By Sue Weaver
Have you ever been to Memphis? If you have, then chances are good you’ve made your
way along Beale Street, taking in the scene, marveling at the number of clubs and venues dedicated to the blues, perhaps stopping into the Rum Boogie Cafe or the Tin Roof to get some of that fine sound up-close and personal. Remember how great that was? Nothing like it, right? Imagine, then, that same scene this last January, hundreds of musicians and blues fans from all over the world filling the streets and spilling out of the clubs, every kind of live performance from the rawest delta-dark country lament to sizzling, shouting, electric excitement, all of it the blues, all of it about the blues, all blues all the time, for the five days of the 32nd Annual International Blues Challenge. That’s what Kev Nichols calls “the biggest and greatest blues party in the world”, and he should know, because he and his band Blue Tuesday were there last January to represent the Kalamazoo Valley Blues Association on the competition stages in the Band category.
For Kev and the band, the fun began, as it must, with a road trip. “After a cool, caravan-
style, 12-hour drive from Jackson to Memphis, we settled into our hotel rooms the night before the competition knowing full well that the next 72 hours or so would be an amazingly exciting musical whirlwind”, says Kevin. “Our venue draw for the 1st two nights of quarterfinal competition was The Tin Roof (which up until recently was the Hard Rock Cafe). We hit the stage hard both nights and gave performances of both sets that we felt would make our friends at the KVBA more than proud. We had great judge and crowd response through both performances and were were rewarded with the opportunity to advance to the semi-finals on Friday night (successfully making the cut from 120 bands from around the world down to 48).”
What Kev’s not saying is that he, along with Eddie “Blue” Lester and Alex Mays of the duo Amays & Blue, the KVBA ’s entrants in the Solo-Duo category, BOTH advanced to the semi-finals this year, a first for the KVBA. Kev and his band are old hands at this event, having competed (and made it to the semis) at several previous IBC’s, while Eddie, too, has appeared on those stages on several previous occasions, as a member of Crossroads Resurrection. Alex was making his first trip, however, and Amays & Blue hit the jackpot on its inaugural venture to the competition.
“We were there to do our show,” says Alex. “It’s a long trip to Memphis, and we ended up at a Motel 6 at the crossroads of Burger King and Shell Gas, kind of a blues-appropriate location. The energy was great, we met some wonderful folks, and we felt good going into the events. We didn’t think of it so much as a competition, just us doing what we do, the way we do it, at our best.”
“A duo’s a different experience than a band—more personal,” notes Eddie, whose musical relationship with Alex goes back many years and includes a tour of Europe with his former group Eddie Blue and the Ravens. “Turns out we were what the judges were looking for.” And so they were, becoming one of the KVBA’s first two IBC contestants to make the cut to the semi-finals.
Kev Nichols goes on to say, “We gave what I felt was our best and strongest performance of our 3 days of competition in the semi-finals but, alas, we didn’t make the final cut for Saturday. Since the finals only featured 8 bands, I like to think that we came in tied for 9th when it was all said and done :).” Kev and Blue Tuesday have a right to be proud, as do Alex and Eddie. It’s a lot of work and a long hard road to get to Memphis and the IBC, and they not only represented themselves and the KVBA in the finest blues tradition, they had a great time doing it. “The IBC adventure was rewarding on an incredible number of levels; we had a fun time sharing our music with and meeting and hearing new friends from around the world, we ate incredibly delicious food, and forged memories that will last a lifetime,” says Kev, and Alex and Eddie couldn’t agree more.