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Local and State News

Capital Area Blues Society Announces 2015 Blues Brawl Winners

The 2015 Blues Brawl commenced on Sunday May 3, 2015 at the Green Door Blues Bar and Grill in Lansing, Michigan. One band, and one solo / duo act were named winners and will represent CABS at the 2016 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. This selection was from a total of seven entrants and based on various criteria established by the Capital Area Blues Society and the Blues Foundation.

Twyla Birdsong, Band Division Winner 2015
Stan Budzynski and Ben Hall, duo/solol winners
Owner Jen Costigan and Joel Bedell provided the venue for the event.
Steve "Frog" Forgery was the MC for the event amongst a host of volunteers helping to make the event possible.

More Photos: Click Here

National News and Beyond

B. B. King, Icon Blues Guitarists, Passes Away at Age 89

Riley B. King, better known as B.B. King the blues icon who spread joy to millions by giving them the blues, passed away on Thursday May 14, 2015. King’s attorney made the announcement King had died peacefully at his home in Las Vegas.

The iconic musician, along with his ever-present guitar Lucille, spent nearly 70 years thrilling audiences and spreading the music he learned as a poverty-stricken youth in the Mississippi Delta all over the world.

"Blues is a tonic for whatever ails you," King told USA TODAY in 2005. "I could play the blues and then not be blue anymore.''

He received nearly every accolade in his field: 15 Grammy Awards (not counting a Lifetime Achievement nod in 1987); inductions into the Rock and Roll and Blues Foundation halls of fame; a Kennedy Center Honor; Presidential Medal of the Arts; President Medal of Freedom; the international Polar Music Prize; and honorary doctorates from Yale and Brown.

A segment of U.S. 61 (the legendary Blues Highway, which stretches from New Orleans to Minnesota) in Tennessee was named after him — an appropriate honor for a man who spent most of his life on the road.

King's influence on other musicians is well-documented. In 2011, Rolling Stone magazine listed him at No. 6 on its list of 100 greatest guitarists, behind No. 1 Jimi Hendrix, Clapton, Jimmy Page, Keith Richards and Jeff Beck. Among the numerous acts he performed or recorded with were Hendrix, Clapton, U2, Bobby "Blue'' Bland, Ronnie Wood, Derek Trucks and Sheryl Crow.

Most importantly, his music reached a vast audience.  King himself was influenced by blues men T-Bone Walker, Lonnie Johnson and Blind Lemon Jefferson, and jazz guitarists Django Reinhardt and Charlie Christian. He was also infatuated with Delta blues players, including his cousin Bukka White.

His constant companion, Lucille, is almost as famous as he is. There were more than a dozen Lucille's (he often joked that he kept forgetting to return loaners to Gibson guitar company, when he sent his own guitars in for repairs). The original was named when he rescued the $30 instrument from a juke-joint fire, which started when two men fighting over a woman named Lucille knocked over a kerosene lamp.

Riley B. King was born on a cotton plantation in central Mississippi on Sept. 16, 1925. His early life was hard. He was educated in a one-room schoolhouse and had to overcome a stuttering problem. His parents separated when he was 4 and his mother died when he was 10.

As recounted in his autobiography, for the next four years he lived alone in his cabin, working the farm and picking cotton to support himself. His father came back to get him when he was in his mid-teens and moved him in with his new wife and kids.  But Riley didn't stay long. He soon returned to the farm until a tractor accident convinced him to take his guitar and the $2.50 in his pocket and hitchhike up U.S. 49 to Memphis.

By that time, he was starting to gain proficiency on the instrument that he'd become enamored with when he was seven, after hearing a minister play. He made his own single-string "guitars" out of broomsticks and strands of wire until he bought his first real guitar for $15 when was 12.

King got his big break on Sonny Boy Williamson's radio show. He was called the "Beale Street Blues Boy,'' which soon became "Blues Boy King" and eventually B.B. King. King took the name BB for short, as a disc jockey for radio station WDIA/AM Memphis. He became popular enough to get his own sponsored radio show on station WDIA.

He cut several records starting in 1949 for the Nashville-based Bullet label and some for Sam Phillips' RPM label. A long string of classics followed over the years, including How Blue Can You Get; Everyday I Have the Blues; Sweet Sixteen, Part 1; Please Love Me; Sweet Little Angel; and You Upset Me Baby. His biggest pop hit and signature tune was 1970's The Thrill Is Gone, which earned him his first Grammy and was given a Grammy Hall of Fame Award in 1998.

But despite all of his success, King was forever a humble man who never lost sight for whom he was playing. In his closing quote from Treasures, the affable star said, "Each night I do a concert or do a show it's like an audition, 'cause I remember the days when it was. If you played a night and somebody came in the next night and played better than you, you didn't come back. So I still have that mentality ... that if these people didn't like me, what would I be doing? Probably plowing."

King, who picked cotton for 35 cents per 100 pounds and sang on street corners for dimes in his youth, never had to worry about people liking him whenever he played the blues.

Singer Ben E. King Passes Away at Age 76.

