West Street Blues Band to represent Arkansas in International Blues Challenge

Amanda Rey of West Street Blues Band. All photos by Clayton Taylor.

Just five hours from Memphis, and not much farther from the famous crossroads of Clarksdale, Mississippi, Fayetteville has been a longtime home away from the Delta for blues music in Arkansas.

Dickson Street in particular has heard its fair share of those timeless 12 bars, and has seen some of the most talented musicians in the world interpret their own versions of one of the most soulful styles of American music.

From the Cate Brothers, to Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks, some legendary artists in the genre have cut their teeth and developed their chops here in town, and that tradition has continued with the newest generation of players still picking guitars and blowing harps on Dickson Street stages.

One of those newer bands keeping the blues tradition alive in Fayetteville is West Street Blues Band.

The group, which formed in August 2011, recently won the Ozark Blues Society’s annual Blues Challenge, qualifying them for a trip to Memphis to represent Arkansas at the International Blues Challenge in January.

Bruce Bennett of West Street Blues Band

We got in touch with the band to talk with them about that, their new album due out in 2015, and more, and they were nice enough to answer some questions for us.

What have you been listening to lately?
Michael Burks, Brandon Santini, Mr. Sipp, JJ Grey, and Amanda has an affinity for Eminem. So, there’s that.

Tell us a bit about you guys’ current lineup, and how you started playing together.
Well, fronting the band is Amanda Rey, who called Jimmy Garrett to complete a perfect local union of true blues. Bruce Bennett on bass. The guy is a beast of a man and a man of a beast on the funky bass, always bringing the heavy heavy, and the wardrobe of White Sox jerseys. We don’t talk about that.

Drummers (sigh). There is only one. John Henry Bonham.

We call ours Animal.

Jimmy Garrett of West Street Blues Band

You guys recently won Ozark Blues Society’s Northwest Arkansas Blues Challenge against some pretty stiff competition. Tell us a bit more about that night, and what it means for you guys as a band.
Winning the local challenge has opened doors for us nationally that we have been knocking on for years. Memphis was on our schedule as blues fans and musicians already, and being able to participate as representatives for our blues community internationally is an honor. The King Biscuit Blues Festival was our first stop as a band post-challenge, and we were welcomed into the blues family with open arms. It is a big part of who we are to be involved in the music not only in our careers, but in our daily lives. So, we had planned on going to Memphis to support our area and other musicians win or lose. Winning was the butter on the biscuit.

Dickson Street in Fayetteville has a long history of blues music over the years, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon. Why do you think that is?
Blues is still alive because of the fans. West Street Blues Band was formed in 2011 per request for more authentic blues from the fans of blues music in NWA. We are fans ourselves, so we must all be doing our part to keep the blues alive.

We also heard you guys might have an album coming out soon. What can you tell us about that?
The album is titled Black and Blue. Currently it is being recorded and produced by our friend Perry Auxier. He is an amazing guy to say the least. There will be a 5-song preview release of the album January 9th at the Big Chill in Rogers for our Road to Memphis fundraiser.

Special guests including Barret Baber, Daryl Brooks, Jennifer Baker, Samantha Hunt, and many more friends that have been supportive of the musical community in our area and our aspirations will be there. The album is a compilation of songs penned from the soul and forged from blood, sweat, and tears.

What are some other bands or musicians in town that you think are doing cool things these days?
There is a wealth of talent here in NWA and the coolest thing lately has been the Open Sessions at Ryleigh’s once a month. Shawn James, that guy has been doing cool things as well. Barrett Baber has been getting some great attention for our area nationally and the Razorbacks. WPS! Shout out to all the artists out there in the struggle.

Fill in the blank. The thing the music scene in Fayetteville needs the most right now is ___________.
House of Blues. Period.

As the winner of the Blues Challenge this year, you obviously put on a great performance. What are some upcoming chances for folks to check you guys out live?

The Big Chill in Bentonville January 9th for the Road to Memphis fundraiser with a variety of local superstars, mentioned earlier, in an effort to accumulate funds necessary for the band to travel to Memphis, TN for the International Blues Competition. You can also follow us on Facebook, of course. Can’t wait to see you guys out!

This article is sponsored by First Security Bank. For more great stories of Arkansas food, travel, sports, music and more, visit onlyinark.com.