Randy McQuay Wins Solo/Duo Category, Lawyers Guns & Money Take Band Competition
I was fortunate enough to be one of the judges for the Cape Fear Blues Challenge this year. It was a lot of fun and I got to hear some great music. If you ever get a chance to attend or be a part of one of these, jump at the chance. This particular event (and there were hundreds going on all over the country) was held on Saturday, Nov. 5 at one of my favorite little blues joints, the Rusty Nail in Wilmington, N.C.
We judged two categories: solo artist or duo act and band (three or more players). Each act played a 20-minute set.
There were several different judging criteria. First, and most heavily weighted was blues content, which I found strange because it’s so subjective. Everyone has his or her own interpretation of what is and isn’t blues ( never mind what is and isn’t good), so this can really vary. Vocals were the next criteria. How did the act’s vocals tell the story; did they evoke emotion? And did the background vocals reinforce the message?
Third criteria was talent. In the case of a group or duo, did the instrumental skills of each musician combine well and contribute to the act’s “sound”? Was the band tight? Was the tempo steady. Did the instruments complement the vocals or drown them out? It’s not enough to lay down searing riffs during your solo.
Also important for the competition was originality. Although the Cape Fear Blues Society allows cover tunes in the contest, players are not rewarded for exact renditions. Instead we looked for the act that could take a well-known blues tune and make it their own. To give you an example, during the course of the evening, three of the nine acts we were judging performed Robert Johnson’s “Crossroads Blues,” so you can understand the significance of originality as it extends beyond songwriting to arrangement and performance, as well.
The fifth and final criteria was stage presence. Did the performers connect with the audience? Were they playing music or putting on a show? Musicianship has to come first, but musicians can’t perform in a vacuum. They have to sell themselves – and their music – to the audience.
Six acts competed in the solo/duo category and three sought the title in the full band category, which was defined as having three or more players. Solo acts were Jim Ashley, Lakota John, Jim Nelson, Reverend Sam, Spider Mike Bochey and Randy McQuay. The competing bands were The Treblemakers, Lawyers Guns & Money and Chicken Head Blues Band.
Randy McQuay and Lawyers Guns & Money took the wins so they’re headed to Memphis for the 2012 IBC. Yeah!
Born and raised in Charlotte, N.C., Randy McQuay told me he started playing drums in middle school. He joined the school jazz band and later the marching band. He has been a full time musician since the age of 17. After attending UNCW and studying drums and percussion, he now plays keyboard, guitar, harmonica and handles vocals, too. “I paid my way through college singing, so that’s what I’ve done,” he told me in a telephone interview this week.
McQuay is the talented front man for the Wilmington, N.C. group, RootSoul Project. He’s working on his sixth album now, and has recorded in Nashville, Tenn. as well as locally at Audio Genesis in Wilmington.
His group has a standing gig at the Duck & Dive in downtown Wilmington every Tuesday night and then travels around the region Thursday through Sunday. They’ve been building quite a fan base in Myrtle Beach and Murrells Inlet.
At the Blues Challenge, Randy was hugely engaging on harp and acoustic guitar. Until he played, it seemed the young Lakota John might score the most with his electric guitar, but in the end, he came in second.
Winning the band category, Lawyers Guns & Money is a Greensboro-based four-piece band with Terry VunCannon on guitar and lap steel, Stan Atwell on bass and vocals, Mike Thomas on drums and vocals and Rob Slater on guitar. The band was founded by VunCannon about three years ago. As for the band name, yes they’re fans of Warren Zevon, but there’s more.
“Stan the bass player is a lawyer, I have the guns, and Mike is an engingeer, so he’s the money,” laughs VunCannon
“These are guys I’d played with in pickup bands around Greensboro. We worked up a cover show first,” Terry tells me a few days after the Blues Challenge.
The band likes playing blues, but also performs R&B, classic rock and some Motown tunes. They have a new CD titled Make Up Another Lie (Sept. 2011) and a single, “Hook Line & Sinker” on the Cashbox Roadhouse Blues Top 40 chart. The CD includes a bonus track with blues legend Bob Margolin.
Terry says, “Bob Margolin has been so good to us; we do a cover of his “She and the Devil” on the CD. We switched it up, did it fast … different tempo. Bob says he’d rather see a band do an original version and not just a cover.
