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Local Blues Winners Talk National Competitions

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Staff Report

The winners of the 2012 Blues Competition hosted by the Ozark Blues Society sat down to talk with TFW about what sets them apart, and what they’re looking forward to in representing Northwest Arkansas when competing in the 2013 International Blues Challenge, Jan. 29-Feb. 2 in Memphis, Tenn.

Buddy Shute

How long have you been playing blues music?
Since I was 16 — almost 50 years. I started in school in the band. It turned out one of the school band members was in a rock n’ roll band and they needed a saxophone player. I was playing saxophone at the time and I started playing with them and it was all downhill from there.

What is it about blues that you enjoy?
How unpretentious it is. You can kind of let go and do whatever you feel like. It’s kind of like expressing how bad things are makes you feel good. I also like the improvisation. You can do a song one way one night and the next night do it completely different. It comes down to expressing how you feel.

What was your strategy for winning?
Actually, I participated a couple years before so I had an idea of what was expected. There was a lot of really good people competing and I didn’t think I had a chance. I think that’s why I won — because I just went and played and won and that’s just how it turned out. They have very structured expectations, like giving so many points for originality and blues content. They make it so I’m not competing against the competitors but against the score.
What will you take with you to Memphis that you learned from the local competition?
About how many good people there are in the area. I guess everybody has a chance. If I can do it anyone can do it.

What are you most excited about in getting to go to Memphis?
It’s kind of an honor to represent this area. Also, I grew up in Memphis, so it’s kind of like a full circle kind of thing. I’m just going back where I started, and I was lucky to be born in that area because all that stuff kind of saturated my brain without me even trying. I thought everybody grew up with music like that. I’m very appreciative of the blues society for doing this. Everyone’s volunteering their time and I appreciate that greatly.

Leah and the Mojo Doctors

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Leah and The Mojo Doctors

How long have you been playing blues music?
The band started out as a blues band and I am the only remaining founding member, but Leah and the Mojo Doctors was founded in 2001. I’ve personally been doing it for longer than a decade. The current band members have been together for many years, the youngest member is Jody Andrews who just celebrated a year with us. Something that I take very seriously about our band is that I have always considered us to be a blues band. Blues can be interpreted in a million different ways. For whatever reason, I felt very strongly that it was time to solidify that, and truly make that an identity of Leah and the Mojo Doctors.

What is it about blues that you enjoy?
Blues music is something that’s a medium of heartbreak and redemption. It’s a medium of everything in between those things. It’s something that’s gritty, organic, and that sounds really cliché, but it’s hard to summarize in words because it’s an emotion. When you play blues music you either understand it or you don’t. It can send you into a completely different stratosphere. It’s intimate and so many different things it’s hard to verbalize.

What was your strategy for winning?
My honest opinion: it certainly doesn’t make us any better than our peers, because there are some amazingly talented blues musicians in Northwest Arkansas. But what truly makes Leah and the Mojo Doctors unique is our energy. When we take the stage and play live, we come together. It’s tight. It becomes very intimate. Our energy sets us apart.

What will you take with you to Memphis that you learned from the local competition?
What it comes down to is you don’t make a lot of money doing this, you don’t get a lot of perks as far as sponsorships or celebrity status. If you do this and if you truly put the work in that’s required, what happens is that you get a satisfaction of playing live that’s unlike anything else. We’ve worked really hard to come together as a functioning band. There’s a lot of bands that are dysfunctional. We’re really good friends, we can work professionally with one another. We’re just a small town blues band, we’ve got a small town behind us that loves us and supports us and we’re truly doing it because we love to do it.

What are you most excited about in getting to go to Memphis?
I’ve said all along that I really just want to play music with my band on Beale Street. Who gets to do that? Not a lot of people I know. That will be fantastic. I love the idea we’re going to be in a concentrated environment where we can sit and enjoy other bands playing and learn something and be inspired by some things. If someone walks up and offers us a record deal, OK. But we just want the experience.

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