Blues Access Fall 2000
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W.C. Handy Blues Awards Reach Legal Age

by Chuck Winans

The Blues Foundation’s annual W.C. Handy Blues Awards came of age with a flourish on May 25, 2000, when the ceremony turned 21. Taped for PBS broadcast for the first time and webcast around the world for the second year in a row, the 21st annual Handy Awards appeared to set a new attendance level, at least from this reporter’s vantage point in the pit down front at the Orpheum Theatre, a beautiful venue just west of the Beale Street nightclub strip. The coveted Golden Circle tickets, which guaranteed admittance to the awards event and the traditional post-ceremony jam at the New Daisy Theatre, were sold out two months before the show.

Hosted by Rufus Thomas and Tracy Nelson (a late replacement for the ailing Ruth Brown), performers on stage at the 2000 Handy Awards included Paul Rishell & Annie Raines, Susan Tedeschi, Little Milton with Warren Haynes, Odetta with Henry Butler, Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets with Sam Myers, and a Handy Award-winners all-star band comprising Pinetop Perkins, Snooky Pryor, Willie Kent, Bob Margolin and Chris Layton. Capping the evening, the legendary Wilson Pickett offered a pair of songs in celebration of his three Handy Awards this year.

The technical aspects of the Blues Foundation’s pinnacle event were markedly improved again this year: The entire ceremony took only three and a half hours to complete, knocking about an hour off last year’s production, and there were no technical problems whatsoever this year.

The post-ceremony jam session, held in the spacious New Daisy Theatre, was emceed by New York City’s own Buddy Fox and featured Tab Benoit, Henry Butler, Gaye Adegbalola, Ronnie Baker Brooks, Trudy Lynn, Syl Johnson and a host of others. The room was still crowded at closing time.

The second annual Handy Awards Blues Festival held in the clubs on Beale Street took place over the following two days, a seemingly non-stop run from club to club to club. Starting at the top of Beale Street, Long John Hunter held court at Elvis Presley’s Memphis, while Johnny Bassett grabbed the crowd by the tail at B.B. King’s. Across the street, former Muddy Waters band members Pinetop Perkins and Bob Margolin sailed through a set of standards and originals. James Harman and Eddie Burks switched off shows all weekend at the Blues City Cafe, while Eddie Shaw & the Wolf Gang did spellbinding sets at King’s Palace. Sam Cockrell & the Groove kicked blues butt at the Hard Rock Cafe, and Rod Piazza & the Mighty Flyers packed a house of excited, cheering fans at Rum Boogie.

Finally, the Rounder Records show at the New Daisy Theatre provided a forum for their Bullseye artists, including Smokin’ Joe Kubek with Bnois King, Anson Funderburgh & the Rockets, Michelle Willson, Candye Kane and Roomful of Blues. And what can be said about the wanderings of the fabulous Curtis Salgado? He sat in the entire weekend with virtually everyone on the Beale Street strip. There must be three of this guy! Wherever I went, Salgado was there, playing harp and vocalizing, drawing huge crowds and standing O’s at every venue.

The Blues Foundation once again exerted tremendous effort with its undersized staff to organize and present their top blues event of the year. Set in the surroundings close to the heart of where the blues was born, Memorial Day Weekend has never been more fun. I know I drove back to Chicago, but I could just as easily have floated on air.

The 21st Annual W.C. Handy Blues Awards Winners:

  • Blues Entertainer of the Year: B.B. King
  • Blues Band of the Year: Rod Piazza and the Mighty Flyers
  • Contemporary Blues — Male Artist of the Year: Keb’ Mo’
  • Contemporary Blues — Female Artist of the Year: Susan Tedeschi
  • Soul/Blues — Male Artist of the Year: Wilson Pickett
  • Soul/Blues — Female Artist of the Year: Etta James
  • Traditional Blues — Male Artist of the Year: R.L Burnside
  • Traditional Blues — Female Artist of the Year: Koko Taylor
  • Acoustic Blues — Artist of the Year: Keb’ Mo’
  • Best New Blues Artist: Big Bill Morganfield
  • Blues Instrumentalist — Guitar: Duke Robillard
  • Blues Instrumentalist — Harmonica: Charlie Musselwhite
  • Blues Instrumentalist — Keyboards: Pinetop Perkins
  • Blues Instrumentalist — Bass: Willie Kent
  • Blues Instrumentalist — Drums: Chris Layton
  • Blues instrumentalist — Other: Clarence "Gatemouth" Brown (fiddle)
  • Contemporary Blues Album of the Year: Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan, In Session (Stax/Fantasy)
  • Soul/Blues Album of Year: Wilson Pickett, It’s Harder Now (Bullseye Blues)
  • Traditional Blues Album of the Year: Muddy Waters, The Lost Tapes (Blind Pig)
  • Comeback Blues Album: Wilson Pickett, It’s Harder Now (Bullseye Blues)
  • Acoustic Blues Album of Year: Paul Rishell and Annie Raines, Moving to the Country (Tone-Cool)
  • Reissue Album of Year: Hound Dog Taylor, Deluxe Edition (Alligator)
  • Blues Song of the Year: "Change in My Pocket" by Sam Myers, Anson Funderburgh, Renee Funderburgh (Anson Funderburgh and the Rockets with Sam Myers/ "Change in My Pocket")
  • Blues Album of the Year: Albert King/Stevie Ray Vaughan, In Session (Stax/Fantasy)


©2000 Blues Access, Boulder, Colorado, USA