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The 2012 Triangle Blues Challenge

By: Sheryl Bryant

The Triangle Blues Challenge

October 13, 2012

Volume 11 Tavern The Triangle Blues Challenge is a professionally judged competition open to North Carolina blues acts. The Challenge is sponsored by the Triangle Blues Society (TBS/Society)and held annually at a Triangle venue. The TBS was founded in 1991 and has been an affiliate of The Blues Foundation since 1996. The TBS is all volunteer and also non-profit. The Society is dedicated to honoring and promoting traditional and contemporary blues in the Triangle area. You may visit the Triangle Blues Society’s website at www.triangleblues.com/ for additional information on both the Society and the Challenge.

This year’s event showcased blues artists with a wide range of blues styles. Performers with New Orleans, R&B, hard rocking, gospel, as well as traditional influences all entertained an enthusiastic crowd.

Kudos to TBS President Jimmy Haggard for organizing the event. Triangle music lovers and musicians alike should be thankful to the Society and to Mr. Haggard for his dedication to preserving and promoting the blues in the Triangle area. Appreciation also goes out to Terri Robbins who assisted in orchestrating the event. Terri helped set up the venue for the acts and was official timekeeper. She also cooked a very tasty hot meal for all of the night’s participants including musicians, volunteers and press! Thanks to Jimmy and Terrie for a job well done! Thanks also to Sweetwater Farms for funding the feast that Terrie prepared.

This year the Triangle Blues Challenge (Challenge) was held at Volume 11 Tavern at 658 Maywood Avenue in Raleigh, NC. A warm thank you goes out to owner Keith Fairweather for bringing the competition to his venue.

MC and host for the 2012 Challenge was Squier Red. Squier is a blues musician and blues afficionado from the Durham, NC area. Esteemed judges for the 2012 Triangle Blues Challenge were Gigi Thigpen, owner of Jazz Entertainment (a booking agency in Raleigh, NC)and James Lugo,a recording engineer and vocal coach who relocated to the Triangle from Los Angeles; and Bill Clay, formerly a guitarist with the Lil'Dave Blues Band.

Competitors in this year’s Challenge in the solo/duo division were Dustin Tise, Lightnin' James and Sherman Lee Dillon.

Dustin Tise is a singer/songwriter and blues guitarist who was born in Winston-Salem, NC but now calls Raleigh home. You can hear Dustin at www.myspace.com/dustinvomit and www.reverbnation.com/dustintise. Dustin was first up in the solo division and played slide on his Republic steel body tricone. Dustin played two originals and two covers. His delivery was distinct and quite unusual for a blues singer but I think the crowd liked his original twist. In his voice I heard a strong folk influence and shades of Woody Guthrie. His own “I’ve Got a Girl” and and his cover of “You are My Sunshine” were very good. Dustin’s command of his instrument displayed some strong raw talent with the slide and blues guitar.

Lightnin’ James is a singer/songwriter and blues guitarist from Raleigh,NC. Check his work out at www.reverbnation.com/lightninjames and also at www.facebook.com/pages/Lightnin-James. James was born in Tampa, Florida and spent some years in Louisiana before locating to the Triangle. Playing a 2001 National blues guitar, Lightnin' performed all original songs. He cited influences from the twenties and thirties era of Sleepy John Estes and Robert Johnson. This guy was pure Blues and very impressive to myself and fans sitting close to me. “ If Worries Was Money” and “Rosedale, Mississippi” were crowd favorites of James' performance. Those in attendance and I personally thought Lightnin’s set was smoking hot.

Sherman Lee Dillon is a multi-instrumental blues performer originally from Mississippi who now lives in Cary, NC . Look him up on his website at www.shermanleedillon.com and find out more about him at www.shermanleedillon.com/bio.htm. Dillon played harmonica and steel guitar and opened with B.B. King’s “Rock Me Baby”. Mr. Dillon said that he was truly inspired by the Mississipi Shieks, a 1920’s blues band that had a major impact on Muddy Waters as well. Sam Chapman was the Shieks’frontman and Mr. Dillon performed Chapman’s saucy “Ashtray Taxi” for the audience. The song was quintessential blues and really a grand choice. Dillon also played an original tune entitled “Luberta” which was quite comical and by the end of his set had apparently won over the judges and the crowd with his skills and humor as Sherman Lee Dillon was crowned the winner of the solo competition! Congratulations to Mr. Dillon who is highly skillful with harmonica and guitar. Mr. Dillon also possesses a "feel like family" way of singing the blues and storytelling.

There were four bands competing in the band division.

