“We’re gonna go down there and make some noise, show ’em how we do it up here,” jokes Scranton-based blues guitarist Lee Delray about his band’s impending trip to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis come January.
But first, the band could use a little jumpstart to set them on their way.
The Lee Delray Band is holding a fundraiser on two ends – both physically and virtually: at O’Leary’s Pub in Scranton on Sunday, Dec. 22, and also through an online Indiegogo campaign, ongoing until the first week of January. The fundraisers will be used to help defray costs associated with the band’s travel and lodging expenses in Memphis.
Delray is representing the Lehigh Valley Blues Network at the IBC. His band is one of many picked from local Blues Networks, or non-profit organizations dedicated to promoting blues as an art form, throughout the world to compete during the week of Jan. 21 for monetary prizes and recording industry accolades at the 30-years-running contest. Last year, 125 bands and 80 solo acts were heard igniting the clubs of Memphis’ hallowed Beale Street with the hottest licks and soulful sounds on the planet.
“This was our first time out entering the competition,” says Delray. “Fortunately, we made it. We’re very happy to be representing the Lehigh Valley Blues Network.”
The IBC performance will cap off a solid year of highs for Delray’s band. In addition to a full plate of live gigs, which included festival performances sharing the bill with blues legends like James Cotton and Johnny Winter, this past spring, they released their debut CD, “570 Blues,” on Premier Records, which has received rave reviews in respected niche publications like Blues Blast Magazine. Delray, who is Florida-born, raised in New York City, and now firmly planted in Scranton, had the notion of this set of original music kicking around for a while.
“I was writing different kinds of material, and I knew I wanted to do something that would really represent the area, as well as my upbringing and where I am now,” he says of the album’s subject matter. “There’s material on there as old as eight years; it just kept evolving.”
A constant process of recording and scrapping the collected work resulted in an album, while full of the crisp guitar-slinger tones associated with Delray’s venerable heroes like Albert King, is really blues from a songwriter’s perspective.
“It’s really a good representation of what I do,” he says.
Delray was intent on not doing a traditional “guitar player’s” blues record. He notes that as far as his personal tastes are concerned, he doesn’t listen to the music for the guitar player, but rather for the overall vibe of the record – the groove, the emotion.
“I wanted to appeal to everybody,” he admits. “I wanted to be able to crossover – to be able to have a guitar player pop the CD in on a long trip with his wife, and after 10 minutes, the wife doesn’t say, ‘Can we put on Tim McGraw now?’”
Delray lays out the argument that in a sea of blues albums dominated by great guitar players, it’s almost cheating the listeners that aren’t in it strictly for the six-string attack. His varied tastes and influences include doo-wop, soul, country, and even a little New Orleans funk.
“It’s all in there if you listen hard enough,” he says. “The blues is so much deeper, which is why pretty much everything is based off of it. The blues comes in so many forms. Why does it have to be just one thing?”
The crowds assembled for Delray’s performances in Memphis should be in for a treat if his reputation does indeed precede him. He firmly states that his show is all about connecting with an audience on a personal level.
“My music does come across live very well, and I involve the crowd a lot,” he says. “I try to get across what I’m feeling and the message I’m bringing.”
The fundraising show at O’Leary’s Pub in Scranton should be a worthy precursor to the more heated live stage ready for Delray in Memphis. He notes that patrons at the upcoming Scranton show will get a healthy mix of classic covers, cuts from the recent CD, and even a sneak preview of his upcoming “Brand New Man” CD, slated for release sometime in 2014.
“I’m going to take them right through the years musically,” he says. “Maybe I can even turn some people on to some music they’ve never even heard before – I like a lot of bluesmen that don’t get a lot of recognition, like Bryan Lee.”
Looking ahead to January, Delray is cautiously optimistic of his chances in the IBC, but is firmly confident that his band has what it takes to create quite a spark.
“I don’t know if what I do is exactly what they’re looking for, but we’re going to go down there and do what we do,” he says. “Hopefully, we can come out victorious. If we don’t, it’s no problem – I was never one on having music as a competition, per se, but this is a very cool thing to be involved with. There are a lot of connections to be had down there, and let’s face it, that’s what this business is all about.”
Delray is admittedly pumped up about the Memphis trip, noting that not many winners have been from our neck of the woods – something he hopes to change. He also believes the IBC is a great way to distance yourself from the pack, hopefully lessening the struggle many touring acts face during these tough economic times.
“The competition could make your career,” he says. “Because, let’s face it, there are guys out there doing gigs for money you’d never thought they’d be taking – top national guys, too.”
In the wry, hard-nosed tongue of a warts-and-all bluesman, Delray leaves us with his final thoughts on his IBC mission statement.
“Like it or not, they’re gonna hear it – and they’re not gonna forget it.”