MEMPHIS – The International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee this year attracted 250 competitors from 39 US states, the District of Columbia and 19 other countries, including Canada. Of the 250 competitors, the Haudenosaunee were well represented by both the Joel Johnson Band from Six Nations, and the Big N Tasty Blues band from Oneida/Green Bay, Wisconsin.
The Joel Johnson Band, who had competed for and won the opportunity to represent the Grand River Blues Society at the IBC, wowed the audience at the Hard Rock Café on Memphis’s famous Beale Street during their participation in the two day quarter finals of the competition series. They played no covers, instead choosing to impress with all their own originals, including lead singer Joel Johnson’s “Out of My Mind,” “I’ll Be Just Fine” and “Rhumba Song”; as well as an original written by Dwayne Laforme, “Weaky Knees and Shaky Legs.”
In addition to Six Nations’ own Joel Johnson and Dwayne Laforme on guitar and vocals, the band consists of Chris Nemeth on drums, Micki D on bass, Troy Dowding on trumpet and Sal Rosselli on Saxophone.
Johnson said, “The experience is incredible. To be amongst all these superb and talented musicians is a thrill. It’s like a huge musical family. All the bands are there to show their talent and skills to the hardcore blues fans that travel just as far as we do to enjoy this yearly event. Everyone is there to help out and encourage each other and talk blues. Huge networking. That’s what it’s about. It’s not about the competition; it’s about meeting new friends and catching up with old friends.”
The Big N Tasty Band, representing the Grafton Blues Society in southeast Wisconsin, had originally entered their local competition believing that it would be an excellent marketing opportunity, hoping to be noticed by blues fans a little closer to Chicago. When they blew the roof off at the qualifying competition in Wisconsin, they immediately set out to make a grand entry into the Memphis blues scene.
Their seven person band, consisting of Keith Cottrell, Brad Skenandore, Keith Beechtree, Larry Phillips, Caryn Schroeder, Paul Exworthy and John Barnard are mostly self-taught musicians, most of whom are Oneidas from Oneida/Green Bay, Wisconsin. Lead singer Caryn Shroeder has not only that beautifully raw singing voice that is common in female blues singers, but she was also able to capture the audience’s attention with her animated stage presence. The band made it to the next stage of the competition, performing on the third night in the Orpheum Theatre. Their confidence and skill level seemed to increase with each performance.
Although neither band brought home the grand prize from the IBC, their outstanding performances in Memphis were noticed by the huge audience of blues fans from around the world.
These bands are worth listening to. The Joel Johnson Band has received increased attention from mainstream radio stations and has received numerous awards and nominations. The Big N Tasty Band is experiencing an explosion in their popularity across Turtle Island.
Although they competed against each other in Memphis, TN in the International Blues Challenge, the Joel Johnson Band from Six Nations and the Big N Tasty Blues band from Oneida, Wisconsin stood together as Haudenosaunee brothers, celebrating their success and enjoying the camaraderie developed throughout the event. PHOTO BY: Warren L. Reiter.