The Billy Crawford Band turns Northeast State blue on July 16

What better way to spend summer evenings than enjoying Northeast State’s “Hot Nights, Cool Music” summer concert series?

The summer burns blue this month when the Billy Crawford Band lays down a blistering set of blues music on July 16 at the Wellmont Regional Center for the Performing Arts Theater on the Blountville campus, next to Tri-Cities Regional Airport.  Admission is free and open to the public. The performance begins at 7:00 p.m. Doors open at 6:30 p.m. The performance celebrates Northeast State’s 50th Anniversary.

Blues guitar might be associated with Mississippi, Texas and Chicago, but a man of the mid-South has something to say about that. Billy Crawford was raised playing bass in church, then gaining an early hard-rock pedigree on electric guitar. But for the past three decades, he has turned his six-string action toward the blues.

His Bristol-based Billy Crawford Band includes some of the region’s finest blues men. Crawford’s guitar rips through blues, ballads, rock, surf even New Orleans-style. Along for the ride with Crawford are singer/guitarist Rex Boggs, sax man Jay Corder, bassist Robert McClain, and drummer Keith Chinault.

Like a lot of kids growing up in East Tennessee, Crawford dug into hard rock. Randy Rhoads, Ritchie Blackmore and Gary Moore were big influences. But like Moore, Crawford turned to the blues. B.B. King and Elvis Presley were his earliest influences.

The late Stevie Ray Vaughan’s work turned Crawford on his head, after he saw the Strat-master on television in 1984. But it would take two more years for Crawford to find musicians willing and able to play that style.

In 1997, Crawford led a band to a win at the Piedmont Blues Competition, in Winston-Salem, N.C. It earned Crawford and the act a trip to Memphis for the International Blues Competition. They didn’t win, but folks noticed Crawford’s blistering style.

Calls came in for gigs, but he held out, remaining loyal to his band until Deborah Coleman came calling. She was new, unknown and just signed to Blind Pig Records. He took the gig and hit the road with Coleman, playing 18 states over 12 weeks. Over the next six years, he recorded four albums with her, working with legendary producer Jim Gaines and top players from across the country.

When the band wasn’t recording, it was on the road, touring in 20 countries. Among those experiences was one that meant the world to Crawford. He performed with the late Vaughan’s band, Double Trouble.

The circle would come back to Bristol, though, after his wife told him she was pregnant. He left the road in fall of 2002. But he never put down his guitar. Billy Crawford and his band can lay down a mean set of blues music. Catch this phenomenal local talent at Northeast State.

The concert is open to the public and sponsored by the College’s Cultural Activities Committee.  For more information, contact 423.279.7669.

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