The legendary Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee was the scene of an international showdown. For four days in January, (20-24), 250 blues acts from around the world came to compete at the 31st. Annual International Blues Challenge. Daytonian Noah Wotherspoon took top prize, the coveted “Albert King Guitar Award” for best guitarist and placing 2nd. in the band category. To recap, best international blues guitarist, 2nd. best international blues band. That’s “international”, as in, “the world.” He confesses that late night “did that happen?” texts to his mother help to wrap his mind around the experience.
This trip to Beale Street was not the first. Representing the Dayton Blues Society, Noah and his 2 man crew of Rob Thaxton on bass and Brian Ayler on drums, were accepted into the challenge in 2012, 2013 & 2014. As in past years, Dayton and Cincinnati were well represented with area favorites such as Doug Hart. In three days, Performers passing each round of quarter and semi-finals end up on the Orpheum stage for the final showdown. Noah remarked on the ever-present spirit of Elvis inside the Orpheum, a venue where a teenaged Elvis Presely held a job as an usher. Just working on that stage is a prize that many artists dream of.
The take home prize for the “Albert King Guitar Award” included cash for travel reimbursements, billing on prominent blues fest venues, a “Category 5” Amp and the custom Gibson 335 Albert King guitar.
It’s a long way to Beale Street, just ask Dayton native Noah Wotherspoon. A child prodigy, Noah spent much of his teen years sharing the stage with every major blues great you can name. He also spent many years on Dayton stages such as Gillys Bar and Jazz club with his band “Noah and the Stratocasters.”
Many interviews are archived with a 14 year old Noah. At the time, most questions centered around what it was like to share the stage with legendary blues artists around the world, then come home to play venues that required him to be accompanied by a parent. Even now in his early 30’s, his youthful appearance and humble demeanor add to the shock value for those who are new to the Wotherspoon guitar wizardry. Noah recalled one of his favorite stories of being 16 years old with shoulder length blonde hair and commonly being mistaken for a cute girl. Being blessed with a sense of humor, he shared some of his favorite incidents with me. One such story involved a blues hero of his, Bobby “Blue” Bland. Before taking his turn on the stage, Noah was up front in the crowd, admiring Bland’s set. As any performer might react to a young attractive fan, he was singled out for a very special serenade of “Little Red Hot Mama” from the stage. The audience of blues fans familiar with Noah’s work felt they should inform Mr. Bland of his faux pas by collectively yelling “HE’S A DUDE!” Now, many years later, this is a “family” joke between Noah and one of his closest friends Rodd Bland, the son of Bobby who played drums for many years in the band. Bland and Wotherspoon’s bond deepened over the last couple of years when the two lost their fathers within a short time frame.
Tonight, (Tues. 2/3), you can hear Noah recount the experience of the International Blues Challenge, growing up on the stage, and more as he joins Gene Charles during “Blues Corner” on WSWO Oldies 97.3FM and streaming at . Tune in from 7pm-9pm Eastern.
On Thursday, (2/5), from 9am to noon, he will be talking about the Cincinnati Blues Society Winter Blues Fest on WNKU.org.
Keep tabs on Noah, his bands and his side projects, such as “Nowhere Bear” custom guitar straps,
Here is a brief excerpt from an interview Tony Peters of WSWO Oldies 97.3 did with a 14 year old Noah: