The Avey Brothers blues band traveled from
Iowa to the Upper Peninsula on their
journey to national fame.
By STEVE SEYMOUR
Pay attention to the Avey Brothers.
This talented trio from Iowa have plenty of blues chops and they're not afraid to travel for a gig.
They proved both facts during a concert appearance at the Terrace Bay Inn in Gladstone on March 12.
Sponsored by Blues For A Cause, proceeds from the event benefited the Community Action Agency's Walk for Warmth program.
Consisting of Chris Avey (lead guitar and vocals), brother Mark Avey (bass) and Wes Weeber (drums), the band delivered a powerful mix of originals and covers.
Their lively and cohesive concert was even more amazing considering that Weeber substituted for drummer Bryan West and that the trio made a tiring 410-mile trip from Davenport, Iowa before the show.
The Avey Brothers are favorites around the Quad Cities area, actually five cities straddling the Mississippi River on the Iowa-Illinois boundry. The group includes the Iowa cities of Davenport and Bettendorf (where the Aveys were born and raised), and Rock Island, Moline and East Moline in Illinois.
The band made several 1,100-mile round trips to Memphis to participate in the International Blues Challenge (IBC) and leader Chris Avey played lead guitar and sang background vocals for Big Pete Pearson in Phoenix for several years.
While the Avey Brothers may have been paying some dues during their recent Upper Peninsula visit, their performance was carried by an unpretentious expertise which captured the audience.
The band opened with "Big Boss Man," the classic Jimmy Reed song from 1961, also covered by Gene Chandler and Elvis Presley.
Reed's composition ably demonstrated the combo's strengths: Chris Avey's commanding vocals and precise guitar, Mark Avey's thumping bass and Weeber's aggressive drumming.
The trio applied their own stamp to cover songs and played a number of originals from their two compact discs.
The title track from their "Preacherman" CD and that disc's "Rather Be Drunk" and "I Got to Know" were also concert standouts.
They filled out their two sets with some well-chosen covers such as B. B. King's "It's My Own Fault," Willie Dixon's "Seventh Son" and Bo Diddley's "Before You Accuse Me." The crowd also responded enthusiastically to "Red House" by Jimi Hendrix, "Bring It On Home to Me" by Sam Cooke and Robert Johnson's "Sweet Home Chicago."
As the program came to an end, the crowded demanded and received a two-song encore.
Although he now leads his own band, Chris Avey first picked up the guitar at age 16 and played in a few rock bands with his older brother Mark.
Chris became intrigued by Stevie Ray Vaughan after the iconic blues guitarist died in a helicopter crash following a concert at Wisconsin's Alpine Valley on Aug. 27, 1990.
Not long after Avey decided to dedicate his musical endeavors to the blues tradition which Vaughan had explored.
Born Lewis Paul Pearson in Jamaica in 1936, raised in Texas and now living in Litchfield Park near Phoenix, the elderly bluesman had moved to the Austin area with his family when he was a boy. He relocated to Phoenix in the early 1960s, playing with Duke Draper and joining Jimmy Knight and his Knights of Rhythm. In the 1970s Pearson was lead vocalist for Drivin' Wheel and has since fronted his own groups, including the Blues Sevilles.
After his journeyman experience with Pearson, Chris Avey returned to Iowa where he and Mark formed the Avey Brothers with Bryan West in 2008.
The trio recorded "Devil In My Bed" just six months later and ramped up attention in the band by winning the Iowa Blues Challenge in 2008 and 2009. The Avey Brothers advanced to the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, becoming a semifinalist in 2009 and a finalist in 2010. The annual competition is held on Beale Street, the blues music center of Memphis.
Sponsored by the Blues Foundation, the IBC was launched in 1985. The event has evolved into the country's largest showcase for blues musicians looking to expand their fan base.
Actually a "Battle of the Bands," the IBC event seeks to give promising blues bands and solo/duo acts an "extra break" to make a name for themselves on a national or international level. Competitors, like the Avey Brothers, first won regional competitions. The 2011 version of the IBC comprised 110 bands and 83 solo/duo acts.
An impressive list of current blues artists have competed in the IBC over the years including Tommy Castro, Sean Costello, Albert Cummings, Larry Garner, Joe Moss, Jason Ricci, Super Chikan, Susan Tedeschi, Teeny Tucker and Watermelon Slim.
They are now touring about 150 dates per year, with Wes Weeber filling in on the drum kit at many shows.
The Avey Brothers U. P. concert was the 11th in a series of shows which have featured Rev. Raven and the Chain Smoking Altar Boys, the Nighthawks, Joe Moss, John Hammond, Bill Lupkin and Robert Allen Jr.
Raven, who has a growing fan base in northern Michigan, will be featured in the next concert, scheduled for Friday, April 22 at the Terrace. Proceeds will go to the Flagship Farm horse rescue in Bark River and the Delta County Animal Shelter volunteer-sponsored programs.
Blues For A Cause founder Wendy Pepin said she was enthused about the big sound the Avey Brothers generated and would welcome the trio back for a return engagement.
The audience which gave them a standing ovation after the recent local show would doubtless agree.
So would fans on the west coast where the band has played, in the Quad Cities and Memphis.
For the up and coming Avey Brothers, the road to success also runs through the Upper Peninsula.