Grady Champion celebrates the good feelings of the blues

Published on March 24th, 2021

By Jim Dail

Grady Champion loves the blues, and he has plenty to say. Just don’t assume he’s in a sad mood.

“I’m the baby of 28 children,” said Champion who will perform Friday at the Old Town Temecula Community Theater. “My dad died when I was young, and mom passed away when I was 22. But I am blessed to be doing what I do.”

He didn’t grow up in love with the blues, but rather “discovered” them in Miami.

“I was raised in Mississippi on a farm and then moved to Miami, and that’s when I got started with the blues,” he said. “I know hard work.”

For Champion, there was something in the music that just immediately connected to his soul.

“I started seeing guys like Sonny Boy Williamson and the sound was just so real and really hit me,” he said. “I saw Sonny as I was going to school and just started to collect the music. I’ve got a huge blues collection.”

Whenever he could, he tried to get on stage and sing the blues, but while it wasn’t the easiest thing to do, his persistence paid off.

“They would have a blues night every Monday, and I just stuck with it, learned to sing and pushed to get myself on stage,” he said. “I started to meet the blues greats like B.B. King and Junior Wells and they started to take me in, which was very important to my career and was also just very encouraging. I ate it all up.”

A major turning point was winning the International Blues Challenge.

“That was just huge, because at that point it was ‘You are either going to do it or do something else’” he said.

That something else was cars.

“I’d have gone back to selling cars, but at that point I had got to a crossroads in my life,” he said. “The economy was going down back in 2007 and I couldn’t make enough to really get going. Doing the IBC got me a lot of attention, and that’s what you need.”

He caught the attention of executives from Shanachie Records, and he began his blues recording career.

YouTube hasn’t been too bad for him either.

“The official video of “Make That Monkey Jump” has been out 17 days and already has 25,000 views,” he said. “It’s just taking off.”

The song has already won the 2012 Blues Reader Critic Awards “Song of the Year,” and is also nominated for two 2012 Blues Music Awards.

It’s also an original composition.

“I write my own songs, and they are about whatever I am feeling,” he said. “You can never do the older guys better than they did it, and besides there have already been a lot of covers anyway.”

And he has plenty of things to sing about.

“I have so much to say and things I want to express about myself, and I do it through my music,” he said. “I am thankful to God for the opportunity, and I want to do a good job.”

Ironically, what he does now in some ways is what he used to get punished for by his mother.

“I like to see people smile and laugh, and I like to clown around with them,” he said. “ My mom would tell me to not clown around when I was young, and she would ‘whoop’ me if I was too much of a clown!”

But that’s not all he learned.

“She taught me to work hard and respect people,” he said. “I want people to see the love I have for others. I love being around people.”

Part of that hard work involves his main instrument, the harmonica, though now he’s also playing a little guitar.

“I got the first instrument I ever owned in December 1994, and it was the harmonica,” he said. “I learned by listening to Sonny Boy. Back then, I heard a doctor saying that the brain never sleeps. I was way behind the game because I’d never learned an instrument.”

His secret: Sleeping to the sounds of the harmonica.

“I would put on the collection Chess Records put out and let it play all night long and sleep to it,” he said. “Then when I was working at a publishing company I would get it out and play during the breaks. People would listen and tell me they liked it so I know I was on to something good!”

He’s also very respectful.

“I don’t allow my children to use the word hate and I won’t allow any curse words,” he said. “You won’t hear me using bad language at the shows.”

Maybe that’s ironic because he was initially a rapper before he made the shift to the blues.

“I was doing it, but then Gangsta Rap started to become popular,” he said. “My mom didn’t raise me to be a gangster and at these shows there would be fights and someone would get cut up or people would be shot. I was a single dad at that time and I needed to put myself into a more controlled audience. I needed to have some degree of protection.”

Unfortunately, as  much of a blues fan his mother was, she never got to see him sing the blues on stage.

“She saw me in church when I was 8, and she did see me on TV when I was a rapper,” he said. “She was happy to see me on TV.”

What Champion stays focused on is being respectful, having a good time on stage, and, truthfully, the needs of his audience.

“You know, every day is not a good day for everybody,” he said. “If a person can come to my show and feel like I made them feel better or get their mind of their troubles for a few hours, then I did what I wanted to do.”


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