Blues rock guitar fanatics were in seventh heaven this past Thursday, November 12th as a plethora of guitar stars turned out for the crowning of Guitar Center's 2009 King Of The Blues winner in front of a capacity crowd at The House Of Blues Sunset Strip in Hollywood, California.
The culmination of competitions held across the country, it was now down to the final five. Kirby Kelley, Graham Whitford, Joshua Gooch, Dan Peters and Roosevelt Collier, chosen from more than 4,000 guitarists who entered locally beginning July 1st, who would be judged by a panel of some of the most distinguished players (consisting of Steve Lukather of Toto; blues icon Hubert Sumlin of Howlin' Wolf and Muddy Waters; Editor-in-Chief of Guitar World magazine Brad Tolinski; blues-rock guitarist Kenny Wayne Shepherd; Dweezil Zappa, Elliot Easton of The Cars; producer and Grammy Award winner Pete Anderson, and Jimmy Vivino of the Tonight Show Band). All seeking the Grand Finals Prize of $25,000 cash, equipment from Gibson Guitars and Marshall Amplification, endorsement deals from Ernie Ball, Gibson, Boss, Vox and Marshall, and other coveted prizes.
One by one they came out, backed by the aforementioned Anderson's band, all demonstrating the skills which carried them past the thousands of hopefuls previously, performing on both electric and acoustic guitar, with the judges basing their decision upon the criteria of originality, authenticity, style, technique, stage presence and overall performance.
Following their performances, the sold out crowd was treated with an 11 song performance by hard rockin' blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa, fresh from being chosen Classic Rock Magazine's 'Breakthrough Artist Of the Year'. Playing a set filled with a fine cross section of material showcasing the guitar wizardry and powerhouse vocals which have made him the fastest rising performer in blues rock today; by set's end he had left yet another gathering stunned and clamoring for more.
More is what they got, as some very special guests joined Bonamassa and band onstage. First up was former Toto guitarist Steve Lukather, who paired up on a rousing version of the Bobby "Blue" Bland classic made famous by Eric Clapton, "Further On Up The Road":
After another song with Lukather, "The Great Flood" from Bonamassa's latest studio offering 'The Ballad Of John Henry", on came Jimmy Vivino, Hubert Sumlin and young phenom Tyler Dow Bryant (featured in the critically acclaimed award winning documentary of legendary rock photographer Robert M. Knight, 'Rock Prophecies') for Sonny Boy Williamson's "Your Funeral, My Trial" and a spellbinding 10 minute plus "Reconsider Baby":
A very special treat for all the hard rockers in attendance occurred when "The Voice Of Rock", former Trapeze/Deep Purple/Black Sabbath vocalist...the one, the only Glenn Hughes appeared to perform in a power trio format with Bonamassa and drummer Bogie Bowles , wowing the crowd on mesmerizing renditions of first, the Trapeze classic "Medusa" :
Rounding out Hughes' appearance was this fiery, most bluesworthy version of Deep Purple's "Mistreated" :
Finally it was time to announce and crown the winner of the competition, the reason this extravaganza was held in the first place. As the venue held its collective breath, Bonamassa read the name of the chosen one, the winner of Guitar Center's 2009 King Of The Blues Competition...From North Dallas, Texas, Kirby Kelley!
Congratulations to Mr. Kelley and to all the fine guitarists who were all more than deserving to end up in the Grand Finals! (Placard photo courtesy of Robert M. Knight/Guitar Center King of the Blues, all other photos/videos courtesy of Libby Sokolowski)