Mike Crandell Band Takes Top Prize - The Boston Blues Challenge 2009

By Karen Nugent
December 2009

Photos by Brian Fluharty

This year the Boston Blues Society’s blues challenge triumphantly returned to Boston. Well, Somerville--and that’s close enough.

Johnny D’s in Davis Square was the perfect venue for great music and good crowds three Sunday nights in a row, including the Nov. 15 finals when we competed with the Patriots.

A total of ten bands took part: The Ten Foot Pole Cats, L’il Stevie and the Westsiders, Mr. Nick & the Dirty Tricks, the Tokyo Tramps, the Mighty Houserockers, Geezer, Alley Blues, 2120 S. Michigan Ave., Sit Down Baby!, and the Mike Crandall Band – the winning act.

First Semi-final

Things started off with a bang on Nov. 1, the first semi-final, with that devilish harmonica man from Brockton, “The Undaunted Professor Harp.” The Prof, also known as Hugh Holmes, was emcee for the night, and did a tremendous job, doing, as he put it: “my Ed Sullivan act.”

Our judges for both semi-finals were three fantastic guitarists: Steve Todesco, from Boston’s famous Mission of Blues band; Charlie O’Neal from the Delta Generators, last year’s BBS challenge winners; and Danny Vitale, a long-time Boston Blues Society supporter who won the International Blues Challenge in Memphis a few years ago with his then-band, The Movers.

The winning bands that night were the great Mr. Nick and the Dirty Tricks, with front man Mike Nick putting on a solid performance; and The Mighty Houserockers, with the always-enthusiastic Bob “Satch” Romano on harp. The Houserockers had everybody up on the dance floor with some classic blues songs such as “Chicken Shack” and “Help Me.”

The two bands competed against two three-piece acts: the Polecats, who have a North Mississippi-influenced sound and no bass player; and the Tokyo Tramps, a unique Japanese group with a female bass player and a drummer who penned at least one of their songs. The other great band that night was L’il Stevie and the Westsiders, whose frontman has been on the Boston scene for more than 20 years, starting out learning from Ronnie Earl

Second Semi-final

It was a different cast of characters Nov. 8, the second semi-final, all held captive by our guest emcee, Shor’ty (that’s Shor-TAY) Billups, a Boston music scene fixture for years. A singer, songwriter, and piano player, he has performed with Wilson Pickett, Jackie Wilson, James Cotton, and many more. Shor’ty, in his natty ensemble, kept the crowd entertained and collected hundreds of dollars in donations for the Blues Society while he was at it. We have dubbed him our new “Blues Ambassador.”

The two winning bands that night, 2120 S. Michigan Ave featuring Sweet Willie D and the Mike Crandall Band, competed with Alley Blues - the only female-fronted entry, starring the sultry Alexandra Stoetzel; Geezer, a swing and R&B influenced band with three sax players, harp, AND keys; and Sit Down Baby!, a Rhode Island-based band fronted by Mark Milloff.


Then it was onto the finals, and a packed house.

Holly Harris, Boston’s classy star of blues radio and beyond, was her usual charming self as emcee for the night, keeping things moving along, and promoting blues in Boston. Shor’ty was back as well—in a different sharp outfit!

The new panel of judges, (three “Ricks”) which was not revealed until that night, was made up of: Rick O’Neal, bass player from the Delta Generators (and Charlie’s brother,) Richard “Rosy” Rosenblatt, harp player extraordinaire who has been on the Boston scene since the 1960s, and Ricky Russell, a guitarist who has played in many Boston-area bands and who was a founder of the Boston Blues Society in 1988.

The competition was intense, with the Mike Crandall Band, featuring 16-year-old drummer Danny Banks, ultimately scoring more points than 2120 S. Michigan Ave. The other two contenders, Mr. Nick, and the Houserockers, once again gave fine performances, but there can only be one winner.

As a result of winning the challenge, the Mike Crandall Band will represent Boston at the International Blues Challenge Jan. 20-23 in Memphis. The Boston Blues Society is also sponsoring a solo act, Bruce Marshall.

Stay tuned to see how they do…

<- back to Features