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.
Woo woo! It’s about time this Nashville boy got his butt back to the beach. Rickey Godfrey’s tearing into town for three short days before he grabs a bus back to Music City so he can finish his CD on schedule.
On Thursday, Sept. 2, he’ll play Key West Crazy on the waterfront in Little River, S.C. Show time is 7 – 10 p.m. This is a great little spot, with a full-on restaurant to go along with its full-on bar. I’ll be there, so I hope the margaritas are still $2.50, and I can’t wait to get me some fried green beans!
The next night, Friday, Sept. 3 Rickey’s heading to the ILM to play the Rusty Nail. This is one of my favorite dives in Wilmington (N.C.). It’s your basic smoke-filled room, a lowdown blues joint that just happens to be home to the weekly blues jam for the Cape Fear Blues Society (CFBS). You never know who’s going to stop by. Joining Rickey on this gig will be Wilmington bass player Lan Nichols (also head honcho for CFBS ) and drummer Rich Laverdure, both of whom play with Tommy B. & the Stingers. The show starts at 8 p.m.
On Saturday, Sept. 4, at 9 p.m., Rickey turns south again to the Grand Strand, this time playing at Cool Daddy’s, on Ninth Avenue behind Ripley’s, just near the old Pavilion. Cool Daddy’s is owned by Diane and Phil Salone , drummer for Myrtle Beach-based funk-blues band, Inlyn Gruve. Phil will be on the drum kit and Jimi Brown will be playing bass.
Get yourself to one or all of these gigs, because Rickey’s gonna be wailing on his Telecaster and you don’t want to miss a note!
For those of you who are just now discovering this versatile virtuoso, let me bring you up to speed on all things Godfrey. Rickey Godfrey, who has been blind since birth, began studying classical piano and voice at an early age. He had his first guitar by the time he was 13. Performing throughout the U.S., Canada and Europe, he has worked with artists such as Rufus Thomas, Sam Moore, Billy Preston and Junior Walker. He has been nominated by the Music City Blues Society for both Guitarist and Keyboard Player of the Year. Last year he played the Montreal Jazz Festival with the Chocolate Thunder band.
Rickey is well known throughout the Carolinas for his hit songs “Can’t Change My Heart,” “No One Loves You Better Than Me,” “Whatever It Takes” and “If Ten’ll Kill Me, You Can Give Me Nine.” He’s earned a pile of CBMA awards including blues album of the year, group album of the year, song of the year and more.
For the past several months Rickey has been writing, composing and recording for his new blues CD, which he expects to complete by early October. “I’m having a lot of fun with this recording,” he grins. “This is a blues CD, so I really let go on guitar and piano, too. Not everyone knows that I play keys, so it’ll be a surprise to some folks. I wanted to do a really sparse album that showcased my own instruments, so it’s not overly produced. You’ll hear Don Wise [formerly with Delbert McClinton] sitting in on sax once or twice. Shaun Murphy from Little Feat and N.Y. soul singer Angel Rissoff are going to add some great background vocals. I’ll be doing a few of the tunes on this trip to the coast, so y’all are going to get a sneak peak of what’s comin’.”
Rickey doesn’t play around these parts often enough, so I hope you’ll come out in droves and show this boy some love.
Key West Crazy is located in Little River, S.C. at 4492 Water Front Ave. For information, call 843-249-6163. Address for the Rusty Nail is 1310 S. Fifth Street, Wilmington, N.C. Telephone: 910-251-1888. Cool Daddy’s Bar & Grill is at 300 9th Avenue North in Myrtle Beach, S.C., located behind Ripleys. Free parking passes are available for patrons. A refundable $10 deposit may be required. Telephone: 843-333-5941. For more information about Rickey Godfrey and to listen to a sampling of his music, visit his Facebook fan page.