For the past 35 years, the Blues Foundation has hosted the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis, Tennessee. Sponsored by blues societies, over 200 acts now descend each winter on Memphis in what is the largest aggregation of blues talent on the planet. Since 2013, the Thunder Bay Blues Society, a Blues Foundation affiliate, has sent 9 local acts to participate.
Recently, Canadian blues artists have come on strong at the IBC. Shakura S'Aida placed second in the band competition in 2008. Matt Andersen won the solo/duo category in 2010. In the same division, Harrison Kennedy was second in 2011 and the pairing of Dawn Tyler Watson and Paul DesLauriers came second in 2012. The Paul DesLauriers Band was runner up in the band competition in 2016. Last January, Steve Strongman was named the best guitarist (Cigar Box Guitar Award) in the solo/duo category. With the exception of Kennedy, all of these artists have performed at the Thunder Bay Blues Festival.
2017 was stellar, with Dawn Tyler Watson and the Ben Racine Band crowned best band and Racine dubbed Guitar Player of the Year, winning the Albert King Award. Their win earned them a performance slot on the 30th Legendary Rhythm & Blues Cruise in the Eastern Caribbean in 2018.
Racine got his start playing in the blues and rock bars of his home town in the Gatineau region of Quebec. He also studied jazz and popular music. Stylistically, Racine is that crowd-pleasing combination, an innovative throwback. Vocally, he emulates the great R&B singers of the 1950s and 1960s, people like Junior Walker, Bill Wither, Stevie Wonder and Clarence Carter. One of the sharpest dressers on the circuit, Racine has the singing skills to keep the vocals front and centre when he chooses. As a guitarist, he's intent on expanding the limits of the blues. R&B, soul, funk and gospel, crisp licks played with conviction, they're all there.
A tight rhythm section of François Dubé (bass) and Nicky Estor (drums) supplies impetus to the set list. Brass foils Little Frankie Thiffault (tenor Sax) and Matt "Moose" Mousseau (baritone sax) flesh out the sound, give it punch and provide many thrilling horn solos too. Thiffault and Mousseau are perennials on the list of Maple Blues Award nominees for Horn Player of the Year. Thiffault took the honor in 2017. It's a terrific ensemble that Racine can always rely upon as a song writer and arranger. One critic compared the Ben Racine Band to a fusion of Colin James Little Big Band and the Brian Setzer Orchestra.
Since moving to Montreal, Racine has been one of the city's most critically acclaimed blues performers. His first album, One of a Kind received a Maple Blues nomination for Album of the Year. A Grand New Brew followed in 2015.
He's supported Kenny Blues Boss Wayne and Shakura S'Aida. But, for the past 3 years, has been with Dawn Tyler Watson appearing on her album Jawbreaker (2016). The musical chemistry has been magical.
Sweet blues guitar and the golden days of horn-driven soul, the Ben Racine Band is not to be missed! www.benracineband.com