The Mudbone Blues Review (MBR)was the first band up in this division. Mudbone Blues Review is a five piece ensemble from Durham, NC. Find out more about the band at www.reverbnation.com/mudbonesbluesreview and at www.facebook.com/MudbonesBlues. Mudbone threw down some hard charging blues with all original tunes.Songs like “Back Up Plan” and later "Honey Bee” and “Blues are Back” with Mark Taylor on lead vocals on the latter two got the venue cranked up and out on the dance floor. With “Rollercoaster Mama” Butch “Mudbones” Haas was crucial on mouth harp and vocals and stirred this crowd to a blues frenzy. With Warren Johnson on guitar, Eric Meyer on bass and Dan Quimet on drums, this blues outfit succeeded in getting the people out on the floor and grooving. The MBR did an excellent job in the competition. It was clear early on that this band was in it to win it.

The Groovynators are a three piece group from Durham, NC. Learn more about the band through www.reverbnation.com/thegroovynators and www.facebook.com/TheGroovynators. This excellent band originally got its feet wet as a gospel trio. I loved Dennis Beckman’s spiritual and soulful bluesy voice and thought it would possibly seal the deal. With Denny Mangum on drums and John Deer on bass, The Groovynators definitely took the audience to Church big time with Tom Waits’ “Way Down in the Hole” a song about putting the Devil in the ground where he belongs! Also sensational was their cover of the B.B. King masterpiece “The Thrill is Gone”. This band was very creative with their bluesy version of a nineteenth century old English folk song called “Wayfaring Stranger”. I felt humbled almost as if I was sitting in the pew with my Methodist hymnal in hand with this band’s stellar bluesy take on the glorious hymn “Precious Lord”. A feeling definitely washed over me that this competition was going to be close after feeling these guys music to my bones.

The Fat Bastard Blues Band is a five piece band that hails from Mebane, NC. To check out their music, go to the following sites: www.facebook.com/pages/Fat-Bastard-Blues-Band and www.myspace.com/fatbastardbluesband and www.reverbnation.com/fatbastardbluesband. Absolutely rocking the blues this fine night was the Fat Bastard Blues Band. Beginning with an exceptionally great original entitled “ So Hard to be True”, I personally thought this band’s set was incredible,and fans assembled up front and near me agreed. This group played some heavy rocking blues that had the essence for me of a mixture of Johnny Winter and Alvin Lee with Stevie Ray Vaughan and Creedence stamped all over them. This was clearly an echo of some of my favorite blues music. “Water My Whiskey” was a super tune and Carl Wetter’s vocals on each of these songs was painfully powerful. The blues are so alive and vibrant in Wetter’s insides that he literally shakes while he is pouring out his soul in his lyrics. With David Terrenoire brilliant on mouth harp and vox and Kevin Payne, Tim Collins and Jason Simons all equally passionate and talented on their instruments, it’s no wonder this band won the 2009 Triangle Blues Challenge. It was quite clear that this band was clearly going to be a contender once again.

The Rhonda Robichaux Band is a four piece band based in Chapel Hill, NC. To hear and see what the band is all about, go to www.facebook.com/rhondarobichaux and www.reverbnation.com/rhondarobichaux.

Robichaux cited Etta James as a major influence on her music and quoted Janis Joplin in her first few remarks. This opened eyes and gathered attention throughout the venue. Robichaux’s voice is in your face emotional and her range and control are certainly part of her major strengths, strengths which are numerous. Considered a pioneer woman in the war to break into the Blues, Rhonda has obviously won big battles! The band is bold and brazenly rhythm and blues and soul and the combination fits like a glove. The band delivered an eerily mystical New Orleans based blues sound and at times I had visions of Dr. John and Elvin Bishop sitting in with Etta James and Marie Knight. The original song “Better” and another original called “ The Blues Ain’t Nothin” (But A Good Woman Feeling Down)” brought down the house and must have won over the judges as the Rhonda Robichaux band took home first prize in the band division. The Rhonda Robichaux band is: Rhonda as songwriter and lead vocalist, Jason Barker on lead guitar, Joel Sugarman on bass and guitar and Kevin Johnson on drums.

Congratulations to Sherman Lee Dillon and the Rhonda Robichaux Band as well as to all of the night’s competitors who each represented the blues in an admirable fashion. MC Squier Red was a great host and shared that Judges Thigpen, Lugo and Clay stressed that their task of selecting the winners was difficult in both the solo and band divisions. Jimmy Haggard was once again instrumental in pulling off a great Triangle Blues Challenge.

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