BB King launched himself from Beale Street, as did many other artists, and we got to play there.
The street is much different now than when BB played there, of course, although BB is still a presence since he owns his own club on the street. The entertainment portion of Beale is three blocks long, and is lined with clubs, restaurants and shops like BB King's, Alfred's, Memphis Music, The Daisy Theater, The Rum Boogie Cafe', Blues City Cafe', and--though I could name many more--I'll leave off with the Hard Rock Cafe', which is where we played. These clubs look like storied landmarks which have stood the test of time and perhaps once echoed to the music of Bobby Bland, The Wolf, or Junior Parker--and the buildings, themselves, may have--but the clubs are all of more recent vintage, having been established after the Beale Street revival of the 80's.
Wednesday, we arrived at the Hard Rock Cafe' to play our set. Nine bands would play at the Hard Rock, and we were scheduled to play fourth out of those. Simultaneously, bands were also participating in the Challenge in other clubs up and down Beale Street. The very first band to take the stage at the Hard Rock was the Randy Oxford Band from Seattle-Tacoma and they hit the stage hard. Randy plays trombone, and the singer is a woman who can lay on all the sultry a person could want. Their stage show was immensely entertaining, and the packed house went wild. The Jukes were looking amongst ourselves and thinking, "Wow, are all the bands going to be this good?" The answer would turn out to be no, they aren't all that good. Randy Oxford would end up as a top eight finalist; he just happened to be the first band we saw.
Right after the Randy Oxford Band finished, the crowd noticeably thinned, and we learned for the first time that many of these bands have been to IBC more than once, and they have established themselves as must-see acts. The crowds follow them. The rest of the bands at the Hard Rock, including us, would play to a respectable but not packed house. It was Wednesday night after all, and the real crowds wouldn't arrive until Friday and Saturday.
We played our set and it was not as good as we would have liked, but it was decent. We were a little too keyed up that first night, and we were not on our A-game. In addition, as is the norm on Beale Street, the music is crushingly loud. It was nothing but a roar to us on stage, but I saw video of our performance and we hadn't embarrassed ourselves. The front of house sound was good, even though it didn't sound that way to us on stage. I felt pretty good about our chances going into the second night.
The second night, Thursday, we played last at the Hard Rock, so we watched all the other bands play before us. Many who had been shaky or even poor were noticeably better on the second night. We, ourselves, played a killer set on the second night. We had shaken off our jitters and made adjustments to keep the stage volume manageable. I came off of the stage confident that we would be back to play on Friday night, but, sadly, the judges saw it otherwise.
There is a whole lot of subjectivity to the whole process, of course, and I felt quite honestly that we were better than a lot of bands that played on Friday, and I also would subsequently feel that many of the best bands I saw in the clubs on Friday were beaten by weaker bands, but it would be hard to argue with the end result. The band that took first place deserved to do so.
We came away feeling ten feet tall and bulletproof. We've now been to Memphis and competed against some of the best unsigned blues bands in the world, and we know we are worthy. And we know that next year those other bands better look our for us. We're going to learn from this experience, and we'll be back to win it all.
In mid-December I received a phone call from Margaret Daykin, a producer of the Fox Morning Show. TV producers do not often call this humble Juke Hound, so she immediately had my attention, and the Jukes agreed very quickly to be on the show. We were scheduled to play five one minute slots on January 14th, and that's just what we did. So yesterday at 6 am or thereabouts, your Juke Hounds arrived at the Fox studio on South Marginal Road, and began setting up our equipment. This was our glimpse of how a TV studio works, and I want to share, because you might find it interesting. If you've seen the show before, you know that there are several sets, one where the anchors sit behind a desk with a shot of the Cleveland skyline behind them, another with a couch in a sort of faux living room setting, another place where the weatherman gives the weather, and a fourth where the musical guests like your Juke Hounds perform. All of these sets are located in the same big room, with no partition. We had to set up our gear quietly because thirty feet away a live TV broadcast was in progress. On the floor in front of these various sets are three remote controlled TV cameras-- about the size of a junior high football team's linebacker-- that roll around taking pictures from different angles. Built into these cameras is a small monitor that shows what picture the audience is seeing at any given moment. We got to observe Wayne Dawson, Tracy McCool, Stefani Shaefer, and later Todd Meany as they delivered the broadcast, and I was impressed with how they snapped into their on-air personas when the show was live, and how they could relax when it wasn't. We had only a little interaction with them, a very little small talk--and they were kind enough to applaud after our songs-but they were doing their jobs, and we were doing ours, and there wasn't opportunity to get any sense of them as people, other than that everyone there, without exception, treated us with kindness. A nice man named Steve is the sound man, or, at any rate, he was *our* sound man, and he sound checked us during the shows commercial breaks. The lady who controlled the cameras, and whose name I am ashamed to admit I never learned, counted us into our segments. "You're on in 10 seconds...5...3...go" and we'd play until she signalled for us to cut. I never could figure out which camera was the one being used at any given moment. I'm sure there is a way to do so, but every time I looked at one, the monitor would show some other angle. Our performances felt stiff to me. There is no audience, and it's hard to simply pretend there is one. I DVR'd the show, of course, and we don't look as bad as I feared, but we don't look natural either. This was all done live, so there were no second chances or do-overs. The Juke Hounds spend a lot of time on stage, so I don't really experience stage fright, but what I did experience with the TV appearance was a sense of being out of my element, a disorientation. And I undeniably felt a bit more keyed up than usual, but no worse than walking out onto the Lock 3 stage in front of a couple thousand people. It was a wonderful experience, however, and one that I would gladly do again. I'm sure my bandmates feel the same way.
