As a local musician in the area for over 15 years I’ve had plenty of opportunities to grace the pages of The Evening Sun, whether it involved one of the many bands I’ve performed with in the past (Fools at Play, Badweather Blues, The Pub Crawlers, etc.) or just me. Most recently, and prior to joining the team here at our hometown daily newspaper, my newfound friend and co-worker Tyler Murphy did a story on my successes in the store preliminaries as part of Guitar Center’s King of the Blues contest last year.
Now I’ve never had much luck when it comes to guitar contests. In fact, I don’t believe I’ve ever placed higher than second in any I’ve participated in. However, those were local contests, and in comparison, the stakes are much higher in the Guitar Center competition, especially this year.
In all honesty, I wasn’t quite sure I wanted to participate in this competition for a second time. It wasn’t necessarily the disappointment I felt after my failure to advance further than the district competition in Brooklyn last year, although I beat myself up pretty good for what I considered a sub-par performance. It has more to do with the changes which have taken place in my life since then. Following my unexpected departure from the Badweather Blues Band, and due to the fact that I’m now reporting full-time for the paper, I just haven’t had a lot of time or opportunity to play guitar, which is to be expected. I still play with three bands (The Voodoo Mystics, The Master Thieves and Rippleton), but performances have been few and far between in recent months, which again is okay with me. The house, my work and my nearly non-existent social life keep me plenty busy these days. So when I discovered that the King of the Blues competition was once again taking place, I had serious misgivings about signing up. Then I found out who was headlining the finals in Hollywood, California.
For those unfamiliar with the prolific slide guitarist, Derek is the nephew of Allman Brothers drummer Butch Trucks, and quite possibly one of the most important musical figures in recent history (I’m not joking). Think John Coltrane meets Duane Allman, all tied in with the influence of blues, Indian raga rhythms and melodies and you’ll get an idea of what I’m talking about. So when I found out that this musical hero of mine would be performing at the King of the Blues finals, my fate was sealed. I had to sign up.
Now don’t get me wrong, there are plenty of reasons for my wanting to win this competition. A nice selection of free guitars, strings, effects, amplifiers, endorsements, $25,000 and a feature in Guitar World magazine among them. Yet I would gladly trade all of that for a chance to meet, hang out and possibly perform with Mr. Trucks. For years I’ve annoyed friends and family alike with my wish to play some guitar with Derek (or Warren Haynes, but that’s another story), and I find myself paying close attention to that little voice in my head that’s whispering “hey Brian, a chance like this doesn’t come around every day, make it worth it.”
Guitar Center touts this contest as the search for the nation’s top undiscovered blues guitarist, and 10, even 5 years ago, I would probably have gone out of my way telling everybody I could how that was me. What can I say, arrogance is something I just had to grow out of. It took me years to realize that being a great guitarist and musician wasn’t a competition. If the music were to truly mean something it had to be more than that. I’ll admit that for years I walked around with a massive chip on my shoulder and in reality, I just needed to grow up. Which is another reason I’m having trouble justifying my participation in the King of the Blues contest. Music is more to me than gear and accolades, recognition and prizes. Music is a spiritual release for me, it’s my religion you could say. Yet I cannot fathom missing this chance to meet one of my biggest musical inspirations and perhaps make some strides in regards to my musical career.
Needless to say, it will all be for naught if I don’t qualify this Thursday for the in-store finals, the first step toward Hollywood and an encounter with one of the world’s premier slide guitarists. And while that’s a long ways away, sometimes the first step on a long journey is the most important. In other words, I’ll never know if I have it in me if I don’t try. In my mind, if I can keep my stepfather Steve’s advice close to heart (just be yourself), and remain in contact with that part of me that rejoices in the spiritual side of the music, no matter how I do I’ll know I did my best. As Steve once said to me in all seriousness, “play the music of your soul.”
Here we go again.