NEWS & ITEMS OF INTEREST
By Don "T-Bone" Erickson and Steve Sloan
Hal Reed & the Mob
The future looks bright with a few bands consisting of young musicians including the Westcott Brothers Band and Pure Blue Express , both of which I saw, and Simon Carter , which I missed. I was particularly impressed with Jeff Conlin 's keyboard work for the Westcott Brothers. Kyle Daniel and Kory Montgomery are both teenaged guitar players that lead their respective bands. Kyle made it to the finals last year and Kory made it this year.
In my opinion, the best band that I saw that didn't make it to the finals was from my home state of Iowa - Hal Reed & the Mob . I know I will certainly be accused of nepotism and being partial to my guys (and girl), but they definitely had one of the best overall looks and stage presence, they played real-deal Blues, played extremely tight together, and were very talented. In fact, the fastest hands on the keyboards in the competition had to belong to Ezra Sidren , their piano player. Keeping in mind the weighted scoring criteria, I feel they were the best band that I saw in the IBC other than the Teeny Tucker Band .
Speaking of which, I really don't know what else the Teeny Tucker Band could have done in the finals to win against the competition. The band was absolutely smoking and Teeny and crew really put it all together. I do agree with the finals' judges on the other two top bands - Diunna Greenleaf & the Blue Mercy Band (who came in second) and Lady Sunshine & the X Band (the third place finalist).
Sloan: First off I must start with congratulations to Jay Sieleman (Blues Foundation Director of Administration), Wesley Smith (IBC Production), Betsie Brown (IBC Chair), Joe Whitmer (Volunteer Coordinator), as well as the numerous volunteers that gave their time and energy to the IBC competition for three very long days and nights. This event exceeded the past IBC competitions and the hard work you all put in was appreciated by all that attended. Keep up the great work!
I second T-Bone's comments on the finals with the second and third place winners deserving of their place. I'll reserve my thoughts on the winner and who I thought should have won for another time and place (Although Teeny Tucker knocked me out!). I'll be at the Handy's in May and I'll meet you at the Flying Saucer over a Lindeman's Kreik to discuss that situation.
This is by no means an "attack" on the Blues Foundation or those involved in the production of the IBCs. This is purely a look at the role this competition plays in the developing and promoting of the unknown Blues acts around the world. There is no question the kind of impact a win at the IBCs can have on an up-and-coming Blues band. Check out the past winners at the www.blues.org website and judge for yourself as to the importance of this competition. I don't claim to have the answers for the questions that I am about to pose, but I do have suggestions and possibilities. I am more interested in your thoughts. Spending the weekend talking with performers, managers, labels, and a lot of BluesWax readers, I know you'll have comments of your own and I welcome any insight from those of you that have participated in the weekend as a performer, judge, or just as a supporting fan.
There are two major points of concern that I see. One being the process for finding the band that represents a Blues Foundation affiliated group and the criteria for an eligible band. Right now the criteria for a Blues Society to send a band or solo/duo to participate in the challenge states (as found on www.blues.org), "An Affiliate's representative may be chosen by any means the organization sees fit, whether through a regional competition (recommended) or by appointment." And "If the Band and/or Solo/Duo act is appointed rather than selected through a regional competition, the Affiliate must demonstrate through official organization meeting minutes that the organization has adopted this band and/or this solo/duo act as its official representative(s)."
What immediately comes to mind after reading these guidelines is that a band representing an Affiliated Society doesn't need to have a relationship with their local Blues Society to be entered as that society's representative other than a paper trail. What stops an Affiliate from going out and shopping for the best band in the country not on a major label and sending them on to the IBCs? One of the roles of a society in a given area is to promote the Blues locally, as well as the national acts that come through. By supporting these local players it gives them a chance to perform, learn, grow, etc., into a Blues band worthy of wider recognition. It gives the local up-and-coming acts a foundation of support that is truly necessary to keeping the music alive. Without efforts from the local society to nurture and support these local acts the artists will suffer and so will the music that we all love. Is it more important to send a band of seasoned veterans with numerous CD releases and national (and international) touring to get a "win" at the IBCs or is the point to it all to give that local band the opportunity to gain the exposure and confidence that comes with an entry into the IBC? Holding competitions to determine the representative of a local society seems to be the answer to part of this question, but it doesn't solve the problem of searching out a band or the problem of whether or not a band is in an area of a local Blues society that is affiliated with the Blues Foundation. (It should be noted by Blues Societies that don't hold competitions that these can be one of your best opportunities to raise funds.) Trying to determine the perfect set of guidelines and criteria seems like a daunting task to say the least. How do you come up with a solution that has no gray areas? How do you keep a band that has a recognized guitarist or drummer from a nationally distributed act from performing at the IBCs with a different unsigned band? I understand the "spirit of the competition," but a couple of acts that I saw over the weekend certainly fall into that gray area of being maybe a little too seasoned for a competition meant for the up-and-comers. No act was ineligible as far as the guidelines stated and therefore should have been there. However, when you consider the "spirit of the competition," there were several acts that just fell into question.
Food for thought on that process. The answer seems to fall on the already broad shoulders of the Blues societies around the world. What do you think?
