There’s really no point tip-toeing around the first few weeks of the new year. I say, get your face right in there, delve into those resolutions you’ve been pushing off far too long. Go ahead, take a big bite, make it count, because you’ve exhausted all contemplation, wrung out every cheap excuse and spit lies out of nearly every orifice.
It’s time. Wouldn’t you say?
After all, that’s what two long time swashbuckling bluesmen named Baza are doing in a couple weeks down in Memphis when they compete at the 34th International Blues Challenge. They’re taking a big ol’ bite out of the big time. Dream fulfilling sized sampler bite. A three napkin jobber. That’s right.
For lead singer and guitarist, Doug Philbrook, and harmonica player, Geof Goodell, both from Nashua, it’s not only humbling to qualify to participate in such a world class event, which they did over the summer at the Granite State Blues Challenge. It’s also motivating, this honor, this chance to represent your own state. For Baza, the opportunity to drop some of that 1920-30s country blues down on Beale Street, well, sure, check that resolution box, please.
Longtime Granite State standout bluesman, Erik “Fingers” Ray, qualified again as well, this time as a resident of Maine, and he’s heading back down south to make Eddie Noack proud.
This annual event features some of the very best blues musicians from around the globe, all situated within a few blocks of each other on Beale, piling on that magic throughout the day and night, taking on all form of the blues – Dixie, Piedmont, Chicago and more – competing to be crowned as the best in their division of sound. It’s huge.
Granite State of Mind caught up with Philbrook and Ray to talk about the event that takes place from Jan. 16 to 20, and let them all know that we think all three musicians are going to do great in Memphis.
Q. How have you been preparing for the Memphis showdown?
Philbrook: Showdown. … Now I feel like we’re going to meet Doc Holiday at the O.K. Corral, yikes! On a more serious note, Geof (Goodell) and I practice weekly, we’ve watched videos from previous IBC challenges, watched our own videos (nothing more telling than watching yourself on celluloid) we’ve had a few conversations with our friend and IBC finalist Arthur James and our friends at Granite State Blues Society.
Ray: I play through my planned set every day and at local gigs. I’m trying to work out the timing, as you only have 20 or 25 minutes to play your set.
Q. As longtime bluesmen, is this one of the biggest highlights in your musical career?
Phillbrook: Honestly, it certainly is at the top of the list, for both of us for a number of reasons. First to be representing New Hampshire is a thrill and honor, and to be gathering with a group of musically like minded musicians and fans from around the world in a city where the blues has such deep roots is humbling.
Ray: Making the Finals at the IBC in 2014. Only eight acts out of 200 make it to the finals. There were so many great acts from all over the world, and I made some great friendships and connections with some wonderful people. I hope to meet many more this year.
Q. What kind of strategies are you entering this competition with?
Philbrook: We have read through the judging criteria and as a result, have become more aware of, and are refining our stage presence, attire and song selections.
Ray: Just try to be myself and enjoy myself while I’m down there.
Q. Have you had a surge of creativity as you’ve prepared for the competition?
Philbrook: It’s funny you mention that, because yes I have. It’s like my muse has been hyperactive and vigilant these past few months.
Ray: I’ve been working a lot on my originals. I plan on doing six or seven originals this year in Memphis, and maybe one Robert Johnson song.
Q. Is there one song in your catalog that you will lean heavily on?
Philbrook: Wow, good question. We play so many great songs from the pre-war blues catalog, it has been difficult to decide what to play. What we will do is play a mix of covers and originals that represents the Piedmont and Delta blues styles that we draw so heavily from in our performances. To narrow it down to one song, I guess I would hope that at least one of my originals stands out and represents the genre and pays homage to the music we love. “Easy Money,” an original, is a strong choice. For a cover, a consistent crowd favorite, Cephas and Wiggins’s “Roberta” comes to mind.
Ray: I really like doing my interpretation of Robert Johnson’s “Preachin’ Blues,” and I hope that the judges will like my originals.
Q. What does it mean to you to be representing your home state at the International Blues Challenge?
Philbrook: For me, Doug, it is a chance to represent my home state. Geof (Goodell), originally from Maine, has lived in New Hampshire for nearly 40 years, and also sees N.H. as home. So, we both take it seriously and with humble gratitude.
Ray: I represented New Hampshire in 2014, Boston in 2015, and this year I’ll be representing Maine. It’s a real privilege to be able to play my music in Memphis and represent the Northeast blues scene. We have so many great blues acts in this region, and I’m honored to be able to play amongst them.