This past Sunday the Juke Hounds won the band competition at the Cleveland Blues Society's Blues Challenge. This means we will go to Memphis to represent the CBS in the 2011 International Blues Challenge.
I could pile on superlatives to try to express how excited we are by this opportunity, but it would not convey even a thimbleful of what we feel. The best way I can explain it is to describe the events that led to it.
In February 2007, we played a Blues Challenge in Marietta, Ohio, where we placed 6th out of 18 acts. It was our very first gig. We were reasonably pleased, given that it was our first gig ever, to place 6th, but we could see how big a gulf there was between our show and that of the winner, the Jimi Vincent Band.
So we got to work, and we went to Charleston, WV in 2008, and again finished 6th.
More work, incremental improvements, learning to entertain, trying to close that gap between us and the winners.
We played well over a 100 shows on stages big and small between February of '07 and last weekend. We were constantly learning and improving.
Finally, the hard work paid off when the Cleveland Blues Society announced us as the winner. That moment was the realization of a goal that took nearly four years to achieve. A bachelor's degree at a university usually takes four years to complete, and I like to think that what we did was similar. I flatter myself that the Juke Hounds have earned a bachelor's degree in the blues.
With our calendar now sporting dates in Memphis, Tennessee, we know that now we begin work on our masters degree.
One of the difficulties the Jukes have encountered over the course of the band's existence has been in creating a CD. There have been two distinct attempts, and both were aborted, though for different reasons. Recently we spent a weekend with engingeer Mike McDonald (no, not that Mike McDonald) in the Backstage room at the Lounge in downtown Akron. The Backstage is a huge room with a nice stage, and Gerard was able to make arrangements so we could record there. We were able to set up and play our tunes just like we would at a gig, and Mike was there to record what we played. There are still several steps between those recording and a finished CD, but we'll probably post some of the rough mixes on ReverbNation and thejukehounds.com as soon as we have them which will probably be early next week.
As I write this, Labor Day 2010 is drawing to a close, and summer ends with it--at least emotionally. I remember well, however, how the summer began. I don't mean calendar summer, mind you, this summer began as it ended, on a day that was significant emotionally, not because of some arbitrary date maked in red by calendar makers. On July 2nd, the "new" Juke Hounds played their first gig at The Water Street Tavern. That night, Mark Smallwood returned where he belongs, to the drum throne of the Juke Hounds, as Gerard Dominick brought new energy and a new approach to the bass, and Mary Rose brought her tasteful blues licks to the band. That night we made up for with energy what we lacked in polish. This past Friday, September 3, we played Lock 3 to a huge crowd. The "new" Jukes now rival the old ones in terms of tightness, having spent a busy summer playing and rehearsing together. At Lock 3, the band rose to the occasion of the enthusiastic crowd, the big stage and the perfect weather to deliver what was probably the best show in the band's history. I will remember the summer of 2010 by way of those two bookends: the rough and raggedy show on July 2nd at one end and the polished one on September 3rd at the other. We'll move into the fall knowing that we won't be seeing until next year any more of those great outdoor stages that make summer so much fun. But we won't have time or inclination to sit around and get bummed out. In October, we are going to start a recording project that will result, finally, in a Juke Hounds CD. We have great shows booked at the Northside, Mugs, Domenic's, and on December 31st, First Night. I'm sure we'll add more. To those of you who came out and supported us this summer, thank you so very,very much.
Those folks who have seen the Juke Hounds in the past will notice some changes to the band. Gerard Dominick and Mark Smallwood have joined--or rejoined in Mark's case. We wish Tom Harvey and Chris Rossvanes, who have left the band, all the best in their new endeavors, while we look forward to grooving into the future with Gerard and Mark. We've also added a second guitar to the band, something we've never had before. Mary Rose Durdak plays something that sounds an awful lot to me like a real, traditional, post war Chicago style of guitar. That approach to guitar blurs the distinction between lead and rhythm playing, with an almost piano-esque approach to accompaniment. It sounds real good to my ears, and i bet it will to yours, too.