“On the CD cut, I played acoustic dobro and Bob played acoustic guitar and sang. It meant a lot to me and the band.”
Lawyers Guns & Money has opened or shared the stage with Margolin three times. They’ve also opened for Candye Kane.
“I had a chance to sit down with Candye’s amazing guitarist Laura Chavez,” Terry tells me. “Our road guitars, Strats, are the same year, and we both use the Fender Tex Mex pickups.”
I can hear him grinning. This is a guy who definitely likes what he does.
Vuncannon pens the band’s original tunes, often with girlfriend Janice Gatton Hamby. He’s been writing songs and doing session work since about 1980.
Lawyers Guns & Money is a big hit with dance crowds, playing venues like Sixth & Vine in Winston-Salem, Churchills in Greensboro, Papa Mojo’s Roadhouse in Durham and the Zion Caribbean Bar & Grille in Greensboro and the Opra House Saloon in Asheboro. Thursday nights, Terry tells me, they run the open blues jam at Zion.
From the first moment this band started performing “Make Up Another Lie,” they captured my undivided attention. Vocals by bassist Stan Atwell are anything but off-the-shelf, and throughout the set, the band was tight and polished.
I have to say, all three of the bands delivered topnotch performances. The Treblemakers put on a super rockin’ blues show, and Rick Tobey’s Chickenhead Blues Band brings puts out a great vibe.
Nathan Stallings, owner of Bono Productions, has announced the new firm will hold its first music showcase on Sunday, Nov. 27 at Kono Lounge in Myrtle Beach, S.C. Doors will open at 5 p.m. Music is set to begin at 6 p.m. and a complimentary filet hibachi will be served from 6 to 8 p.m.
In a telephone interview last week, Stallings said, “My main goal is to give musicians an opportunity to put their stuff out there. This Thanksgiving weekend showcase demonstrates the diversity of talent in this area. The opening set will be by Rick Strickland and Lesa Hudson. Both talented songwriters and vocalists, they perform all original music.”
A sessions player for more than 20 years, Strickland has recorded with and opened for some of the country’s top acts, including Carl Perkins, Todd Rundgren and B.B. King. He has also produced over 50 albums in a wide range of musical styles. His work has made it to the silver screen (Modern Love/1990) He has composed two productions for the Columbia City Ballet. He has performed at the Georgia Music Awards, backing Tommy Roe, Joe South and Ray Stevens. He was Billy Joe Royale’s musical director for three national tours. Rick is well-known for his four-octave vocal range as well as his considerable skills on the guitar.
Hudson is a lead vocalist and keyboard player in the Rick Strickland Band. She grew up in Darlington, S.C. as part of a musical family, with church as its centerpiece. She went on to front her own Lesa Hudson Band, a contemporary Christian group. Hudson produces and performs several Christian-based showcases, and has also performed with the classic rock band, 3 Day Funk with Keith Hamrick (formerly with Billy Joe Royal and the Atlanta Rhythm Section)
The second act will be award-winning songwriter and entertainer Jaynie Trudell. Based in Myrtle Beach, this traveling troubadour is a national recording artist and plays multiple instruments, including piano, guitar, harmonica and dulcimer. Known for her original material, she was honored with the 2010 Blues Entertainer of the Year by the Grand Strand Blues Society.
Electrifying guitarist “Kid” Drew Voivedich has the third time slot. If you frequent the Sunday night blues jams at Jay’s in Little River, S.C., you already know how he and Pops tear it up. Kid Drew’s rockin’ blues is edged with funk, country, jazz, pop and even reggae. Never a dull moment with the Kid.
Closing act will be Pops, himself, possibly the most respected blues guitarist on the Grand Strand – not to mention jazz, pop, R&B and then some.
He’s played with the Clovers, Percy Sledge, B.J. Thomas and many more. If you’re a local, you may have seen him with singer Kerry Michaels.
Playing guitar is practically in his blood. Michael Stallings got his first guitar at eight years old and his first electric guitar at ten. “I remember my mom playing ‘Ballad of Jesse James’ with a butter knife. She never did like the slide,” he laughs.
Nathan Stallings is Michael’s son, and proud papa can’t wait for the event at Kono. “We’re going to put on a great show,” says Michael. “I hope everyone stays around to jam with me.
