As part of his national tour to promote his new CD, "Payin' For My Sins," Grady Champion and the Grady Champion Blues Band made their first ever appearance in Minnesota at the Blues West Steakhouse in Rockford, Minnesota. Frontman, Grady Champion, has been playing the blues only since 1994, having previously been involved in rap music. Just 30 years old, Champion and his band demonstrated a very mature approach to the blues that clearly impressed everyone at Blues West on Friday night.
Grady Champion originally hails from Canton, Mississippi and currently resides in South Florida. During his performance at Blues West, he laughingly informed the audience that anyone from the Mississippi Delta had to know something about the blues. His performance, backed by the Magic City Kid on guitar; Kile Maeheswaren on bass; and Daron Led on drums, made it clear that he does indeed know something about the blues.
After the three-piece band opened with a couple of cover tunes, Grady played his way onto the stage looking very dapper in his creme-colored suit, dress shirt and tie, and a brown felt hat. Looking very much the bluesman, Champion opened his performance with a very up tempo rendition of Willie Dixon's, "I'm Ready," followed by a funky version of Slim Harpo's, "Scratch My Back." Champion worked very hard to fire up the audience talking almost nonstop when he wasn't playing his harp or singing. In fact, he talked before during and after almost every song. He was very animated and displayed a strong stage presence all evening. On numerous occasions, Champion walked and played his way through the audience, stopping to play for a patron or to dance with someone on the floor, while continuing to blow his expressive harp. As he spoke to the audience, he remained very confident in his performance without being cocky.
During the three set show, Champion and company played nearly every song contained on his self-produced CD, "Goin' Back Home," as well as his new recording for Shanachie, "Payin' For My Sins." The vast majority of his songs were originals, many containing elements of his life in Canton and his move to the Miami area. Champion's compositions ranged from the strong boogie feel of "I'm Smiling Again, " the rock-a-billy sound of "My Baby Still Loves Me," and the soulful sound of "Goin' Back Home." One of my favorites during the evening was "My Rooster Is King." Before the song began, Champion told the audience that he always wanted to be just like his pet rooster, with several "hens" following him around all the time. The crowd favorite seemed to be the band's cover of "She's Some Kind Of Wonderful," a song most people seemed to remember when it was performed by Grand Funk Railroad. As Grady burned through the song, the dance floor got more and more crowded and the audience became increasingly enthusiastic.
Grady Champion has a unique singing style and he blows an incredible harp. In my conversation with him between sets, he told me that he is working hard to just be himself as a performer and that while he respects the greats of the blues, he does not want to just be viewed as another copycat performer. He doesn't smoke, drink or curse and he told me that what he would like most of all is to be respected as a performer. Clearly, the crowd at Blues West in Rockford fell in love with Grady and his unique presentation of the blues. It appears that Champion is well on his way to achieving the respect he seeks and his newly found fans will be looking forward to future recordings and live performances.
This review is copyright © 1999 by Dave "Doc" Piltz, and Blues On Stage, all rights reserved.