The Blues Foundation will also bestow 16 individuals and organizations with its prestigious Keeping the Blues Alive Awards
Memphis’ claim as the “Home of the Blues” will be indisputably evident the first week of February when The Blues Foundation hosts its 33rd Annual International Blues Challenge. Musicians from around the globe will convene in Memphis to compete for cash, prizes, and bookings as they are judged the best in IBC categories, among them Band, Solo/Duo, Electric Guitar, Acoustic Guitar, Harmonica Player, and Self-Produced CD. The Challenge’s alumni include such acclaimed musicians as Susan Tedeschi, Tommy Castro, Delta Moon, Trampled Under Foot, Sean Costello and Grady Champion.
Historic Beale Street will be the site for each of the challenge rounds, opening with the International Showcase on Tuesday, January 31, 2017, quarter-finals on Wednesday, February 1 and Thursday, February 2, and the Youth Showcase and semi-finals on Friday, February 3. The finals round of the world’s largest and most prestigious blues music competition will be held at Memphis’ grand Orpheum Theatre on Saturday, February 4 beginning at noon. Besides the amazing live blues performances, the five-day-long IBC will also present a variety of lectures, seminars, workshops, film, networking events, silent auction, and affiliated blues society receptions that will appeal to blues professionals and fans alike.
While the International Blues Challenge looks to the future, The Blues Foundation’s Keeping the Blues Alive Awards honor those individuals and institutions that have helped to keep the blues going strong. As Blues Foundation President and CEO, Barbara Newman proclaimed, “Our 2017 Keeping the Blues Alive recipients are all wonderful examples of blues flame keepers, each working in their own sphere of influence to move the genre forward while honoring its past.”
The 2017 Keeping the Blues Alive Awards recipients are:
- Baltimore Blues Society
- Blues and Soul Records
- Kathy Bolmer
- Briggs Farm Blues Festival
- Kyle Deibler
- Greaseland Studios
- Highway 99 Blues Club
- Jay Miller
- Jacques Morgantini
- James Nagel
- Porretta Soul Festival
- Steve Salter
- Eddie Stout
- Suzanne Swanson
- WGLT radio
- Wolf Records
These honorees, who will be recognized during a luncheon on February 3, represent a broad spectrum of the music world: record labels, music festivals, recording studios, clubs, radio stations, publications, and individuals with an undying passion to preserve and sustain the blues. They include grassroots blues heroes like Steve Salter, who created the nonprofit Killer Blues Headstone Project so that blues musicians wouldn’t be buried in unmarked graves, and Eddie Stout, who is known as the “Ambassador of Texas Blues” for his work single-handedly running Dialtone Records. The KBA’s spotlight also shines on events like the Briggs Farm Blues Festival, which has been bringing the Mississippi Delta to eastern Pennsylvania for nearly 20 years, and Greaseland Studios, the San Jose recording studio where Kim Wilson, Maria Muldaur, Elvin Bishop, and Charlie Musselwhite have laid down tracks.
2017’s KBA recipients not only cover America from coast-to-coast — from the Baltimore Blues Society to Seattle’s Highway 99 Blues Club — but also reveal blues’ international popularity. Wolf Records has been promoting Magic Slim and other Chicago blues acts for over 30 years, and they aren’t doing it from Illinois, but Austria. The Chicago blues were also very important to 92 year old Jacques Morgantini, known as the Alan Lomax of Europe, who brought many American bluesmen to play in France. The Porretta Soul Festival, meanwhile, has turned a small Northern Italian town into a mecca of soul music, particularly the Memphis variety.
The International Blues Challenge is sponsored in significant part by ArtsMemphis, AutoZone, Beale Street Merchants Association, BMI, First Tennessee Foundation, Gibson, Lee Oskar Harmonicas, Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise, Memphis Convention & Visitors Bureau, Saint Blues Guitar Workshop, Sierra Nevada Brewing Company, Tennessee Arts Commission, and VividPix & Design.
Media sponsors include Beale Street Caravan, Big City Rhythm and Blues, Blues Festival Guide, Blues Matters!, Downtowner, Elwood’s Bluesmobile, and Living Blues.
