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The endless drama of the Kansas City Blues Society

The twisted tale of the Kansas City Blues Society.



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After the last candidate spoke, a middle-aged woman not running for the board commandeered the mic. She was a KCBS member, she said, and she had helped found the Blues Society of Omaha. "The KCBS is failing," she said. "People are talking about these shenanigans with the KCBS up in Omaha, in Topeka. I'm a member of this Blues Society. I want to volunteer. I want to help! But nobody will tell us what this Blues Society is working on. There's no minutes of the meetings. There's no information anywhere. I was actually going to vote for Joe until he published, in the Blues News, who we're all supposed to vote for. The president and the board are not the Blues Society. They represent the Blues Society." Cheers went up from the assembly.

One of the primary orders of business for the KCBS is choosing and sending local bands to represent Kansas City at the annual International Blues Challenge. This year, the society selected Jason Vivone and the Billy Bats, and Shinetop and Hudspeth. While the votes were tallied, the crowd enjoyed sets from both acts. Then the results were announced.

The status quo prevailed: Sherrick and most of his cronies were re-elected. There wasn't any screaming or shouting. A few members shook their heads in disgust, but most just gathered their belongings and exited the venue.

Sherrick did not respond to interview requests for this story. At the first meeting of the new board in February, he asked all members to sign a confidentiality agreement that would bar on-the-record conversations with the media.

In 1980, blues legend John Lee Hooker played a show in Lawrence. The next night, he performed in Columbia, skipping Kansas City entirely. At the time, touring and local blues artists had no presence in KC — no regular venues, no interested bookers. A handful of young, enthusiastic men decided that was not right. The next year, Roger Naber, Steve Shoemaker, Lindsay Shannon, William G. Osment and Teddy Dibble incorporated the Kansas City Blues Society as a nonprofit. A few years later, John Lee Hooker played an all-day blues party at the Uptown Theater.

The two decades that followed would become a golden age for the blues in Kansas City. Naber, who served as president of the KCBS for its first 13 years, opened the Grand Emporium in 1985, and it quickly became a world-famous blues destination. Shannon hosted a blues radio show on KCUR 89.3 and then on KCFX 101.1. Following Naber's lead, he opened the music-and-meat mainstay B.B.'s Lawnside BBQ in south Waldo in 1990.

Chuck Haddix, author, historian and host of KCUR's The Fish Fry, was involved with the society from the beginning. "It was a group that was really engaged with the community," he says. "The society put on a lot of major events, like the KC Blues Festival, which grew into the Kansas City Blues and Jazz Festival."

"It would hold picnics to raise money to bring in blues acts for shows at Parody Hall, things like that," says Dawayne Gilley, organizer of the now-defunct KCK Street Blues Festival. "And if you look at those guys now — there was a hellacious amount of growth that came out of that core group of blues society guys. Chuck, Roger, Lindsay — it's an impressive group."

"It turned Kansas City into a real destination for blues music," Pierre d'Entremont, a longtime local blues musician, says of the KCBS. "The Blues and Jazz Festival and the [KCK] street festival were truly international events in the 1990s. That's what I'd like to see again. It'd be nice to get that back."

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