DarielB – Flying Under the Radar

Memphis-Bound – Cape Fear Blues Challenge Winners

Posted in Live Performance Previews/Reviews by darielb on November 16, 2011

Lawyers Guns & Money, winners in the band category

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!

Wilmington's Randy McQuay won in the solo/duo category

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.

So, a big thank you to Lan Nichols and Cape Fear Blues Society for inviting me and Sandy Williams, owner of the Rusty Nail for giving us such a great place to play!

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