BALTIMORE BLUES SOCIETY, Baltimore, Maryland
Incorporated as a nonprofit in 1986, the Baltimore Blues Society has been a model of consistency, annually producing six to ten shows featuring national touring blues artists along with local and regional bands. It regularly sponsors acts appearing at local festivals and events, and collaborates with clubs and other venues to present shows. Five or six BBS productions a year are held at an American Legion hall and regularly draw over 250 people. Look at the BBS website’s “Years in Review” section for a who’s who of major blues artists that have appeared over the years. In 2016 the BBS celebrated the 20th annual Alonzo’s Memorial Picnic, held on the Sunday of Labor Day weekend. This event features three or four national acts along with two or three local/regional bands, and is a continuance of a backyard party hosted by original member Alonzo Bennett for over 20 years prior to his passing. The society’s newsletter, BluesRag, is one of the best, with well-researched feature articles along with reviews and outstanding photo spreads. Originally published monthly, it is now published quarterly, with much activity switched to the website and Facebook pages. The BBS has enjoyed a remarkable stability in its cadre of volunteers and officers, most notably its presidents. Only three individuals have served as president in the past 30 years: founder Dale Patton (ten years), Marcia Selko (four years), and current president Bob Sekinger.
BLUES & SOUL RECORDS, Tokyo, Japan
Blues & Soul Records was founded in 1994 as a quarterly extra issue of Black Music Revue and as an outlet to cover non-mainstream black music such as blues, deep soul, and gospel. Since its birth, over 130 issues have been published with artist features, live show coverage, 50 to 60 record reviews per issue, photographs, and discographies. Beginning with issue No. 8 in 1996, the magazine became a bimonthly publication. Beginning with issue No. 21 in 1998, it began including a supplemental CD relating to the topic of the issue. The 130-page magazine boasts a circulation of 30,000 copies. According to the editor, “the magazine is not only for the blues purist, but also for rock fans and guitar kids. We are trying to enlighten the younger generation and lead them to the great historical and still living music. Somehow we have achieved it.”
KATHY BOLMER, Nashville, Tennessee
Kathy Bolmer, a Blues Foundation charter member, has had a massive impact on The Blues Foundation’s outreach programs to aid musicians in need. She has been a tireless activist, directly helping musicians with medical care and as an important dynamo for the HART Fund. Kathy has produced numerous concerts to provide resources for the HART Fund and at the same time share the music she loves with these audiences. She also oversees The Blues Foundation’s Generation Blues program and raises funds to assist young musicians in attending summer blues workshops and programs, thereby providing our next generation with the opportunity to develop and share their musical gifts. Each year, during both the Blues Music Awards weekend and the International Blues Challenge, Kathy runs benefits to raise money for both of these crucial concerns. Her support of the mission of The Blues Foundation is further evidenced by the generous support she and husband Andy T provided during the recent Raise the Roof campaign, when they sponsored the Gateway to the Blues Hall of Fame Museum. In her local community, she and Andy joined with others to start the Nashville Blues Society after the Music City Blues Society folded. In that role, she has produced numerous charity concerts and helped to raise the profile of blues in Nashville.
BRIGGS FARM BLUES FESTIVAL, Nescopeck, Pennsylvania
Briggs Farm Blues Festival, located in Nescopeck, Pennsylvania, on a 250-year-old working farm that encompasses hundreds of acres, was a dream come true for Richard and Alison Briggs and the Briggs family. The festival, which began in 1998, brings upwards of 10,000 guests annually to northeastern Pennsylvania. This festival has showcased over 250 international, national, and regional artists since its first event. Its star performers have included Big Jack Johnson, David “Honeyboy” Edwards, Eddy “The Chief” Clearwater, Louisiana Red, Lurrie Bell, Alexis P. Suter, Eddie Shaw, The Kinsey Report, Shakura S’Aida, Johnny Rawls, Teeny Tucker, Cedric Burnside, Sam “Bluzman” Taylor, Mississippi Heat, Terry “Harmonica” Bean, and Lonnie Shields, among others. Beginning in 2005, the festival began bringing more and more Mississippi blues artists to this farm as a way to showcase the deep blues of the Delta and Hill Country. Camping also plays a major role in this event, which is why many of the festival goers are younger than the attendees at most blues festivals in the U.S.A. Recently the Briggs family started their own blues label, Briggs Farm Blues Records, signing Jimmy “Duck” Holmes and in 2016 releasing Live at Briggs Farm with Alexis P. Suter and the Ministers of Sound.
