Henry Urick said so many other blues societies around the world would be lucky to send someone to the semifinals once every five years. The Santa Clarita Valley Blues Society, he told The Signal, does it almost every year, and this year they did it again.
Between Jan. 24 and 28, both the SCV Blues Society’s solo performer and blues band performed their way into the semifinals in the annual International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tennessee.
Urick said Santa Clarita is rich with musical talent. He’d probably know. Dubbing himself KHUG 97.5 FM’s CEO, program director, chief engineer and the janitor who sweeps the floors in the building, Urick is also just a music lover, with a particular taste for the blues. He said he programs 80 hours of blues music every night of every week on KHUG, and is proud to say that he plays more blues music than any licensed radio station in California.
“Blues is one of the four music forms that lead to the creation of rock and roll,” he said. “In fact, there’s a funny saying that blues and country had a baby and they named it rock and roll.”
According to Urick, the SCV Blues Society hosts a “battle of the bands” each September to decide who they’ll send to the International Blues Challenge.
“I don’t like that title,” he said, referring to “battle of the bands,” “but it is what it is. And this year, about a dozen entrants competed. I believe there were like three in the single/duo category and about nine in the band category.”
Urick added that it was a day-long competition, and that a panel of three judges chosen by the blues society decided which band and which solo artist or duo they’d send to Memphis.
“In order to qualify to compete in Memphis on Beale Street,” Urick specified, “you have to be sponsored by a blues society.”
This year, the panel of judges chose to send Scott Detweiler (the solo artist) and The Matt Lomeo Band (the group) to the competition. Urick said the SCV Blues Society did a fundraiser to help defray the expenses of the trip.
Detweiler told The Signal that he was so very honored to have the SCV Blues Society send him to Memphis.
“They have a really high-standards mandate,” he said during a telephone interview following the International Blues Challenge event.
Detweiler added that while musicians could perform covers in the competition, he and The Matt Lomeo Band performed all original songs.
“I felt like I performed as well as I could have,” he said. “It’s a 25-minute set. You can’t go over you can’t go under, or you get penalized. I started working on my set in July, and then I played it in September. I continued to work my set up until the last week.”
Matt Lomeo, songwriter, lead vocalist and harmonica player of The Matt Lomeo Band, told The Signal that it’s always an honor to play on Beale Street in Memphis, a sort of mecca for blues music.
“I worked on Beale Street singing five or six nights a week for about two years about six years ago,” he said. “So, I was very familiar with the scene. It’s always, of course, an honor to play on Beale Street, no matter how many times you have. This was the first time for me participating in the International Blues Challenge.”
Lomeo added, “We represented the SCV to the fullest, showing that we have something to reckon with in the music world.”
Lomeo also said that his band left it all on the stage, despite not having their regular bassist, band producer and sometime co-songwriter, Terry Wilson.
“The bass player (Wilson) that I won the challenge with for Santa Clarita came down with COVID-19 and was positive with COVID-19 as of Monday, and we were flying on Tuesday,” Lomeo continued. “So, Austin Callender, who is a dear friend of mine and a wonderfully talented bassist, stepped in with less than 24 hours to get on the flight and join us. And he was fantastic.”
Also with the band were Billy Watts on guitar and Joshua Tate Huppert on drums.
“I couldn’t have been happier with the performances,” Lomeo said. “I could do everything but judge it.”
Chuck Strong, president of the SCV Blues Society, said of the competition: “It’s another proud year of achievement.”
The Blues Foundation, which hosts the International Blues Challenge, stated on its website that the annual competition “represents the worldwide search for blues bands and solo/duo blues performers ready for the international stage, yet just needing that extra big break.”
According to Urick, Detweiler and The Matt Lomeo Band competed against hundreds of performers from around the world.
“The last four out of five years, we (the SCV Blues Society) have had people get into the semifinals,” he said. “It’s almost a hat trick to get both the single/duo and the band into the semifinals. First of all, there’s the first round. Then there’s the quarterfinals, and then there’s the semifinals. Then there’s the finals. They (Detweiler and The Matt Lomeo Band) both reached the semifinals round, which is a pretty big deal because you’re in the top 20% of all the people who entered.”
Urick said he’s thrilled that representatives of the SCV Blues Society continue to do so well year after year. Luckily, residents of the area can hear that local talent on a regular basis. Urick suggested checking out “The Down Home Show” that he airs every Sunday at noon on KHUG for an hour, which features 100% locally produced music.
“KHUG streams worldwide, and it’s heard in 154 countries,” Urick said. “And I get emails with regard to ‘The Down Home’ show saying, ‘Gee, I wish my town had talent like the Santa Clarita Valley.’”
Those interested in learning more about or joining the SCV Blues Society can visit SCVBlues.com. To check out live area blues, the SCV Blues Society hosts “2nd Sunday Jams” SCV blues jams at 5 p.m. every second Sunday of the month at the American Legion on Spruce Street in Newhall.