On Facebook, look for Kono Lounge (Myrtle Beach) or Michael Stallings (Little River)
General admission tickets cost $15 each, and include the free food. VIP tickets, at $20 each, also include a free drink and access to the club’s upstairs VIP section, which features special seating and a private bar.
Kono Lounge is located at 1901 N. Kings Hwy. in Myrtle Beach, S.C. For more information, contact Nathan Stallings at 843-224-7748 or via email at BonoProductions@yahoo.com.
Sweet Goodbyes to Molly & a Warm Welcome for Allie
Until Oct. 27, Allie Privette was a dental assistant in Raleigh, N.C. Now she’s the girl in the band.
Twenty-seven-year-old Allie has the challenging job of filling the shoes and monumental vocal vacancy left when singer and
five-time CBMA Female Vocalist of the Year, Molly Askins decided it was time to leave Sea-Cruz, the powerhouse trio known for their impeccable vocals, high energy and musicianship that doesn’t quit.
Sea-Cruz will be 11 years old in March 2012. Originally a duo (vocalist Molly Askins and Dino Fair on keyboards and vocals), they hit the ground running with “You Bring Out the Boogie In Me,” “Baby I’m Yours/Make Me Your Baby” and “Shake Your Hips” – all in 2002.
Thomas “Butch” Barnes added his saxophone and vocal muscle to the group in April 2005. Together they have stormed the Carolina Beach Music Academy (CBMA) awards, earning in a single year (2007), Instrumentalist of the Year (Dino), Male Vocalist of the Year (Butch) and Female Vocalist of the Year (Molly).
When Molly announced she would leave Sea-Cruz so she and husband Lyle could focus on their family life, there was a collective groan throughout Ocean Drive and beyond as legions of fans were forced to imagine life without Molly.
Enter Allie, stage right.
I had a chance to talk to Allie and the rest of the band after the Endless Summer Festival in North Myrtle Beach on Oct. 29. The show was a great send-off for Molly and also gave the fans a chance to meet Allie.
Dino pretty much summed it up when he said, “We’re all sad Molly is leaving. We’re a family and we’re going to miss her. But this is an opportunity to refresh.”
As a family, Sea-Cruz has had more than their share of storms to weather. In the past 24 months, Molly fractured her foot. Dino
discovered he had diabetes. Butch’s high blood pressure resulted in a torn retina and then he had to undergo a hip replacement.
But, certainly the most devastating event was the unexpected death on Feb. 9 of Jimmy Lathan, the band’s live engineer and best friend a band could have.
“I hate that Allie won’t know Jimmy,” Molly tells me, and it’s a conversation stopper. So, yes, I can appreciate the need to refresh.
“We haven’t had the time to record and freshen our song list,” Dino continued. “And that’s what we’re going to do with Allie.
“We want to keep our working model. We’re a happy, fun-loving, kick-butt little three-piece band.”
Molly jumps in here and interjects, “And Allie has what it takes! You can’t help but love her!”
“Thank God she’s got a work ethic. We’ve only had a day of rehearsal, and she jumped right in … 20 songs at TJ’s Nightlife in Raleigh last night …” Dino adds.
Allie is quick to credit Molly with helping her with lyrics.
Molly comes back with,”Gotta help my sistah! “It really helps that we’re friends.”
Butch agreed, “This is a family situation, and the most important thing is to keep it positive.
“I think it shows how strong Sea-Cruz is,” says Molly, in response to Butch. “And people love Sea-Cruz. They’ve been coming out in droves to see us.”
It’s true. During the Endless Summer show, folks were waiting in line to give Molly a hug and welcome Allie to the group.
On stage, Allie was a dynamo. She lit into Journey’s “Don’t Stop Believing,” leaving no doubt that she’s got the vocal chops to carry on.
In a phone interview last week, she told me knew many of the musicians through her significant other, Stephen Pachuta, trumpet player for the Embers. She’s been singing informally with Band of Oz, Jim Quick & Coastline, the Embers, Craig Woolard Band, Atlantic Groove, Tim Clark Band and the Fantastic Shakers.
Speaking about Allie, Butch said, “There’s an explosion waiting to happen, and some people are going to be amazed!”