KYLE DEIBLER, Fort Collins, Colorado
Kyle Deibler is the epitome of unselfish volunteerism that turns into hands-on activism. He began volunteering for The Blues Foundation during the IBC in 2003 and quickly became the stage manager at one of the most popular venues on Beale Street, the Rum Boogie Café. During his 12 years as its coordinator, Kyle has served as the stage manager, production manager, and volunteer manager for the venue. His work begins each night an hour before the event starts, usually 5 p.m., and lasts until the event concludes at approximately 11 p.m. Kyle is usually the first person IBC acts see upon their arrival on Beale street, as he also helps manage act registration, where he is available to answer act questions. In addition, he has been one of the stage managers for the finals at the Orpheum since 2007. During the Blues Music Awards, Kyle is the one in the tux with the clipboard and earpiece frantically searching for the next band to perform, volunteering as one of the artist handlers since 2005. While living in Phoenix, Kyle began as a volunteer for the Phoenix Blues Society in 2004, then became a board member for three years and president for seven. And when he moved to Fort Collins in 2011, Kyle wasted little time in becoming a board member of the Colorado Blues Society. Today he serves as its treasurer.
GREASELAND STUDIOS, San Jose, California
What do the critically acclaimed records of Wee Willie Walker, John Boyd, Finis Tasby, Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, Little Charlie, Frank Bey, Anthony Paule, Aki Kumar, Rockin’ Johnny Burgin, Jackie Payne, John Németh, Terry Hanck, and Mark Hummel have in common? They were all recorded in Christoffer “Kid” Andersen’s Greaseland Studios. In 2006, Christoffer began to record blues and soul in a cramped setting. Today it’s a tangled mass of equipment, wires, and instruments. But one thing is abundantly clear: the music that emanates from this room has soul. Greaseland today boasts over 50 records recorded in its first decade. Christoffer’s philosophy is simple: “The bottom line for me, and something that separates me from most guys you will meet operating a studio, is that to me the studio is a musical instrument, and I treat it and think of it that way.” It’s no wonder so many top-notch records are coming out of that magical room.
HIGHWAY 99 BLUES CLUB, Seattle, Washington
Highway 99 Blues Club is the longest-running, most successful blues club in Washington state. Over its 12-year run, the club has presented live music five nights a week, featuring national touring artists and established regional bands. Committed to bridging the gap to the next generation of blues fans, the club has consistently showcased the best of local up-and-coming and youth talent. Opening its doors for countless fundraising events throughout the years, Highway 99 Blues Club takes pride in supporting the community when in need. Founder Steve Sarkowsky and partner Ed Maloney have provided a robust blues scene with established acts such as Rick Estrin and the Nightcats, Janiva Magness, Tommy Castro, Bobby Rush, Walter Trout, John Németh, and Duke Robillard, and fresh faces on the scene like Lisa Mann, Jason Ricci, Moreland & Arbuckle, and Karen Lovely. From the décor on the walls to the cuisine from the kitchen, the libations at the bar, and of course the music which pours from their stage, Steve and Ed have spent much time in their commitment to telling the story of the blues and Southern culture to the Pacific Northwest.
JAY MILLER, West Bridgewater, Massachusetts
Since Jay Miller began writing his Music Scene column in the Patriot Ledger daily newspaper in Quincy, Massachusetts, in 1996, he has written about more blues artists than any other journalist in the Boston area. Jay has made it his mission to preview nearly every blues show coming to the Boston area, and whenever possible to profile the touring musicians who come through the region. In total, Jay believes that he has written more than 200 blues reviews and features. His columns have become so popular that they have been picked up by affiliates in New England and around the country. Because he has been around the New England blues scene since college, he can boast of seeing immortals like Muddy Waters, Albert King, and Otis Rush. Early on, he wrote Susan Tedeschi’s first review, and heard a 14-year-old Monster Mike Welch amaze audiences at the first House of Blues in Harvard Square, and, 20 years later, he witnessed the worldwide acclaim of these two artists. Trying to play guitar, bass, and sax in his younger years convinced Jay his future lay in writing, but also left an indelible appreciation for musicians.
