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.