"The Blues Foundation’s mission is partially to expand worldwide awareness of the blues. This is a great vehicle to fulfill that mission."
International Blues Challenge:
The Blues Is Alright
Over the past thirty-two years, one of The Blues Foundation's key events, the International Blues Challenge, has blossomed into an industry-leading annual showcase of the best new talent the genre has to offer. What began in 1984 as a handful of acts displaying their talents today stands as the world's largest gathering of blues musicians. The IBC can make careers, forge relationships between artists and industry veterans, and unite blues fans in their love for the music. In 2016, the IBC featured 257 acts. In collaboration with The Blues Foundation, Frank Roszak Promotions has produced a nine-track CD “International Blues Challenge #32” (2017) of music from the finalists of the 2016 International Blues Challenge #32. The result of a partnership between The Blues Foundation and Frank Roszak Promotions, were drawn from the 2016 IBC's sixteen Solo/Duo division and Band division finalists. Album’s executive producer is Barbara B. Newman (President/CEO of The Blues Foundation), and associate producer, Frank Roszak (Frank Roszak Promotions).
The Paul Deslauriers Band gets things off to a rocking start with the bold, swaggering “I'm Your Man.” InnerVision harks back to a classic sound with “Hound Dog,” recalling the days when the blues first had a baby and they named it rock 'n' roll. It's followed by Sonny Moorman's “You Make All My Blues Come True,” a deeply felt take on acoustic blues highlighted by cutting slide guitar. Next up is the Norman Jackson Band, who name-checks a number of the genre's pioneers on the funked-up, sax-fueled “Norman’s Blues.” Trey Johnson & Jason Willmon deliver a blues lesson in the traditional guitar-and-harp duo format on “When The Money Runs Out.” And The Hector Anchondo Band orders up a “Tall Glass Of Whiskey” amid Anchondo's fat-toned guitar playing on their propulsive track. “Drinkn’ and Drivin' Blues” is a slow shuffle that has Bing Futch, named 2016's Best Solo Guitarist, narrating a sad blues story for the ages. Soloist Dave Muskett is joined here by his band on the hard-driving “Can’t Move On.” Rounding out the CD are Ben Hunter & Joe Seamons, whose haunting “Black Sheep Moan” shows why they were this year's first-place winners in the Solo/Duo division. It's an exciting mix that reflects the diversity of styles on display in any given year at the International Blues Challenge.
What do you learn about yourself from the blues culture and what does the blues mean to you?
B.N: While the blues are loved and revered internationally, they are an authentically American music form, going back to my country’s history and stories. Knowing where the blues came from, and being aware of the struggles of the people who sang those early songs, touches my heart. I have such respect for those who came before me and who created this music, and for those who have taken those early blues and have built upon the music to allow it to evolve. It’s music that you feel in your guts. And in listening to the music, I recognize that all of us are interconnected by the challenges of life as well as by our successes.
F.R: How much I can relate to the music and the artists that write and perform the music, there really seems to be a common denominator. They have to be the hardest workers, like myself (Laugh). The music just grabs u, it’s the truth, the honesty, the pain, the joy our every emotion.
How started the thought of International Blues Challenge CD? What characterize IBC philosophy and mission?
B.N: The project started in the mind of Frank Roszak who considered that this would be a good way to help these up and coming musicians, who had proved themselves during the last IBC, get some more press and notoriety. It was conceived of as a way to assist those who might not have the support team that often pushes careers forward – those without a publicist or a label or a manager to help them. And as we worked on it through the year, we realized that it could also be a great way to share the story of the International Blues Challenge. It’s a compilation of the top acts from the Challenge, yet they represent so many other talented musicians who journey to Memphis to make their mark. The Blues Foundation’s mission is partially to expand worldwide awareness of the blues. This is a great vehicle to fulfill that mission.
