On October 15, 2017, 7 acts competed in the CTBS Solo Duo Challenge. Media, fans, friends, family and musical piers joined the participants, in a day of music, food, drink and a good time. Admission was free, and the people who attended the event were treated to a variety of Blues styles, performed by premier CT musicians. The acts were judged by the criterion established by the Blues Foundation, in Memphis - blues content, vocals, talent, originality and stage presence. The winner will be awarded $600 to represent the Connecticut Blues Society, in the International Blues Challenge. They will get gigs at prestigious festivals, recording time, and important exposure, to record labels and recording agents.
The winner this year, representing CTBS is Frank Breen, from East Hartford. Frank is a Blues Historian and virtuoso on guitar. He sings with a deep, authentic Blues voice. He gives us a little history of each song and where it originated. Most of the songs are covers of traditional Delta Blues, but performed in a way to make them his own. Playing in a variety of styles, Frank is expert in fingerpicking and slide guitar. Frank treated us to the Mississippi Delta songs of Charlie Patton, Bo Carter and Blind Willie Johnson. He also went up to the hill country to give us his interpretation of RL Burnside.
The competition was kicked off by Steve Hatch and Mark Hennessy. Steve’s rollicking boogie woogie piano set a high mark for the days entertainment. Mark was keeping the beat and got in a drum solo, on the first song. Steve followed with a soulful vocal, on a slow blues. Mark took the vocal on a song with an interesting rumba beat. Steve was excellent on piano. He did a nice vocal in memory of Tom Petty and closed with his signature song–the uptempo “Roller Coaster Man”.
The Delta Boys keep up the respect for deep Delta acoustic blues. Bill finger picks and plays slide on a couple of beautiful guitars, while being supported by amplified harp. He has the hat and shoes of a bluesman and sings with a twinkle in his eye. He has fun with the lyrics, even when they are serious. We enjoyed “Chocolate to the Bone”. He got down with Mississippi Fred McDowell and Charlie Patton. A highlight was a dynamic version of Son House’s “Death Letter Blues”.
Davey Blues (Sadloski) arrived just in time, and jumped right into “‘T’ for Texas”, by Jimmy Rogers. Davey did a nice job on “Broke and Lonely”, a song done by many people, his version reminded me of Jeff Pitchell. He made good use of pedal effects and had a strong voice, with good stage presence. A highlight was “Sitting on Top of the World” by Howling Wolf–sang with a soulful voice and good showmanship.
Petey Hop, from New Fairfield, is an experienced musician, who performs regularly as a solo, duo, trio and band. He is a previous winner of the Band challenge, who has toured Europe and played with national acts. He got our attention, right away, with doing the Robert JR Lockwood version of Robert Johnson’s “Stop Breaking Down”. The finger picking was excellent. Really enjoyed “Down the Line” and then the fine vocal & fluid swinging guitar of his “West Side of Town”. He then took out the slide for the deep blues of Muddy Water’s “Can’t Be Satisfied”. Petey gave us some information on his songs, and told us how “Done got Over”. It was originally done by the Guitar Slim Band, but he rearranged it for his solo performance. Petey dazzled us with his fast fingers, on his closing song about Johnny.
Jake Kulak and the Low Down featured Jake (electric guitar & vocals ) and Jeremy (drums & vocals ) from the band. Jake has been to Memphis numerous times, representing CTBS in the youth showcase. Jake started at 14 and now at 18, has matured into an experienced veteran musician. He has learned from workshops in Mississippi and has played festivals in Europe, with Bob Margolin. They started with a rockin’ version of “Stop Breaking Down” (perhaps closer to the Rolling Stones version than Robert Johnson). Their original, “How Much Longer Can I Last” started with a driving drumbeat from Jeremy and developed into a well rehearsed drum/guitar collaboration. “My Baby’s So Sweet” was a nice change of pace. Jeremy joined Jake on guitars for “Better Than You”. They arranged “Hesitation Blues” to a rock-a-billy style, that could have been a "hot" dance number.
Andy MacDonald (JR Krauss and the Shakes Band) and Drew Blood (Carl Ricci and 706 Union Ave Band) put on a great show of Chicago Blues. Andy is well versed in the entire spectrum of electric blues guitar. Drew Blood is a fine vocalist and one of the best harp players you will ever hear. Quite a combination. They started with Andy on vocal for “Big Big Lovin” (which was his contribution to the CTBS Compilation album). Close your eyes and Drew’s vocals and harp will put you back into a small club on the South Side of Chicago. Good showmanship and a confident attitude. “Done Me Wrong” was a highlight. They closed their set with an original blues that showcased the low down harp.
CTBS thanks all who participated in the challenge and those who came to the Pine Loft to enjoy the show. Thanks to Steve Vastakis and his staff. Sue and Ray Meeker for organizing the competition. Tom Retano for a fine job as MC and organizing the jam, while Ray was tabulating–Rich Badowski, Mike St George and Henry. Terri did the timekeeping. Kent for the press releases. Thunder and Lighting for the sound. And the tough job the judges do–Tom Forst, Kenny Brody, Roxie, Dot Ames, Brian Lee, Pat Doyle and others. Good luck to Frank in Memphis. [ ]