Benjamin Earl King (September 28, 1938 – April 30, 2015) better known as Ben E. King, an American soul and R&B singer, has passed at age 76. The singer died on Thursday, April 30, 2015 according to his publicist Phil Brown.

He was perhaps best known as the singer and co-composer of "Stand by Me"—a US Top 10 hit in both 1961 and later in 1986 (when it was used as the theme to the film of the same name). It became a number one hit in the UK in 1987, and #25 on the RIAA's list of Songs of the Century. King was one of the principal lead singers of the R&B vocal group the Drifters.

King was born Benjamin Earl Nelson on September 28, 1938 in Henderson, North Carolina, and moved to Harlem, New York, at age 9.

In 1958, King (still using his birth name) joined a doo wop group called the Five Crowns. Later in 1958, the Drifters' manager George Treadwell fired the members of the original Drifters, and replaced them with the Five Crowns.  King had a string of R&B hits with the group on Atlantic Records. He co-wrote and sang lead on the first Atlantic hit by the new version of the Drifters, "There Goes My Baby" (1959). He also sang lead on a succession of hits including "Save the Last Dance for Me", "This Magic Moment", and "I Count the Tears".  King only recorded thirteen songs with the Drifters: two backing other lead singers and eleven lead vocal performances.

Due to a contract dispute in which King and his manager, Lover Patterson, demanded a salary increase and a fair share of royalties, left the group. King never again performed with the Drifters on tour or on television.  He would only record with the group until a suitable replacement could be found.

In May 1960, King left the Drifters assuming the more memorable stage name Ben E. King in preparation for a successful solo career. Remaining with Atlantic Records on its Atco imprint, King scored his first solo hit with the ballad "Spanish Harlem" (1961). His next single, "Stand by Me" ultimately would be voted as one of the Songs of the Century by the Recording Industry Association of America. "Stand by Me", "There Goes My Baby", and "Spanish Harlem" were named as three of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame's 500 Songs that Shaped Rock and Roll.  Each of those records plus "Save The Last Dance For Me" earned a Grammy Hall of Fame Award.

King's records continued to place well on the Billboard Hot 100 chart until 1965. British pop bands began to dominate the pop music scene, but King still continued to make R&B hits, including "What is Soul?" (1966), "Tears, Tears, Tears" (1967), and "Supernatural Thing" (1975). A 1986 re-issue of "Stand by Me" followed the song's use as the theme song to the movie Stand By Me and re-entered the Billboard Top Ten after a 25-year absence.

King was inducted into the North Carolina Music Hall of Fame in 2009.

On March 27, 2012, the Songwriters Hall of Fame announced that "Stand By Me" would receive its 2012 Towering Song Award and King would be honored with the 2012 Towering Performance Award for his recording of the song.

King was active in his charitable foundation, the Stand By Me Foundation a charity that says it helps "deserving youths working to further their education and to assist various civic organizations and associations

King toured the United Kingdom in 2013 and played concerts in the United States as late as 2014, despite reported health problems.

King died on April 30, 2015, at the age of 76. His agent said he suffered from "coronary problems" at the time of his death. He was survived by his wife of 51 years, Betty.

Louis Johnson Passes Away at Age 60

Louis Johnson, the bassist who scored a string of hits in the 1970s and 1980s as one-half of the Brothers Johnson, passed away at the age of 60 on Thursday, May 21, 2015.  

Johnson was best known for his group The Brothers Johnson and his session playing on several hit albums of the 1970s and 1980s including the "best selling album of all time" Thriller.

The Brothers Johnson got their start with 1976′s Look Out for #1, which lived up to its title by peaking at the top spot on the Billboard R&B chart and going Top 10 on the pop chart. They were also spinning off the hit singles “Get the Funk Out Ma Face,” “Free and Single” and especially “I’ll Be Good to You,” which went on to become one of the duo’s defining songs, hitting No. 3 on the Billboard Hot 100 and topping the R&B tally.

Other hits followed, including a 1977 cover of Shuggie Otis’ “Strawberry Letter 23″ and the 1980 single “Stomp,” but the Brothers Johnson split in the early ’80s to pursue their own projects, and only reunited sporadically over the ensuing years, while both brothers — Louis and guitarist and vocalist George Johnson — briefly pursed solo recording careers before moving on to session work.

Louis went on to have a successful and prolific career as a highly regarded session musician. His distinctive slap bass technique, which earned him the nickname “Thunder Thumbs,” made him an in-demand player for a wide variety of artists during the early ’80s.  This technique helped to put him in the studio to create a number of top-selling LPs, which included Herb Alpert’s Grammy-winning 1979 smash Rise as well as George Benson’s Give Me the Night.

His most widely heard performances, however, came through Michael Jackson, who used Johnson on his Off the Wall, Thriller and Dangerous albums. He was the bassist on Earl Klugh's 1976 jazz/pop album Living Inside Your Love and 1977 jazz/pop album Finger Paintings, as well as Quincy Jones' 1975 Mellow Madness.

Louis Johnson was a key player in the growth of soul and funk music that had a role in many of the greatest songs of an era