Arizona Blues Showdown Crowns Paul Cruize Blues Crew Band and Juke Joint

By Stan Bindell

At this year's Arizona Blues Showdown, Paul Cruize Blues Crew Band won in the band category and Juke Joint won in the solo/duo category. Winning means that these two bands will represent Arizona during the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, from January 21 through 25. More than 200 bands from virtually every state and several countries compete in the IBC at different venues on Beale Street for recognition that could land them on top labels.

Thirteen Arizona bands competed over two weekends at the Rhythm Room. Jim Crawford, president of the Phoenix Blues Society, said the scoring was close and that any one of the finalists would have made fine representatives of the state.

While the winners gain the right to represent Arizona at the IBC, they don't get any funding. Leaders of both bands estimate the trip with gas, room and board will run about $3,000, so they will be having performance fundraisers to pay their own way.

Paul Cruize, guitarist and lead singer, is both excited and surprised about his band winning. "Everything happened so fast. It was a whirlwind. I didn't expect to win because we had never won a contest before; we were confident that we had the goods, but you just don't know if everything is going to connect," he says. "There were so many good groups, and we just didn't know what was going to happen."

This three-piece -- which includes Royce Murray on organ and Tim Robinson on drums -- has been together only a couple of months, but all three musicians are veterans.

For the competition, they performed four songs: "Loving on Borrowed Time" by Bobby Bland; a blues version of "Ode to Billy Joe" that had the audience laughing; "Spittin' Game" by Anthony David; and an original tune called "Mumbo Jumbo."

"Winning validates us as a legitimate contender in the blues world," Cruize said. "It means we have something to say and it gives us a chance to say it.

Leon J was equally proud and excited about Juke Joint winning the duo/solo category.

Last year, there was only the band category and Juke Joint had to compete against full bands, finishing in third place. After the win, Leon J reached out to Paul Cruize, who said it would be cool if the two could perform a show together while in Memphis; they're planning to work toward that goal.

Leon J has become known for performing his Americana Crossroads Music Tribute, which takes listeners through a music history from 1890 to the blues, Memphis, Elvis, rock 'n' roll and modern day.

Drummer John Robert Leach joined Leon J for the ABC and they have performed together for three years.

In the final round, Juke Joint performed "Ain't No Grave," "Lay My Burden Down," "Kind Hearted Woman," Muddy Water's "Can't Be Satisfied," an original called "Canned Ham Blues," a tribal drum song called "Rollin and Tumbling" and another original, "Deepo Man."

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