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Big City Rhythm & Blues Showcase
Ground Zero Blues Club
February 7, 2009
Story and photos by Eric Steiner
This year’s International Blues Challenge weekend finished with an all-star national jam hosted by Big City Rhythm and Blues magazine and the South Florida Blues Society, last year’s recipient of the Keeping the Blues Alive Award in the blues organization category.
Memphis club Ground Zero was standing room only most of the night. I caught a glimpse of Morgan Freeman in the club, which is his latest blues venture. Morgan and his business partner Bill Luckett launched the first Ground Zero club in Clarksdale, MS. I’ve been to the Ground Zero club in Clarksdale, and the Memphis club has that same down-in-the-Delta vibe.
I was completely blown away by the caliber of blues talent that Big City’s Robert Jr. and Sugar Mae recruited for this show. A trio of former Chicagoans kicked things off as guitarist/singer Chris James and bassist Patrick Rynn tore it up with harp blower Bob Corritore (KBA class of 2008 in the DJ category). Each set change provided new combinations of musicians that played blues standards as well as original tunes. Sugar Mae and Scrapiron served as emcees.
This year’s KBA in the blues club category went to Chicago’s B.L.U.E.S on Halsted Street. Chicagoland was well-represented at Ground Zero by guitarist Toronzo Cannon and blues harpist Russell Green, who turned in a thrilling set. Like Toronzo, Russ is an exceptional young Chicago bluesman. I still get chills when I think about how Russ and the rest of the Chicago Blues Harmonica Project played the Chicago Blues Festival several years ago. I also heard that Illinois’ Deak Harp turned in an impressive performance, but I left shortly before midnight. The party lasted another three full hours!
One of the night’s many highlights featured Shemekia Copeland, also a Chicago resident. She joined Chris James, Toronzo Cannon and Russ Green and together, they were worth the price of admission! (Shemekia’s manager, John Hahn, received the KBA in the manager category this year). The powerful vocalist performed songs from her new Telarc debut, Never Going Back.
L to R: Chris James, Russell Green, Shemekia Copeland
Detroit’s Luther “Badman” Keith turned in an impressive set, as did Memphis’ own Preston Shannon and IBC winner Joey Gilmore. With artists ranging from Iowa, Illinois, New York, Florida, and Mississippi – not to mention Chicago – this event truly is a national blues showcase. New York City bluesman Dave Fields also led the Big City Rhythm and Blues Orchestra, and I can’t think of any other venue – other than perhaps a blues cruise – that featured as diverse blues talent as the showcase at Ground Zero that night.
There were so many great blues artists performing that night, it was impossible to catch them all. I missed the Washington Blues Society’s 2009 IBC act, the Red Hot Blues Sisters, but next year, I’ll rest up should Big City Rhythm and Blues host another all-star jam.
Mark your calendars, save the date. When the Blues Foundation announces the 2010 International Blues Challenge, make plans to attend the world’s largest gathering of blues bands. And, don’t forget to check out the exceptional jam sessions that will break out all over Memphis.