According to Dino, and who would know better, the band will be recording Allie as soon as possible. Until then, their most recent CD is Rockin’ the Boat, a dual-disc project featuring 32 tunes (plus two bonus tracks) recorded live during assorted shows and cruises.
You can bet that Allie Privette will be rockin’ the boat – Sea-Cruz style – and I can’t wait to see the splash!
Getting back to Molly, I know I speak for a lot of folks when I say, we’re going to miss your smiling face. Don’t be a stranger. We’ll be looking for you to sit in once in a while.
And what does Molly say?
“I’m sad about leaving, but I’m a lot less sad because of Allie. I’m happy to leave it to a friend. (And yes, I’ll be back for the Sea-Cruz reunion!)
Exit Molly. Stage right.
Read more about Sea-Cruz on their website, which will be undergoing a sea change of its own, as soon as the band can slow down long enough to do it. This is just one of the many behind-the-scenes changes (and challenges) that Sea-Cruz faces as they change out vocalists. My guess is that they will handle it with grace and smiles, and the band will continue to kick butt.
Mama Rue’s Blues Garden, the juke joint/Jamaican restaurant in Pawleys Island, S.C. has announced its November lineup of
entertainment. Anticipating a chilly month, Marrue Bleau – who owns the club along with chef Eric Sutherland – says the acts will be playing their original music indoors on the dining room stage.
On Wednesday, Nov. 2, Jeff Liberty, blues guitarist and vocalist from Columbia, S.C. will take the stage at 7:30 p.m. Liberty’s scorching guitar and vocals have earned him numerous awards and fans from New Orleans to Columbia.
Thursday night, Nov. 3 is open mic blues jam at Mama Rue’s. Singer/songwriter Jennifer Price will be bringing her outlaw blues to town for the event.
Husband and wife duo Pastor Pastor are on the roster for Friday, Nov. 4. They start at 8 p.m. Their religion is the blues.
Popular local guitarist and vocalist George Davis is booked for Wed. Nov. 9. Start time is 7:30 p.m.
On Friday night, Nov. 11 at 8 p.m., it’s piano man Shrimp City Slim. AKA Gary Erwin, he’s known throughout the Carolinas for his lowcountry blues and original tunes. His latest recording (August 2011) is Highway 77: Lowcountry Blues Live (Vol. 2).
Jazz jam band Spontaneous Combustion will be firing up Mama Rue’s on Saturday, Nov. 12. They start at 8 p.m.
Back by popular demand on Wednesday, Nov. 16 will be singer/songwriter Drew Baldwinwith his 100-year-old Larson made Dyer
harp guitar and Juke Joint Johnny on blues harp. They start at 7:30 p.m.
Guitarist Jeff Liberty is set to be back at Mama Rue’s again on Friday, Nov. 18 starting at 8 p.m. If you missed him earlier in the month, you have another chance to hear this Columbia boy.
If rockin’ blues is your thing, mark your calendar for Saturday, Nov. 19 when The Strays hit the stage at 8 p.m.
On Wednesday, Nov. 23, at 7:30 p.m. Jerry “Cool” Edwards is back at Mama Rue’s for a night of sweet and jazzy blues.
For the day after Thanksgiving, on Friday, Nov. 25, entertainment will be provided by Pawleys own My Buddy Todd. Blues, blues and more blues. Start time is 8 p.m.
On Saturday, Nov. 26, Spontaneous Combustion once again lights up the night, starting at 8 p.m. and on Wednesday, Nov. 30, at 7:30 p.m. diners will be treated to the sounds of blues guitarist and vocalist George Davis.
The month of Dec. will bring some new excitement to Pawleys Island with Columbia, S.C.-based J Edwards at Mama Rue’s on Friday, Dec.2, along with Brian “Husky” Burnette on Saturday, Dec.3. Matt Walsh is scheduled for Feb. 17.
Mama Rue’s is open Tuesday through Saturday, from 4 p.m. to 11 p.m. on weekdays, 4 to 12:30 Friday nights, and 4 to midnight on Saturdays. Times are approximate. They serve authentic Jamaican dishes along with a full selection of cocktails. Make sure you try the Howlin’ Wolf! Mama Rue’s Blues Garden is located at 9737 Ocean Hwy. in Pawleys Island. For information, call 843-235-3853. Website: www.mamarues.com. For daily updates, “like” Mama Rue’s on Facebook.