Colin John, Juke Hounds represent Akron area at International Blues Challenge

By Malcolm X Abram
Beacon Journal pop music writer

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The Juke Hounds band members (from left) Bob Garndner, Jim Kormanik, Gerald Dominick, Mark Smallwood, and Doug Barber at their studio in Hudson. (Phil Masturzo/Akron Beacon Journal)

Every year, the Northeast Ohio Blues Association sends a couple of acts to the big International Blues Challenge in Nashville to represent the Akron/Canton blues community among hundreds of acts representing places all over the globe.

This year’s acts — local blues-rockers the Juke Hounds in the band category and singer/guitarist Colin John in the solo acoustic category — made return trips to compete.

For ultra-competitive folks, winning may be everything, but for the independent, big-picture savvy band or musician, winning is definitely not the only thing. Smart acts know not to waste too much of their energy worrying about their competition; instead they play the best set they believe will appeal to the judges who favor more traditional styles of blues and then network, make connections and collect business cards and phone numbers in the hope that it will pay future dividends.

The Juke Hounds (singer/guitarist Bob Gardner, bassist Gerard Dominick, drummer/vocalist Mark Smallwood, harmonica man Jimmy Kormanik and keyboardist/vocalist Doug Barber) didn’t advance this year, despite receiving high scores from five of the six judges at the showcase, but Dominick said strategy and luck of the judge draw can play a big part in who advances. Ultimately, win or lose, the band has to make the trip useful.

“There are amazing performers everywhere you turn at the IBC. We learned a lot and have begun to add more flavor to our flav that works with our ‘style,’ ” he said. The band’s style, heard on its new album Bluesitude, favors mid- and up-tempo urban blues with elements of rock and soul and a dash of New Orleans with punchy horns punctuating the grooves which sound great on the album.

“The one thing I believe that held us back from advancing was our horn section,” Gerard Dominick said. “Our players were good but they do not play with us all the time and the bands that advanced had amazing horn sections that play with them all the time. It made a difference.”

Meanwhile, John made it to the semifinal round, as he did in 2013, where he lost.

“The guy that moved ahead of Colin to the finals was honestly, not good,” said Dominick, who did a stint in John’s band and still occasionally plays with John at his local shows.

“Colin smoked his ass and this Canadian performer was ridiculously boring. It is what it is. The guy from Canada ended up winning the whole acoustic shebang, which surprised the hell out of me,” Dominick said.

The upside for the Juke Hounds was networking and meeting promotion and management folks from San Francisco, getting invited to play at the Bluesberry Cafe in the heart of blues country, Clarksdale, Miss., and the Hard Rock in Memphis and meeting regional bands with whom the Juke Hounds can trade gigs.

“The tangible benefits were many. The idea that we can hang with very talented groups and gain new fans wherever we play was huge,” Dominick said.

“We realized that we have a bigger age group reach than what we thought as some of the harder songs have made younger listeners appreciate our other songs. Each of us watched players ripping our respective instruments and I know that each of us learned some new performance skills. I am fortunate to play with guys who don’t think they still can’t learn.”

Since returning from Nashville, Juke Hounds members have written another album’s worth of material which they have been work-shopping in recent concerts. You can check out some of the band members tonight at Jilly’s Music Room in downtown Akron where the Juke Hounds Trio (Gartner, Dominick and Kormanik) will open an evening of music that also includes Columbus artist Patrick McLaughlin and local Celtic rockers the Mickeys.

Jazz and wine

The monthly Jazz & Wine Total Experience concerts continue tonight with In Celebration of Life: Live, Love, Music featuring Cleveland musician Michael Austin, who will also be celebrating his birthday.

The saxophonist and his band play a mix of smooth jazz peppered with popular songs from the past and present.

The between-set music will be provided by DJ Mo Lee, and there will be both food and plenty of wine available for tasting yourself into a stupor.

Stone Soul Ball

Next Saturday at the Italian Center Ballroom will be the third annual Stone Soul Ball featuring “Akron’s Own Queen of the Blues,” Marilyn Oliver backed by the Akron family band, the Relatively Jammin’ Blues Band along with the vocal trio Sassy Satin Soul.

The old-school style music revue, which will include R&B, blues and soul classics as well as a few more contemporary tunes, will be emceed by DJ Silk and there will be booze and food available from the Barbara Jean Cafe. In addition, there will be a Best Dressed contest, a “down home blues singing contest” and a Soul Train line dance contest. Advance tickets are available at 2 Live Music (1286 Vernon Odom Blvd., Akron).

Malcolm X Abram can be reached at or 330-996-3758. Read his blog, Sound Check Online, at, or follow him on Twitter @malcolmabramABJ.

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