That was the title on my cheap little laminated sign, that I would display with pride on a tip jar at every show I played for 4 months leading up to the trip to the blues man’s mecca : Memphis.
Without fail, I would smile every time I put the sign up because it represented years of hard work paying off.
I never thought too much about travel in my life because I always believed that if you get good enough, the music will take you places.
So there I was preparing for a trip I never imagined and next thing you know I was on the plane headed for the tip of the heart of the Delta. You know when you walk through airports and there are all those serious voices over the speakers? You know, the ones admonishing you to ‘Not leave your bags unattended!’ or ‘If you see something suspicious, tell someone!’? Well, I can tell you from first hand experience, when I walked through the airport in Memphis, all I heard was the soulful voice of B.B. King and the rockin’ southern sounds of The Allman Brothers ... Two of my favourites!
It smelt like history.
It smelt like Grandma’s cooking.
It wrapped you up like your favourite jumper and said ‘Breathe easy, you’re home’.
Now, the experience would not have been half as much fun if it weren’t for the eclectic characters that made up the South Aussie contingent. We all spent the entire time getting lost, getting found, loving the music up and down Beale street from B.B.’s to Jerry Lee’s , sharing the food and all of that renowned southern hospitality, but most importantly, having a rockin’ time. All the time.
(Footnote : Of ALL the places you have been in your life and seen neon signs, only to come back years later to find them gone.... Beale street bought them.)
The first night that One More Mile and I played at the Blues Cafe it wasn’t judged. It was just an opportunity for us to dust off after a long trip. Well ... From that moment on and for the rest of the week, all I heard up and down the street wherever we went was ‘The Aussies have arrived! Thanks to a good sound, a really receptive crowd and a tremendous and overwhelmingly positive vibe from the whole ARBA team, we really smashed it that first night and really proved we were meant to be there.
No feeling quite like it really.
I played my heats in the absolute last bar on the strip, it was called ‘Lew’s Blew Note Bar and Grill’, (I knew I had drawn well as Blue Note is one of my favourite labels!), and it turned out that Lew had somehow lost his beer and wine license but kept his hard liquor license (???) so I was forced to perform with only whiskey by my side ... for the nerves of course ...
But Lew himself turned out to be the epitome of southern hospitality, presenting as the classic aged bluesman (although he swears he can’t play or sing a note) he was warm and generous and I especially liked him because he pulled me aside after the first round and said ‘Boy, you gonna win this thing!’
And as sad as it was not proving him right, I learned many things in this competition that can only possibly be learnt ‘on the job’.
The only other thing I would like to make mention of is the great Youth in Blues showcasing that the competition offers. There was A LOT of talent in that pool and we wouldn’t have seen it if the competition hadn’t been so well rounded.
If I may be anecdotal, one particular night stands out in my mind where one Michael Marino, son of Mario ‘The Metronome’ Marino, having waited two hours to get behind the skins for a jam with some randoms, blew B.B. Kings place apart.
I guess Mario knew, but the rest of the people in the venue had no idea what was coming.
Having sat back and grooved it out for the band that obviously mostly knew each other. Having watched them all take solos and backed them with the restraint that is professional courtesy. He was given the wind up.
Which he mistook as his turn to let loose.
One by one the band turned to marvel, as Michael carefully cultivated what was to be one of history’s epic drum solo’s.
Everyone on stage was playing harder, the crowd were reaching fervor and the bass player turned to give him... the wind up.
Which he mistook as his turn to go interplanetary.
One by one the band stopped playing. And turning with mouths agape could do nothing but become one with the crowd in their appreciation and excitement as Michael seemingly flailed with the precision and timing of someone much older in years.
The band then signal that it really IS time to wrap it up and I was sure I heard the faintest whisper of Michael’s mind... ‘sure, I’ll give you an ending...’
It was a double barreled, eye popping, better than classic rock ending that even had a false one half way through.
The crowd noise that came after probably shook loose a few of the foundations and at very least would’ve required maintenance to come back the next day and re-attach the roof.
Thank you Michael. Thank you Memphis.
Thank you team ARBA - From the patrons, to the members and volunteers, to the Semaphore Workers Club, to Mick for encouraging me to try out, to the people that voted for me to go and represent, and mostly to the away team for keeping me cool when I was sure I was going to need a spare pair of underpants.
Long live the Blues!