It was a big night for the blues on Sunday, August 5, 2018. I sat on the panel for the 2018 Road To Memphis Blues Challenge for the Triangle Blues Society. The competition was held at The Blue Note Grill, 709 Washington St., Durham, NC.
The panel of judges included myself and two fun and fierce music makers who kept me entertained with stories in between acts. To my left was guitarist Buddy Black whose career credits are extensive. Last year he released a solo effort, Fine Fine Day which won the 2017 Best Self Produced Album Award from the Triangle Blues Society. To my right was the band leader, vocalist and harmonica player for his own act, Mel Melton and The Wicked Mojo’s, a triangle based blues band. You can check out their disc Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse which offers a blend of traditional southern blues and zydeco swag.
The first act to perform was the only duo on the agenda. Near Blind James (James Shoe) and Harmonica Bob (Robert Waldrop) started things off. They two players have been working together for more than three decades and play a variety of blues styles with some serious focus on Piedmont and Ragtime styles. They offered a variety of originals and a couple of cover songs in their time on stage. To keep up with the blues duo out of Durham, check out their band page on ReverbNation:
The first solo act to entertain us was Smart Alec Blues who originally hails from New England and has settled in Raleigh. He is a consultant for NASA part-time and enjoys spending his free time writing and playing the blues. To check out more from this artist visit him on YouTube by following this link:
Mojo Collins is a blues and folk legend in this state and it was a great honor to hear him offer a fun-filled set of fingerpicking styles and folks structured songs. Collins is a 4th generation singer-songwriter and multi-instrumentalist who has been performing around the state and beyond for more than six decades. To check out his music story and to keep up with this artist from the Outer Banks, find him on Facebook:
From old school stylings to newly forming traditions, our next act was the youngest slinger in the solo/duo category who resinated music traditions that were set well before his time on any stage. Jon Shain offered a great set of more traditional blues sounds.
He has been making music in the Durham region since arriving in 1986. Back then he was a young gun establishing himself on the folk and blues scenes. Since 1996 the singer-songwriter has been releasing albums and touring under his own name. In 2008 Shain won the TBS Blues Challenge and went on to become a finalist in the 2009 competition in Memphis.
To keep up with this skilled talent, visit him on Facebook at
The final act in the solo/duo category was Sherman Lee Dillon who offered a fun set of Juke joint stylings and some Piedmont traditions thrown in the mix. His guitar was a beauty and his tones were simple and pure. This singer-songwriter hails from Mississippi and has been calling Carolina home since 2012.
You can read more about Dillon by visiting his website
This was the first band of the night and they set the bar high with their high energy act featuring amazing vocal harmonies and killer solos, they offered a full show in their 20 minutes on stage. Chicken Shack had a fat sounding, West Coast feel. Though most of the players are based here in NC, they do have bandmates from other states, lending to their influence. The biography introduced them as an eclectic group of church musicians who were brought together for their love of playing the blues. This love poured from the stage.
The second act to come calling was Lockdown. They are a high energy blues band based in the Raleigh-Durham area. They have been entertaining crowds for more than a decade and offered a full set of cover tunes. That was the one thing that was a bit disappointing. The music was on point and the vocals strong, but not offering original sounds left me lost. To check out the band in a club near you check them out on Facebook by following:
The third act was a fun trio that is newly making the scene. Hawkins King features the guitar works of Daniel Anderson, the bass phrasings of Dillon Partin and the backbeats of Scott Jones on drums. Their music is a good blend of delta blues meeting with contemporary arrangements. They were much different from the other acts, and perhaps the most original of the competition. To learn more about the band, follow them on facebook by clicking this link:
I found the final act of the night to be the most traditional blues act of the entire event. The Big Jim Kohler Band offered a fiery set of blues featuring several original compositions and a couple of covers which featured vocalist Kathleen Kohler who crushed her parts behind the microphone. The five-piece blues band has players from the Triangle region to the Crystal Coast.
With a long history in the blues, Big Jim spent many years on stage with blues greats Byther Smith and Son Seals. Since leaving his home n Long Island, NY Kohler has done great work in helping to revive the music scene in the town he now calls home. Before he arrived, in 2011, there were not much blues being offered around New Bern, and now this many years later we talk often about starting a new Blues Society based here in New Bern. For those looking to keep up with Big Jim find the band on Facebook at:
Jon Shain won the solo /duo category making this the singer-songwriter’s second trip to Memphis. We all join hands in wishing the talented blues many lots of luck next year in Memphis.
When I said they set the bar high, I wasn’t lying. Chicken Shack won the band competition and will be going to Memphis next year to represent the Triangle at The International Blues Competition. Once again, we all join hands in wishing them well on the road ahead. Since winning the competition, they are hard at work making social media pages for the band and sharing their news. As we grow closer to the time I will share more on this band.
Following the announcement of the winners, the two acts gathered on stage for one final photo opportunity. It was a wonderful night that was full of blues, originality, and great music grooves. I was honored to sit on the panel and take part in this annual event. The Triangle Blues Society does great work in keeping the blues alive. Please consider joining them in that mission by becoming a member. You can also help out by participating in the many fundraisers they host to help the winners make their way to Memphis. To keep up with the good work they are doing visit their website at
It was an exciting Monday night as I picked up copies of the latest Newport Voice and headed out to Nick’s Blacksheep Tavern to deliver it to a couple of the featured players in this month’s offering.
To read the feature story on either Adam Hill or Tiffany Elaine, please check out my monthly installment in the Newport Voice
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Checking things out around the rest of the region, I ask my Facebook followers each week where we can go to hear them play. This is what they said this week
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