Phoenix Blues Musicians Band Together to Send One of Their Own to Memphis

Ten bands will perform on December 21 at the Rhythm Room in Phoenix as a fundraiser for the R.d. Olson Blues Band, winner of the Arizona Blues Showdown, to help them afford competing Jan. 20-24 at the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis.

Doors will open at 1:30 p.m. and the bands will perform until midnight. There is a suggested $10 donation.

The performing bands are Smokestack Lighting, Common Ground Blues Band, The Effects, Toolshed, Kathi Davis and the Groove Tones, Salty Gringos, Tom Grills and Brick House, Steve Rush, Paul CruiZe Blues Crew and R.d. Olson Blues Band.

"I'm really moved and deeply appreciate these bands," Olson says. "I didn't ask any of these bands to play. They just all piled on."

This is Common Ground's first appearance in about a year due to illnesses, but they have rebounded for their blues return. Davis and her band are coming up from Tucson. But the main band is Olson's. He's the frontman with his vocals and harmonica, backed by James Robertson on slide guitar, Jamie Waldron on standup bass, Michael Reed on sax (and piano and guitar), and Bob Sellano on drums and percussion.

Olson's biggest influences were Elmore James and Muddy Waters. His band plays Chicago blues and West Coast Swing Blues.

Olson estimates that it will cost the five members of his band $3,500 altogether for the length of the competition in Memphis. The Phoenix Blues Society has donated $1,000 for their cause and is helping them with fundraisers.

Olson's band has raised about $1,000 through fundraisers in Prescott and Sedona, so they need about $1,500 more.

Jim Crawford, president of the Phoenix Blues Society (PBS), said a lot of guys enter the Phoenix Showdown, don't win, get discouraged and never return. However, Olson is a prime example of determination to get his name out in the blues world, because his band has been in the competition the past three years. The first year the band took third, then second last year, and then first place this year.

"We at PBS are excited and proud of their efforts and feel like they'll represent Arizona in fine form," he said.

Olson said the band is excited about getting to Memphis and participating in the competition.

"I've been to Memphis, but not during IBC," he said. "I've checked out some of the competing bands on YouTube and this will not be easy. There are veteran bands from all over the world competing. We hope to do well."

More than 200 blues bands will compete for the title and recording contracts. The band will be judged on everything large and small. The big criteria includes blues content, originality and stage presence, but bands will also get judged on their dress and whether they get to their performance on time. All band members must check in at least 20 minutes before their performance.

"No band from Arizona has made it to the final three," he said.

During the first two nights, more than 75 percent of the bands get eliminated. Each band will get two chances to impress the judges in order to move onto the next round. That leaves about 40 to 50 bands for Friday night. After Friday night, only eight bands will remain.

Olson performed on Beale Street in Memphis with famed blues musician Rufus Thomas about 15 years ago. Thomas is known for the tune "Walkin the Dog."

Olson said he and his band members will not drink before or during their performances.

"There's too much going on and we need to be controlled," he said.

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Stan Bindell