F.R: My main reason for doing this compilation which by the way includes some of the finest musical acts in the Blues World today, was simply to give back. I have been in the music business 40 years this year and it was the Blues that’s really touched me, embraced me and took care of me. So it’s my intention to give back as often as I can, as a way of saying Thank you. As Barbara had mentioned in her response The Blue Foundation’s mission is partially to expand worldwide awareness of the blues. This is a great vehicle to fulfill that mission. (Photo: Barbara Newman & Little Milton, Memphis TN)
"While the blues are loved and revered internationally, they are an authentically American music form, going back to my country’s history and stories. Knowing where the blues came from, and being aware of the struggles of the people who sang those early songs, touches my heart."
How do you describe and what characterize The Blues Foundation philosophy and mission?
B.N: Interesting that you should ask this question as our Board of Directors has completed a review of our Mission Statement, which is as follows: “To preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form.” This mission statement encompasses all of our programs and the work that we do each day to move this organization forward. It’s about respecting and honoring the history, enjoying and celebrating the music of the past and the present, creating opportunities for the entire world to embrace the music and enjoy it’s sound, creating educational opportunities for our youth to learn about blues history and to study music, thereby encouraging them to follow in the footsteps of those who came before them, and taking care of our blues community with initiatives to create healthy work and healthy lives.
Are there any memories from International Blues Challenge over the years which you’d like to share with us?
B.N: Well, I have only been through one IBC from start to finish – but even in one year, I have so many great memories: Spending time on Beale Street talking to people as they passed by. Climbing on the stages of each Beale Street Club to welcome our attendees and thank our judges, volunteers and club partners. Watching people visit with our board members in The Blues Foundation tent and then join our organization to support our work. Sharing the excitement when I announced the acts that would advance to the Semifinals and then to the Finals at the Orpheum. And then being in that wonderful historic Memphis theatre, full of blues lovers and hearing the music emanating from the stage – and the hugs and tears from those who were names Best Band and Best Solo/Duo as the evening drew to a close. And finally – a good night’s sleep after 5 nights of adrenaline fueled excitement at being part of such a well-produced event that truly means so much to so many musicians. I can’t wait for our 2017 IBC!
F.R: 2014 was the most memorable year at the IBC’s for me. This was the year I was awarded the KBA (Keeping the Blues Alive) award from the Blues Foundation. 2014 was also the first year I acted as a judge. One of the artists I had the pleasure of Judging was soloist Tim Williams, and Tim went on to win the final in the solo/duo category. A year later Tim joined the Frank Roszak Promotions Family of Artists…
How has the Blues World influenced your views of the world and the journeys you’ve taken?
B.N: I’m relatively new to the blues world, per se, though I’ve been involved in the larger music world for over 25 years. But I must say that the blues world has shown me what a true music community really is. Everywhere I have traveled and within the programs that The Blues Foundation produces, I see people who truly care about music and about each other. The IBC is the perfect example of a community coming together. People make this their annual pilgrimage to hear the music and to see old friends. And then, as they cross paths at festivals and in clubs throughout the rest of the year, it’s like another homecoming. I have had the privilege of traveling to all corners of this country and abroad through my first year as President of The Blues Foundation, and with each journey, I feel more and more embraced. Blues people are special people – down to earth, caring, and supportive. It doesn’t’ matter how high up the success ladder a musician has climbed – we’re all a part of the team working for the greater good – to bring amazing music to the world.
What do you miss most nowadays from the blues of past? What are your hopes and fears for the future of?
B.N: I am a big fan of the acoustic blues music of the past, while I love the electric guitars and the livelier sound of the blues bands I hear these days. My biggest concern for the future is that younger generations have the opportunity to hear this music more frequently and to embrace it so that it remains a live music form which can continue to grow and evolve. We know that this is a challenge we face as our demographic studies show that blues fans tend to be older, and we are working on initiatives such as Blues in the Schools and our Generation Blues Scholarships program to help young blues musicians attend summer blues camps. So I guess you could say that my concerns of how to better reach a younger audience leads straight into my hopes that our work will have an impact and that this music will remain both historical and very much alive and growing.
