But we know that our summers are precious and the weather, usually starting right around the time of the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival, is sunny and warm. Warm? Well as long as it doesn’t get blistering hot like it did last year. Then again, it does seem to come earlier every year. We even hit 90-100 degree weather in May this year!

But the very best thing about warmer, sunnier weather is that there are a lot of music happenings going on outdoors. Festivals, concerts in the parks, amphitheaters, fairs, farmer’s markets, wineries, shows at the Zoo, house parties and many local restaurants opening their patios to music, too. And quite a bit of those happenings are blues shows. Oh, did I mention the Cascade Blues Association membership picnic? Yay!

I have said it before and will repeat it over and over, we are blessed by the abundance of world-class musicians we have living in the Northwest. And we get to take in a great number of them. We can head out on any given weeknight in July and August and catch such artists as Curtis Salgado, Ken DeRouchie, Karen Lovely, LaRhonda Steele, Hank Shreve, Andy Stokes, and many more all for free! Check out the Concerts in the Park link on the City of Portland’s website for a full list.

Festivals are always in abundance during the summer. Be they large caliber like the Safeway Waterfront Blues Festival, Mt Baker Blues Festival, the Bronze Blues & Brews, or Winthrop Music Festival, to the smaller affairs taking place for a day or afternoon, they’re scattered all over the Northwest and into Northern California from now into September. Even though some may be a bit of a drive away and may require spending a night or two out of town, you know it’s worth the time and effort. Especially when you consider the backdrop of many of the locations, be it in the mountains, alongside a rolling river, next to the Pacific Ocean, or even with a city skyline behind.

A lot of great musicians on the road are heading our way, too. Not all are outdoors, but many will be. Check out people like Bonnie Raitt, Buddy Guy with Jeff Beck, Marcia Ball, Sugaray Rayford, the Golden State Lone Star Revue with Mark Hummel, Anson Funderburgh & Little Charlie Baty for just a few.

Take a drive to the coast or into the mountains, visit venues or parks you wouldn’t normally go to, check out various chamber of commerce websites, you just may be surprised at who might be playing out and about. But even if you don’t have the chance to sit on a patio or on a lawnscape to enjoy the sun, get out to your favorite venues and catch some blues wherever you’re able. Even if it is a dark nightclub and it rains a little on your festival, a day of listening to live blues is still the best thing going. So take advantage of the opportunity and get your blues on. You can count me in!

ramblings201306BNGreg Johnson / CBA President

As I sit here working on the BluesNotes for the June issue, I recognize that today (May 14) marks the one year anniversary of the passing of BB King. Arguably BB was the most important bluesman of his generation, if not of all generations, right there alongside the likes of Robert Johnson, Muddy Waters, Howlin’ Wolf, Little Walter, or Stevie Ray Vaughan — whomever your personal tastes may like. There is not a day that goes by that I do not think about BB. Nor is there a day that passes that I do not hear his music at least once on the radio or play it myself.

When I first started listening to the blues it was BB King who I first purchased. There were two discs which I bought almost at the same time. They are not unusual, I am sure that a lot of blues listeners cut their teeth on these recordings. Live at The Regal and Live at Cook County Jail. It may be strange as this was where I first discovered the blues, not through rock acts like Eric Clapton or The Rolling Stones. I love those guys, too, but it was BB King first. It led to others like Muddy and Elvin Bishop. And those albums that I purchased I could at the time recite each lyric, word for word.

Over the years I was able to see BB well over twenty times. I saw him in large venues and small. The same held true, perhaps maybe five or six times less for John Lee Hooker. But I never had the chance to meet either of these two heroes face to face. There was a number of occasions that it was supposed to happen with BB and at least one time with John Lee. But it seemed fate always stepped in one way or another and all good intentions by management and friends who were setting up the opportunity got sidetracked by others. But these missed chances never dispelled my love for his music.

I admit it grew harder to watch him the older he got and was no longer able to stand and play with his earlier fury. But it was still BB. This was a legend and it didn’t matter. I would give anything to be able to see him again. I will relive those memories and cherish the moments as I grow older.

It reminds me of my friend Hawkeye Herman as he tells younger students about his encounters with people like Lightnin’ Hopkins. Someone will always stop him and say, “You saw Lightnin’ Hopkins?!” I am sure that I will experience from younger generations in the future when they’ll say to me, “You saw BB King?” Or Muddy Waters, Stevie Ray Vaughan, Big Walter, John Lee Hooker, Koko Taylor, Luther Allison or a vast number of so many others. And wait until I tell them, not only did I see them, but I had the chance to meet several, work directly with them at events like the Blues Music Awards or the Willamette Delta Showcase, and even made friendships with the likes of Hubert Sumlin, Robert Lockwood Jr, Gatemouth Brown . . .

And life still goes on. We reflect on those we have seen and those we’ve met. And just this past week, another good friend moves on to the hereafter as Candye Kane finally succumbed to her battle with cancer. Over the years I lost count of just how many times I had to see Candye on stage or elsewhere. She was a good friend who never missed the chance to say hello and sit and chat, even when she was feeling at her worst. Believe me, it doesn’t matter if it is BB King or Candye Kane, the feeling of loss is never easy. And I will never forget any of them.