Our red-hot blues

Our red-hot blues
May 3, 2009
By Deborah Ramírez

SoFla bluesmen in national spotlight, even as local venues dwindle.

By Deborah Ramírez | South Florida Sun-Sentinel
May 3, 2009

Though South Florida's blues scene is struggling through lowdown, dirty times, local talent is thriving.

And the national blues industry has started to notice.

On Thursday two South Florida musicians, saxophone player Terry Hanck and guitarist Albert Castiglia, perform at the industry's most prestigious event, the 30th Annual Blues Music show in Memphis. Both are first-time nominees: Hanck in the best instrumentalist-horn category and Castiglia for best song.

Earlier in the year, another local act, JP Soars and the Red Hots, won first place in the 25th Annual International Blues Challenge, a Memphis-based competition that honors the world's top unsigned blues band. Soars also won the coveted Albert King Guitarist of the Year Award.

"These guys have worked so hard to rise to this level and it's so thrilling to see them finally making it," said Bob "Bluesbobby" Weinberg, president of the South Florida Blues Society, an organization that counts on about 600 active members to promote roots music.

While South Florida is better known for rock bands and conga lines than for the 12-bar blues, it has a loyal blues fan base and dedicated musicians. In 2006, Davie-based musician Joey Gilmore won the Blues Challenge, and a year later blues-rocker David Shelley was a top 10 finalist.

But the laboratories that develop these local talents — the clubs, bars and restaurants that book live acts — are disappearing amid the recession. City Limits in downtown Delray Beach is the latest victim.

"There are so many great musicians here," Weinberg said. "But it goes back to: Where are they are going to play?"

The situation is not unlike guitarist Castiglia's nominated song Bad Year Blues. Still, he remains upbeat.

"The way I've found to survive and get through this whole thing of venues closing is to try to work with as many different players as possible," said Castiglia, a Wilton Manors resident and former lead guitarist for the late Chicago blues harmonica player Junior Wells.

In Hanck's case, the sax man and former member of the Elvin Bishop Band survives by spending four months playing county fairs and festivals on the West Coast.

"It gives me a regular paycheck," said Hanck, who lived in California before moving to Singer Island six years ago.

"It took me a while to find musicians here who play in the style that I do," he said. He found them in Soars and The Red Hots: bass player Gary Remmington and drummer Chris Peete.

Soars, a former heavy metal guitarist who converted to the blues and Django Reinhardt gypsy jazz, says South Florida's tough blues scene has a silver lining — it has made him a better musician.

"Here you have to work twice as hard to get a rise out of people," said Soars, a regular on Wednesdays and Thursdays at the Back Room Blues Bar in Boca Raton, where he lives. "You almost have to light yourself on fire."

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