F.R: Well for me my earliest experiences of the Blues were kind of limited. I guess my journey with the Blues began in the mid 70’s Fillmore East on the lower east side of NYC hosted some of the finest of Blues artists. BB King, Paul Butterfield, John Mayall and Johnny Winter to name a few. I guess they leaned towards what I call the household names. It wasn’t until 2004 when I really entered the world of blues via my being Director of Promotions for Delta Groove, that’s when I truly started my education, and still and I mean still learning every day. What I hope for in terms of the genre, as a Publicist is to expand the horizons of our audience on a professional level to as many writers and radio personalities whom have had very little exposure to the Blues in recent years, I would say that since the loss of Stevie Ray Vaughn, there has been a void in the mainstream music world. So I want to conquer that... Fears none: I strongly believe the music as an art and the artists that choose to perform the music are Relentless…
What is the biggest change which can and need be realized in near or far future of the Blues world?
B.N: I’m not sure that we can define the change that needs to be realized as much as we are aware that we have to do a better job of promoting the music and to reaching more people with our mission. There are hundreds of thousands of blues fans across the world, but only a fraction of them are members of the Blues Foundation. We know that we need to reach more people and encourage them to join in order to provide us the needed resources to expand our programs and to reach more people, thereby growing the music form and doing an even better job of meeting our mission. And as I have mentioned, we want to be able to do more to reach young people and to introduce them to the blues. We hear too often that “the blues is sad music” but those of us who listen to this music and who spend time in clubs and attend festivals and concerts know that there is much more to this music than that stereotype. So we have a lot of work to do to educate the general public and to bring them around to this music. It’s not old music from a bygone era. It’s very much alive and relevant today.
F.R: Blues become more accepting by the mainstream music world.
"Blues people are special people – down to earth, caring, and supportive. It doesn’t’ matter how high up the success ladder a musician has climbed – we’re all a part of the team working for the greater good – to bring amazing music to the world." (Barbara Newman/Photo by Y.M. James)
Why did you think that The Blues Foundation continues to generate such a devoted following?
B.N: This is an easy one – The blues is more than just music. The blues is a community. It’s a feeling that gets into your soul. And once you really listen to it, you are hooked. The Blues Foundation continues to generate such a devoted following because the music is still very much alive and its followers want to see it continue to grow and flourish. They are devoted to the music form and they know that we are the organization that represents the industry, respects the fans and is positioned to keep the music going. Again – it’s all about our mission: To preserve blues heritage, celebrate blues recording and performance, expand worldwide awareness of the blues, and ensure the future of this uniquely American art form.
F.R: The Blues Foundation operates from the heart, the people involved from Barbara on are devoted loving and caring folk who take pride in the music and the artists. They are really there to assist in whatever way they can. Simple...Dedicated to serve the community.
What is the impact of Blues culture and The Blues Foundation to the racial and socio-cultural implications?
B.N: From a racial perspective, we all know that the blues came out of a people who were racially oppressed and used music as a way to communicate their struggles. That history needs to be respected and honored, and we cannot forget this. I am just happy to recognize that it has also been embraced by a broader population. We must always be aware of this history and we must celebrate the people who came before us and acknowledge their part in creating this music form. I would like to think that the widespread following of the music by people of all races and all cultural backgrounds, internationally, makes a statement that music crosses all lines and is in fact the great equalizer. It doesn’t matter your race, religion, nationality or socio-economic position when it comes to good music. We are all part of humanity and music is that universal language.
Let’s take a trip with a time machine, so where and why would you really wanna go for a whole day..?
B.N: I was a young child in the 1960’s, but really did not come of age until the late ‘70’s. If I had access to a time machine, I would love to return to the 50’s/60’s, spend time in the NYC Greenwich Village clubs, with the beatniks and the counterculture; enjoy the Newport Folk Festival during the time in which the great early blues artists had been found and were being reintroduced to American music, experience the San Francisco counter-culture, and finally be a part of the Woodstock festival and experience.
F.R: Clarksdale, Red’s to be specific back in the hay days of Juke Joints with the smoker going, beer flowing and music pouring out the door...
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