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Blues World Celebrates at the BMA's
5 May 2008
The Blues Foundation's Chief Executive Jay Sieleman and XM Satellite Radio's blues host Bill Wax comment on the Blues Music Awards. Do the blues need an Oscar Gala of their own?
The Blues Music Awards will be handed out at the appropriate ceremonies in Tunica, Mississippi on Thursday. But do the blues need a flashy, annual 'Oscar Gala' like this? In a interview, The Blues Foundation's Chief Executive
Jay Sieleman and XM Satellite Radio's blues host Bill Wax comment on this and other topical issues.
An "Oscar Gala" of the blues – why is it important?
Jay Sieleman: The mission of The Blues Foundation includes celebrating Blues excellence and the Blues Music Awards honor the best in recordings and performances of the past year. The nomination and voting process brings increased awareness and recognition to the musicians. The event itself offers the chance for the Blues community to come together to re-energize itself for the next year.
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Bill Wax: I think it is very important for the blues world to celebrate and honor their own. The Grammys are clueless, so we need to make sure we acknowledge those who help keep this great music strong and growing. This is an opportunity for the fans of the blues to show their appreciation for the musicians, and for the musicians to show their appreciation for the fans. The BMA's uniquely does both.
Which artists/albums are your personal favorites this year?
Jay: Generally I do not comment publicly because of my position, but with the process all over except the announcement of the actual winners, probably my favorite release for the 2008 Blues Music Awards is Tad Robinson's "A New Point of View".  I just love the song "Long Way Home."  One of the most memorable performances I saw during the eligibility period was by Koko Taylor at the Beale Street Music Festival. She stalked the stage just like the old days.
Memphis, Chicago, Mississippi... the blues have a lot of "homes". What is the home of the blues in your opinion and why?
Jay: There is no one home of the blues. Mississippi is the birthplace of the Delta style blues and the birthplace of so many musicians that moved on to Chicago. There is a resurgent blues scene in Mississippi. Chicago became the home of the blues band in the 50's and 60's and still may be the home of nightly live blues. Memphis is the place where the Delta Blues was spread to the world, because this is where the Delta musicians first came when they left the Delta and where W.C. Handy began publishing sheet music for blues. 
Today, Memphis is the Home of the Blues because the world's blues music organization--The Blues Foundation--is headquartered here. Two of the most important Blues events each year are produced by The Blues Foundation in Memphis--the International Blues Challenge and the Blues Music Awards. And everyday around the world, people think Memphis when they want to know something about Blues because they call or e-mail The Blues Foundation or visit our website. 
Bill: I would say the home of the blues today is the world.  Blues has become universal and should be recognized as such.  In the 1920's I would have said the home of the blues was Texas, the Delta and New Orleans. In the 30's and 40's I would have said Atlanta, St. Louis, Memphis and Chicago.
We don't usually see many Europeans on the nominees list. What is your view on the European blues today?
Jay: I have seen a number of European Blues artists including some world class acts like Sven Zetterberg, Philip Fankhauser and Marco Pandolfi. I have seen many European acts in festivals there and in the International Blues Challenge here. Even the best Europeans have trouble getting nominated due to exposure. We have nominators in Europe but most are from the United States.  There may be a qualitative difference for some bands but for some it is more a matter of US exposure.
Bill: I think there are fine musicians all over the world making great blues music. We here in the States might not be as aware of the European players but they are there and doing a great job.  I know the English musicians have been recognized and I am sure with more exposure artists like Louise Hoffsten, Marco Pandolfi and others I don't know about yet will be honored. I would say access to their music is the biggest drawback to the United States blues fans knowing and recognizing more European players.
Any idea about the blues in Finland? Know any artists?
Jay: Arrapaa was in the International Blues Challenge in 2007.  I am a little famililar with Wentus Blues Band.
Bill: I am sorry to admit I do not know much about the blues scene in Finland.  I would hope as communication continues to get easier we will learn about more of the Finnish musicians.
It has been sad to see so many blues legends pass away recently. Who do you think are the best young talents in keeping the blues alive?
Jay: One can always check out who is nominated for Best New Artist Debut, but check out Kilborn Alley Blues Band, Homemade Jamz Blues Band, Delta Highway, Dave Gross, among others.  In Canada, there is JW Jones. In Europe, Ana Popovic or Back Door Slam have a Blues-rock thing going. 
Bill: I don't know if I could say these are the best, as there are a lot good musicians out there. But here are some of my favorite younger musicians currently - Shemekia Copeland, Ronnie Baker and Wayne Baker Brooks, the next generations of the Neal Family, the younger Burnsides and Kimbroughs, Joe Bonamassa, John Nemeth, and the Wiyos. This list is hardly complete but a start.
What is the importance of the media, online media especially, in keeping the blues alive?
Jay: All parts of the Blues community are important, including all media. Online and other newer forms of media are not only the primary source of information for younger people, they serve as the worldwide link to all Blues fans. I and The Blues Foundation are accessible to someone in Finland or Nepal as we are to someone in Memphis or Chicago.  
Bill: The media is important as a delivery system for the blues. Without both traditional media and new media, people such as the internet artists would have a hard time making a name for themselves and the public would have a hard time finding out about the musicians. I, as a radio programmer, see the relationship of the artists to the programmers, whether radio or internet, like the sucker fish to the whales. We programmers are the sucker fish, the whales are the musicians.  The whales need the sucker fish to help survive but the whales are doing the major part of the work. I hope this analogy makes sense!


The Blues Foundation, XM Satellite Radio
The Tunica Grand Casino and Hotel is ready to host the Blues Music Awards on Thursday.