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.