JACQUES MORGANTINI, Gan, France
It’s hard to summarize all that 92-year-old Jacques Morgantini has accomplished in this short biography. The first thing you understand when talking to Jacques Morgantini is that the “Bill” he’s talking about sitting with in 1951 is Big Bill Broonzy! He first introduced blues music to France and all of Europe in the late 1940s and 1950s. In 1945 he founded the Hot Club de Pau, through which he organized blues concerts throughout the region. In the ’70s he came with his late wife, Marcelle, to the U.S. with a passion for photographing, filming, and recording black blues musicians in Chicago and delivering this content to Europeans. The recordings he produced in the late ’40s and through the ’50s, ’60s, and ’70s range from Big Bill and Sister Rosetta Tharpe to T-Bone Walker, Magic Slim, Memphis Slim, Luther “Snake” Johnson, and many other iconic blues masters. He chaired the Hot Club of France for 22 years and started influential record labels like MCM and Black&Blue. He arranged the European tours for the Chicago Blues Festival. His biographical DVD, Mémoire de Blues de Jacques Morgantini, is a four-hour, two-DVD set which features archival performances and interviews with 30 featured musicians like John Lee Hooker, Muddy Waters, Jimmy Rogers, Luther Allison, Koko Taylor, Homesick James, Jimmy Johnson, Hubert Sumlin, and many others, Though the dialogue is in French, the performance segments showcase the raw energy of a band of blues musicians in the energetic prime of their lives. In 2017 Jacques was presented with the first French Blues Laureate Award, a fitting honor for a man who continues to share his blues knowledge wherever he travels.
JAMES NAGEL, Texas City, Texas
Serving the blues community for nearly 30 years, James “The Blues Hound” Nagel has an extensive and varied blues background. As a radio host, James has been on the airwaves since 1996. As host of Howlin’ the Blues on KPFT in Houston, James is the on-air source for all things blues—music, events, and information. The show’s weekly music calendar is arguably the most impressive and comprehensive music listing you’ll find anywhere. But James has his hand in so much more. Over the years he has helped organize, promote, and produce the Houston Blues Society’s annual Regional Blues Challenge and countless other events and fundraisers. He has served as the festival chair for the Charles Brown Music Festival and as emcee for blues festivals and area shows. James is also a writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Living Blues, Juke Blues, and numerous other publications. He is a past president of the Houston Blues Museum, serves on the board of directors for the Houston Blues Society, and is the talent buyer for the Shakespeare Pub in Houston. In his free time he creates promotional posters and is an avid painter
PORRETTA SOUL FESTIVAL, Porretta Terme, Italy
When Vasti Jackson returned from the 2016 Porretta Soul Festival, he said: “They revere this music. They have a soul music museum. They have shops that sell old vinyl. And they pay homage to the icons who are no longer here with us.” Since it began in 1988 with headliner Rufus Thomas, it has become the most prestigious European festival entirely dedicated to rhythm-and-blues and soul music. Festival founder Graziano Uliani has been able to bring to Porretta most of the major soul bands in the world. Over the years, the festival has hosted the likes of Rufus and Carla Thomas, Mavis Staples, Sam Moore, Irma Thomas, Bettye LaVette, Dorothy Moore, Millie Jackson, LaVern Baker, Joe Simon, Mitty Collier, Jimmy McCracklin, Sugar Pie DeSanto, Clay Hammond, J. Blackfoot, Clarence Carter, Latimore, Bobby Rush, Syl Johnson, Mighty Sam McClain, Solomon Burke, Ann Peebles, Otis Clay, James Carr, Eddie Hinton, Little Jimmy King, Carl Weathersby, and others. This year’s four-day festival in late July featured Bobby Rush, the Bey Paule band, Vasti Jackson, a tribute to Allen Toussaint, Stan Mosley, Theo Huff, and a huge soul revue finale. And in this Italian town you will find Otis Redding Street and Rufus Thomas Park. As Peter Guralnick says: “Everyone in Memphis should see the way in which their native music is treated in Porretta. At the time when buildings are being torn down at home, monuments are being erected in Porretta. But, more significantly, the music is being honored in a manner that it deserves. The musicians are being recognized not just for their stardom but for their contributions.”
STEVE SALTER, Whitehall, Michigan
Almost 20 years ago, in 1997, Steve Salter became frustrated that he could not find the resting places of many of the blues musicians who were his heroes. To fill that void, he founded the Killer Blues Headstone Project as a means to fund and provide personalized headstones for blues musicians who have been lying in unmarked graves. At first it was mainly funded by sales of his calendar or personal donations, but in 2009 the project became a 501(c)(3) corporation. To date, the group has provided 76 headstones including those for Luther Tucker, Walter Davis, Mose Vinson, Gary Primich, Roosevelt Sykes, Ted Hawkins, Phillip Walker, Tommy McClennan, Sammy Lawhorn, Frankie Lee Sims, Robert Belfour, Eddie Kirkland, Lonnie Johnson, and many more. On the project’s website there is currently a section which asks for help in locating the graves of musicians Steve is still searching for, as well as a listing of musicians currently lying in unmarked graves.
