After a one year COVID-induced hiatus, The International Blues Competition is returning to Memphis on January 19-22, 2022. When that announcement was made, our IBC chairman, Gene Iadanza began the process of reaching out to member bands and solo/duo acts, putting together our local competition to determine who would represent the JSJBF at the big dance. Gene has been coordinating this event, and stewarding the local winners in Memphis, for the past 12 years. His goal is to provide a local competition which mirrors what the winners can expect in Memphis and provide his years of experience to them when they get there. The two most important things he imparts are to have a good time and to network. Many of our previous winners of the local competition, while they haven’t won, picked up other gigs and valuable contacts.
Since we are involved with the Lakehouse Music Academy and Board member Wayne Kessler’s son plays in their blues band, it was decided to have a youth showcase to open the day at Salty’s, the former Lake Como site of Paul’s Tavern, where the event has been held for many years. The band CHKRDVNS (that’s Checkered Vans without the vowels) opened the event with the Stones’ “Can’t You Hear Me Knockin’,” pulled out Jimi Hendrix’s “Little Wing,” then chose two blues classics, Howlin’ Wolf’s “Killing Floor” and Muddy Waters’ “Got My Mojo Working.” The band consists of Dylan Kessler on guitar, Brian Willis on guitar, Mark on bass and Jordan on drums. They impressed all who were in attendance.
This year we had three Solo/Duo acts, the first of which was Robert and Paulina Hill, a father/daughter duo with Robert on slide guitar and his young daughter singing. Their set was made up of four diverse covers, including Willie Dixon’s “Wang Dang Doodle” and “I Put a Spell on You” by Screamin’ Jay Hawkins, as well as their original tune “Pay One Way or Another.” Robert’s fret work was smooth and soulful, and Paulina has a very strong voice. Next up was a previous winner and local troubadour, James Dalton, who treated the audience and judges to five original tunes including “Take Me to Helsinki” and “Dancer.” James’s story-telling quality and musicianship won over the judges, and he again will represent the Foundation in 2022. Our third act, Arlan Feiles, a superb keyboard player and singer, presented a mix of originals like “If I Was a Dinosaur” and the classic Harry Warren penned “At Last.” While all three were worthy contenders, only one could win. I’m sure glad I wasn’t a judge this year.
We then moved to the band competition, with the newly formed Tad Schaefer and the Troublemakers up first. I got a preview of the band, which consists of Tad and Tom Rocco on guitar, Michael Fash on bass and Walter Doberentz on drums at Wednesday night’s inaugural Colts Neck Inn Jam, sponsored by the JSJBF. Their set of Blues classics (they haven’t been together long enough to compose any originals) included Carl Wright’s “She’s into Something,” Greg Allman’s “Jelly, Jelly” and the classic,” T-Bone Shuffle.” The band has a great sound and did justice to their set list. Unfortunately, SlideWinders Blues Band was a last minute scratch from the competition, leaving the 2018 JSJBF representatives, Shadetree Mechanics to finish out the band portion of the day. With their experience they chose a set of up-tempo originals like “Get Out on the Floor,” mixed with the classic slow blues of “Red House.” The vocals and rub board of Michael “The Rev” Rochelle, coupled with the guitar stylings of Redman, propelled the songs. The solid rhythm section of bass player “Elmo” John Lawson, coupled with their new drummer, Brad Lewis—who replaced their recently deceased drummer of 26 years, Ray G—kept the engine going. In a poignant tribute to Ray, Elmo spoke of how their trip to Memphis was the musical highlight of Ray’s career with the quote “Ray had a smile ear to ear the whole time we were there.” Unfortunately, keyboard player Pat G. took ill and was not able to play, but even without him they had enough firepower to earn a return trip to Memphis.
As an extra bonus, a short jam closed out the festivities, with Bob DelRosso and John Fernandez trading guitar licks between our sound man for the day, Michael Feniello (who did an amazing job all day as our sound tech) on bass and Chris Martell on drums. The final tune, “Let the Good Times Roll” with Miss Kimmie on vocals, summed up a great day of music and friendship.
Congratulations! James Dalton won solo/duo and Shadetree Mechanics won band!