While he had every right to be bitter and loudly complain to anyone that would listen, he did neither.
Fact is, Florida bluesman Joey Gilmore has too much class to talk about things in a negative tone, or to hold any kind of a grudge.
Instead, he just chalked it up to not being his time.
Gilmore and his band were well on their way to being named winners of the band competition at the 2005 International Blues Challenge in Memphis, when something pulled the rug right out from underneath them.
“Well, what happened was, I was disqualified on a technicality, so I was not recognized as winning the IBC in 2005,” Gilmore recently said. “The technicality was, you could not have a national record out for 10 years prior to you entering the IBC.”
As it turns out, Gilmore was tripped up by a mere six months.
“I had a record out on Ichiban Records – which at that time was a major label for the blues. I had six months left on a 10-year contract and somebody blew the whistle and said, ‘He’s already a national recording artist,'” he said. “The contest is geared more towards amateurs or people that are on the cutting-edge of being professional. They felt like it was wrong for me to be in the contest as a professional, because I still had six months left on my contract. And that’s just the way it was.”
Gilmore had recorded a pair of albums for Ichiban several years prior to trekking to Memphis to compete in the IBC – 1993’s Can’t Kill Nothin’ and 1995’s Just Call Me Joey – the album that ended up disqualifying him from the contest.
EDITOR’S NOTE : Since 2006 any artist not previously nominated for a Blues Music Award is eligible regardless of previous recordings.
Gilmore was not the first act to ever be disqualified from the IBC. However, he is among one of the very few to be sent home one year, only to turn around and return for another go-round the following year.
“The President of the Blues Society in Fort Lauderdale – the South Florida Blues Society – Bob Weinberg, decided that was an unfair move and they took it upon themselves to waive their local contest (in 2006) and put all their efforts and money behind me. The first time I went to the IBC I didn’t go as a representative of the South Florida Blues Society, I went from a Blues Society in Taiwan. Looking back on it, that may have raised some eyebrows with people wondering what that was all about. That could have started some bells and whistles going off, so they dug a little deeper,” Gilmore said. “And that’s when they found out I had six months left on that contract. But anyway, the South Florida Blues Society banded together and sent me back.”
That turned out to be a smart move on the South Florida Blues Society’s part, as Gilmore went back in 2006 and promptly won the IBC again.
And this time, he got to keep the title.
“We just went back and did the same thing we did the year before (2005). We knew we had a winning team and so why not go back with the same thing? We didn’t change anything. And by that time, the six months I had left on my record contract had certainly expired,” Gilmore said. “But you know, we had won it the first time, so why would we change up something that had worked before?”
While the exposure of winning – or even finishing among the top of the list – in the International Blues Challenge has proven to do wonders for the exposure that an artist receives after competition, what really stood out to Gilmore about the whole experience in 2006 was something deeper, more personal than that.
“For one thing, it made me very appreciative that I was playing a style of music that so many people were involved with and that so many people cared about. Up until that point, I had basically just been playing music. But when I won the IBC, I really felt that there was a place for me in the music industry. The prestige of winning the International Blues Challenge makes you feel like you’ve really accomplished something.”
Gilmore has issued four albums since taking the top honors at the IBC in 2005 – The Ghosts Of Mississippi Meet The Gods Of Africa (Bluzpik Records), Bluesman (Emancipation Media), Brandon’s Blues (Mosher St. Records) and last year’s Respect The Blues (Mosher St. Records), a record that came out in February of 2016.
“We had a pretty good run last year, although I didn’t have any out of the country tours, like I’m used to having,” he said. “But everything worked out OK. The album got great reviews and great air-play. As a matter of fact, I think it (Respect The Blues) charted at number five on the European Blues Charts. That was one of the disappointments of last year – that I didn’t get to do any touring over there to follow up on it.”
Years of touring overseas has proven fruitful for Gilmore and thanks to that constant roadwork outside of the United States, he’s built up a faithful following of European fans.
“Believe it or not, I have more fans over in Europe than I do in the U.S., and that’s not nothing to be proud about,” he said. “But if it wasn’t for the blues fans and blues people over in Europe, I would probably be non-existent (as a blues musician).”
As we have learned over the years, it’s really not uncommon for a blues musician from the United States to be more popular abroad than they are in their own backyard. There are several reasons or theories for that and Gilmore runs some of those down.
“My feeling on that is – and I could be wrong again for the first time – I think our country and the American people are geared mostly toward younger performers and younger artists,” he said. “They have more of a thirst or a desire to hear or see younger people perform, than they do for the older guys. I think that’s typical of the American society, period. Older people don’t get no respect, as Rodney Dangerfield said. And in Europe and other countries, they have a better respect for elderly people, regardless of if they’re musicians or not, than they do over here.”