The other item of consideration is the new category of "Best Self Produced CD." The name itself makes one think that this is an award given to a band or solo/duo act that produced their own CD. You can imagine a struggling band gathering up all of their funds for some studio time and mortgaging homes (which was the case of many of them, I'm sure) or maxing out credit cards to use the studio's equipment and producing a CD to the best of their ability on little resources. Many a band has a "homemade" CD that they take with them every where they go, hoping to catch the ear of a "name" producer or label exec to take that next step and more importantly to sell at a gig to make enough money to buy gas for the ride home and maybe a little breakfast after the show. The problem with this award is that it is not only for truly self-produced CDs. The guidelines for this award are as follows (as on the www.blues.org website):
"Singer, band, society or local producer may produce the actual CD as long as the performer is a singer, band or other individual entity."
"Recordings with established or "known" producers within the industry are eligible as long as the recording is on the artist's independent label and not on an established national Blues label."
"If a recording was produced independently but an established Blues label has purchased the master for distribution, the recording is still eligible until such time as the established Blues label releases the recording."
My issue with this is that a band with some financial freedom can hire a top-notch producer to clean their efforts up (we have all seen what a good producer can do for a CD) and produce a CD that is far better than anything your average Blues band can create on their own thus creating an unfair playing field in the process: If the award is for Best Self-Produced CD, that should be what gets awarded. It's not a self-produced album if you hire a producer to produce it or is it? How do we separate one from the other? Maybe calling the award Best Independently-Produced CD would satisfy this position? What do you think?
The goal of having a competition of this magnitude is to reward, promote, nurture, support, and spread the word about the Blues and the bands that are working so hard every day without any notice from outside of their "home range." To be true to the "spirit of the competition" we have to take it upon ourselves that acts that have young players like the Wescott Brothers, the Kory Montgomery Band, and the Kyle Daniel Band (and others) playing very solid Blues are not swept under the rug for already established bands that just haven't been able to make their mark in the industry. Not rewarding these kinds of local acts with the opportunity to participate in the IBCs could be a damaging prospect. Keeping the Blues Alive is what we are all, all about. As active supporters of the Blues world we are all accountable for the success and longevity of the performers and the music. It is our responsibility as the paying public to get out and support our bands in any way possible. Hopefully this will get the wheels a turnin' and we can have some good conversations about the Blues in general and more importantly get the fire burnin' for next year's competition. Support your local players, support the Blues Foundation, and never "settle" on something that you are passionate about. Get out and support live music!
Sean Carney (left) and Teeny Tucker of the Teeny Tucker Band
Because hardly anyone but the judges and bands know what the scoring criteria consists of, we thought we would give you the rundown of how each act is judged in the IBC. Here are the official guidelines:
In short, an act competes to be the best in its venue. The winner will be the act that is ranked the highest by the six judges (3 each night). Weighted numerical scores are used to determine which band that judge thinks is number one in that venue. Accordingly, whether a judge gives a score of ten to his number one act or 7 to his number one act, it makes no difference. The system is programmed to identify each judge's top pick.
More specifically, all acts participating in the IBC semi-finals and finals will be judged in five (5) categories. Each category will be scored on a scale of 1 to 10, with a score of 10 representing an excellent performance and a score of one representing a poor performance. Weighting factors are applied to each category to distinguish relative importance. The categories are:
1. Talent: This category is self-explanatory - the act's vocal and/or instrumental skill
2. Blues Content: Everyone has his or her own interpretation of what is and is not Blues. Thus, the panel of judges should include members whose opinions of Blues cover the entire spectrum of Blues, from the most traditional to the most Soul/Blues and Rock/Blues wherever possible. Bands should pick material carefully. At the international level the judges are Blues professionals, not a bar crowd, and are likely to be unimpressed with song selections that are uninspired. (Call this - with all due respect to Sir Mack Rice and Wilson Pickett - the "no 'Mustang Sally' rule.")
3. Originality: Original work is encouraged. Cover tunes are allowed but playing the recorded rendition lick by lick is discouraged, will not be looked upon favorably by the judges, and will be reflected in scoring.
4. Stage Presence: Over the past several years, the quality of talent has risen so dramatically that we no longer consider this an "amateur" competition. Most contestants have performed on stage enough to know that they are not simply playing music, but putting on a show. This category rates how "sellable" a band may be.
5. Overall impression: This category rates how well a group works together.
To reflect the relative importance of each category in the success of a band, a band's score in each category is weighted. Raw Scores for Talent and Originality are multiplied by three, Blues Content is multiplied by four, Stage Presence is multiplied by two, and the Overall Impression score is not weighted. The total in each category represents the Weighted Score for that category.
A Band is penalized for performing overtime by reducing the Total Weighted Score by one point for the first ten seconds and one point per second after the first 10 seconds. There is no penalty for using less than the allotted time. The timekeeper will notify the scorekeeper of the time in excess of the 30-minute limit. The scorekeeper deducts points for exceeding the 30-minute limit. Judges should not deduct points for a long performance.
At the producing organization's discretion, a policy of penalty for excessive time loading-in and out may also be applied.
So now you know what it takes to win over the judges, which of course, is, and always will be, a very subjective endeavor. We all have our opinions and preferences, and we respect others' ideas of what should be awarded in the Blues field, but we thought we would let you, our readers, know how we feel, because that's part of our job description and responsibility to you.
Don "T-Bone" Erickson is the founding editor of BluesWax and Steve Sloan is the editor of BluesWax .
A letter from the Mighty Sam McClain (www.mightysam.com) thanking
Copyright © 2004, Hal Reed and The Mob