EDDIE STOUT, Austin, Texas For over 43 years, Eddie Stout has been working as a musician, record label founder, producer, and promoter. He began playing bass in 1972 and has worked with Anson Funderburgh, Katie Webster, Lou Ann Barton, Hubert Sumlin, Sam Myers, and others. In 1987 he served as the international representative for Antone’s Records, also working with Justice Records, New West, and Malaco. Since 1984 Eddie has also managed his own record labels. Pee Wee records (1984-1991) released 14 albums. Then in 1999 he founded Dialtone Records, which released 27 recordings focusing on the music of black American roots, blues, and jazz. That label showcased the music of Cornell Dupree, Barbara Lynn, and Lazy Lester, and the 2013 Blues Music Award nominee for Traditional Blues Album of the Year by Milton Hopkins and Jewel Brown. From 2012 to 2013 he was the producer and director of 40 television shows for the Songwriters Across Texas series. In 2014 Eddie founded Dynaflow Records, which recorded Jewel Brown and Sherwood Fleming. In total Eddie has produced and funded over 65 blues recordings. Recently, Eddie founded the Eastside Kings Foundation, which has showcased blues, jazz, and gospel artists at the Eastside Kings Festival in Austin each year since 2012.
SUZANNE SWANSON, Surrey, British Columbia, Canada
Suzanne Swanson has been behind the blues camera for almost five decades. Beginning as an accredited staff photographer for MCA Records in Dallas, Suzanne was first assigned to cover the Texas International Pop Festival in 1969, two weeks after Woodstock. There she witnessed the music of Janis Joplin, James Cotton, Canned Heat, Santana, Ten Years After, and many others. Even with a move to Canada in 1975, her love of blues never wavered. Throughout the years Suzanne’s photos and articles have appeared regularly in notable publications such as Blues Matters!, the Washington Blues Society Bluesletter, Elmore Magazine, American Blues Scene, and Blues-E-News. Throughout her career, Suzanne has been much more than just a photographer; she is also a journalist, writer, and historian. Her pictures and interviews of various musicians through the years have led to lifelong friendships. All the compilations she has worked on are part and parcel of her work titled The Blues and Nothing but the Blues ©.
WGLT, Illinois State University, Normal, Illinois
WGLT in Normal, Illinois, a noncommercial NPR affiliate, began playing the blues in 1984. Since 2005, WGLT’s weekend programming has included 32 hours of locally produced blues over the airwaves. Since 2006, GLT Blues Radio at wglt.org has been one of the few 24/7 blues stations in the world, with the listener-inspired tag line “Best Blues Station on Planet Earth.” For 29 years, much of the station’s success can be credited to Frank Black, aka Delta Frank, the Blues Doctor. Frank’s distinctive voice and irrepressible personality attracted a legion of passionate fans to WGLT, and to the central Illinois blues scene in general. Since music director Jon Norton’s arrival in 2003, WGLT has amassed hundreds of interviews with some of the biggest names in the blues, as well as up-and-coming talents and record-label news. He also introduced Mojo Madness, a month-long March Madness-style bracket promotion featuring legendary and rising blues artists in a month-long audience call-in tournament. Another regular feature is New Blues on Monday, in which the station features an hour of recently released blues music at 6 a.m. and 6 p.m.
WOLF RECORDS, Vienna, Austria
Wolf records began its mission in 1974 when 20 Austrian blues fans founded the Vienna Blues Fan Club and began bringing blues artists to tour their country. In 1982 four members transformed the club, renamed for Howlin’ Wolf, into Wolf Records with two purposes: to re-release the original country blues recordings of the 1920s and ’30s and to emphasize the blues styles of Chicago. It was the release of Magic Slim’s 1987 W.C. Handy Award winner that cemented Wolf’s place as a recording company of note. Since then, the label has released 57 recordings in its Chicago Blues Session series, including artists like Magic Slim, Willie Kent, Vance Kelly, Eddie Shaw, Carey Bell, Little Mack Simmons, John Primer, Eddie Taylor Sr., Eddie Taylor Jr., L.V. Banks, Vaan Shaw, Alabama Jr. Pettis, Johnny B. Moore, and many more. Wolf’s artists continue to play major festivals, such as the Chicago Blues Festival, and to tour, while its releases and artists continue to be nominated for Blues Music Awards along with an array of other notable honors as it continues to showcase country and Chicago blues.