That line of thinking is also reflected in the title Respect The Blues.
“It’s just like I got through explaining; the blues are considered old music for old people and the music doesn’t get a lot of respect because it’s basically old music done by old people,” he said. “Once again, that’s kind of the concept that American people have … they don’t have the level of respect for the blues that a lot of people over in Europe and other countries have for it. That’s what Respect The Blues means to me.”
Honored with a Latin World Talent Lifetime Achievement Award in 2015, Gilmore’s music has always had many different facets to it, but maybe none more so than the soulful sounds of R&B. That should come as no surprise when learning that Gilmore has backed up such luminaries as Bobby ‘Blue’ Bland, Little Milton, Etta James and the ‘Hardest Working Man in Show Business’ – James Brown.
“I started out in gospel singing groups and grew up in the R&B era, when that music was really popular. I played behind some of the biggest R&B people of that era,” he said. “What I tell people is, ‘When you say R&B, what do you think that ‘B’ stands for?’ You can’t separate the rhythm from the blues, because they come together … they’re from the same family. Artists like Ray Charles and Sam Cooke, their music was definitely the blues, but they used the term R&B and that got them over into a lot of places that people may not have normally went to. ‘Blues’ had a stigmatized name and a lot of people would shy away from listening to it, just because of the name.”
After hearing Gilmore deliver his brand of the blues, a lot of those same kind of people seem to immediately be transformed into devotees of the music.
“Yeah, a lot of people hear me play and then they say, ‘If I’d known that’s what the blues was, I’d have been a fan a long time ago,'” Gilmore said. “Well, what they’re doing is separating it … they’re taking the rhythm out of it. I have really gotten a wider fan-base just because I have a rhythm-and-blues background and can play in a rhythm-and-blues style.”
Count Gilmore among the musicians and fans that look at blues music as more than just some kind of old-fashioned, sad and depressing form of music.
“Well, the blues will never die. It’s always going to live for the simple reason that blues is music of the soul. All of the other music out there is just mood music. It will put you in a certain kind of mood or will make you dance, or whatever,” he said. “The blues touches your entire soul. It may be later on in life when they settle down, or it may be when life hits them in the face, but that’s when they realize what the blues is all about. The blues is not always about being sad or lonely or frustrated. The blues has a lot of healing properties in it. The blues is about healing.”
The local barbershop that Gilmore hung around as a teen in Ocala, Florida was owned by a preacher that also owned an electric guitar. The minister would bring his guitar to the shop with him and before long, Gilmore was under the magical spell of the instrument and was well on his way to becoming a self-taught guitarist.
It wasn’t too long after that when Gilmore heard something on the radio that also had a profound effect on him.
“I heard B.B. King and that’s when the blues bug bit,” he said. “Oh, my God! I was about 12 or 13 when I knew that my next moves was going to be the blues. I went from that to having a little band with some local musicians. It was me and a drummer named Johnny Griffin and his brother, Sam, played trumpet in the band.”
Quickly after forming their combo, the guys found out that there might be a few pieces of silver at the end of the rainbow for their efforts.
“We discovered that people loved to see their little hometown boys in a band around town and we found we could make a little bit of money without going out and working in the bean fields,” said Gilmore. “So we played music instead of picking beans or oranges or something like that. We could play our music and make a little bit of money and that’s what kept us going … up until this very day. It was always better to earn money by playing music than by earning money by doing hard labor.”
After stumbling onto to the joys of earning cash through playing songs (sometimes at clubs they were not technically old young to even be in), Gilmore was immediately hooked and has focused on doing just that ever since those teenaged days.
“I always thought that I was going to end up being a musician and playing music for the rest of my life. I hear other people that started out young say they never could have imagined playing music for a living as an adult, but I always thought I would,” he said. “I even told my parents that at a very young age. I made a statement to them that I was going to get a guitar and sing for a living.”
His debut single – “Somebody Done Took My Baby And Gone” – came out in 1971.
Now 72 years old, Gilmore has seen and done a lot in his previous six decades of playing music for a living. Despite the occasional day-to-day drudgery that can be associated with life on the road for a bluesman, Gilmore has no plans at slowing down or stopping.
“I’m going to do like B.B. King did and just keep on playing … I’ll probably die right up on stage,” he said.
And how many more tasks does Gilmore have left to accomplish when it comes to playing the blues?
“All of them. I want to accomplish it all,” he laughed. “I want to be and to do it all … everything. A good friend of mine – Lucky Peterson – he had a record out called, “I Just Want To See And Do Everything.” That fits me to a ‘T.’ I want to see and do everything.”
Visit Joey’s website at: www.joeythebluesman.com