Juke Rockets take 'high-octane' blues act to Beale StreetThe 2013 'Hot and Sweaty Tour' heads to Memphis
Belfast — Members of the Juke Rockets Blues Band have stayed busy since forming the group just over a year ago, bringing their high-energy brand of dance-worthy blues to events and clubs all over the state most every weekend.
The Juke Rockets — consisting of vocalist Carlene Thornton, Bob Strusz on guitar, Steve Mellor on bass and drummer Tim Woitowitz — rang in the new year in downtown Bangor a couple of weeks ago. On Saturday, Jan. 19, the Juke Rockets will entertain the crowd at Chummies in Ellsworth.
That will be the group's last gig in the Pine Tree State before they take their act on the road to Memphis, Tenn., Jan. 28, where the local foursome will compete at the 29th annual International Blues Challenge. According to the event's website, the contest is also a five-day showcase that will include more than 200 blues acts from all over the world competing for cash, prizes and recognition in the recording industry.
Along with the hundreds of music lovers who crowd the clubs each night of the contest, Woitowitz said, there will also be no shortage of well known musicians, recording companies and booking agents, all in search of a fresh act.
"We're really honored and happy to go," said Woitowitz in a recent interview with The Republican Journal. "We almost pinch each other."
All of the competing bands will have the chance to realize what Woitowitz said is a lifelong dream that goes unfulfilled for many musicians — playing at a club on the legendary Beale Street.
"We're definitely guaranteed two nights to play," said Woitowitz.
And just as the band did at the state contest, Woitowitz said the group intends to roll out its original songs, and most importantly, have a good time.
"I've never experienced this with any other band," said Woitowitz, noting that no one in the band has an ego and all are in it because they love what they do. "We get out there, we have fun. We do that high-octane kind of blues."
Aside from playing in the competition, Woitowitz said, he and his bandmates are looking forward to meeting other musicians and participating in unrehearsed jam sessions throughout the week. Of course, enjoying the sights, sounds and tastes of the city that is known as the home base of music legends Johnny Cash, Muddy Waters, Robert Johnson and Elvis Presley is also on the agenda for the week.
"We're going to eat barbecue," said Woitowitz.
The Juke Rockets earned the right to compete in Tennessee after winning the title of Maine's best blues band in the Maine Blues Society's Road to Memphis competition last May. Since then, the busy little blues band that was founded by Mellor and Strusz has kept Maine crowds on their feet just about every weekend, and has worked to keep its skills sharp in preparation for the Tennessee showdown.
Woitowitz said the Juke Rockets have enjoyed a lot of support from the locals during the months leading up to their trip — soon after winning the state title, the Juke Rockets were voted Best Blues Band in Waldo County for 2012. Woitowitz said Paul Benjamin, organizer of the North Atlantic Blues Festival, recently spent a Sunday morning critiquing their act in preparation for their appearance in Memphis. Glenn Dubose, owner of Sunset House Studio in Belfast, helped the band put together a CD of demos that the Juke Rockets can distribute to industry professionals while in Memphis. A student at the Belfast Community Outreach Program in Education, where Woitowitz is a volunteer music instructor, volunteered to make Juke Rockets buttons so the band can get its name out in that respect.
Overall, though, Woitowitz said band members are looking forward to putting on a great show and having a good time, just as they intend to do at the roughly 40 gigs they have booked throughout Maine for 2013, a run the Juke Rockets call, "The Hot and Sweaty Tour."
Ironically enough, Woitowitz said, the 2012 string of shows was affectionately referred to as "The Going Nowhere Tour."
"And now we're going somewhere," said Woitowitz with laugh.