When the esteemed International Blues Challenge took place in Memphis late last month, one local band got an opportunity to go for blues immortality. Namely, the Valley's Paul CruiZe Blues Crew, which represented Arizona at the annual competition and made it all the way into the semifinal round before bowing out.
Although Cruize says the experience of competing at the IBC was great, the vocalist and guitarist for the local three-piece -- which also features Royce Murray on the Hammond organ and Tim Robinson -- had a few issues with how the world-renowned blues battle went down.
According to Cruize, a frustrating part about the competition was that its judges didn't give the band any comments on why they didn't make it farther than the semifinals. Especially given the great response he says they got from the audiences that watched their performances.
"We were greatly received. The people loved us and gave us rave reviews. Musicians from other bands were also raving about us," he says.
The Paul Cruize Blues Crew performed a total of three times during the IBC, the world's biggest gather of bands from the genre that took place from January 21 to January 25. The band's first performance was at BB King's restaurant and blues joint in Memphis where they played three songs in 20 minutes: Bobby Bland's "Loving on Borrowed Time," Anthony David's "Spitting Game," and a humorous version of Bobbie Gentry's "Ode to Billy Joe."
In the second round, also held at BB King's club, involved the band switching out "Loving on Borrowed Time" with their original "Mumbo Jumbo."
"BB King's place was packed and it was like a juke joint. It wasn't that big but they had a nice stage," Cruize says. "They had great barbecue ribs and the sound system was good."
After their performance, the judge's posted on the IBC website and in the participating Memphis blues clubs that Paul CruiZe Blues Crew had made it into the semifinal round.
So far so good.
The Blues Crew's third performance was at the New Daisy Theater where their three-song set was extended to 25 minutes. They played an original song, "Love All My Blues Away," a medley of Ann Peebles' "I Can't Stand the Rain" and Prince's "Purple Rain" before finishing with the "Spitting Game.
But while the venue wasn't new or big, he says it was a good place to play.
"The sound system was great and they had a giant stage. The bar was packed and they had the blues youth showcase on before us," he says. "Some of those kids were really good."
And, like in the previous rounds, the Blues Crew also earned a good reaction.
"Some bands told us that we had to be the winners because we were different and creative," Cruize says.
It wasn't enough for the IBC judges, however, and the band was ultimately eliminated.
Besides his issues with the judging, Cruize also dealt with a stomach virus and freezing weather while in Memphis for the IBC. The first night of the event, for instance, was 18 degrees with 40 mile per hour winds and it was several days before the temperature would rise above 30 degrees.
"The streets were empty," he says. "With 255 bands playing you would think the streets would be busy but it was so cold everybody was staying inside."
Nevertheless, Cruize says the experience of participating in the IBC and being in Memphis was amazing.
"I felt the presence of all the great musicians who have played [there] -- Elvis, Jerry Lee Lewis, BB King," he says. "It had that flavor of all the greats and a lot of places had the memorabilia."
Cruize adds that the people were friendly and the blues camaraderie was great. The IBC was held at a multitude of clubs along the famous Beale Street, all within blocks of one other. He and his bandmates was able to watch performances at Rum Boogie, Hard Rock Café, Orpheum Theater, Blues City Café and Club 152.
Cruize says that every one of the 200-odd bands that competed in the IBC were above average, even if they weren't purely blues, such as an ensemble from Poland performing '50s sock hop boogie.
"They were good, but they weren't bluesy enough for some," Cruize says.
His favorite band, however, was Kevin Purcell and the Night Burners from Chicago.
"They had a great fiddle player. It was traditional Chicago blues with a fiddle," Cruize says.
The experience of being at the IBC was worth going through the process of winning the Arizona Blues Showdown, which is put on every fall at the Rhythm Room by the Phoenix Blues Society and determines which local band will represent the state. The society also held fundraisers to help get the Paul CruiZe Blues Crew to Memphis, including covering everything but their hotel.
"We thank them for their support," Cruize says. "Not just the money. They gave us a lot of well wishes and atta boys. They kept up with us the whole time and we are grateful for their help."
Jim Crawford, president of the society, wrote in one of the organization's more recent newsletters that Cruize's band "flat had 'em dancing in the aisles."
"Congratulations on a job well done," Crawford added.
Next up for Cruize and company is a gig at the society's annual Blues Blast in early March in downtown Phoenix before hitting the festival circuit. The band also plans to have a CD out by the summer.
For now, he and his bandmates are enjoying looking back at the IBC.
"It was a lot of fun and laughter," Cruize says.
The Paul CruiZe Blues Crew is scheduled to perform during Blues Blast 2014 on Saturday, March 8, at Margaret T. Hance Park.
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