The Memphis blues

Jason King Band

Jason King Band takes a break between sets at Sapphire Lounge in Harrah’s Reno. The band members are Jason King Roxas, Paul Squillante, Tommy Stiles and Michael Patrick Moore.

Jason King Band takes a break between sets at Sapphire Lounge in Harrah’s Reno. The band members are Jason King Roxas, Paul Squillante, Tommy Stiles and Michael Patrick Moore.

Photo By Amy Beck

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Memphis, Tenn., is known for a few key things: Elvis, barbecue and the blues.

The latter, flourises most prominently on historic Beale Street, stomping grounds of young B.B. King, which recently played host to the 27th International Blues Challenge, Feb. 1 - Feb. 5.

The competition consisting of over 200 acts welcomed Reno blues quartet Jason King Band.

Jason King Band has been jamming around town for a decade, treating local fans to a mix of funk, rock and blues, while focusing on original tracks with a sprinkle of popular covers, such as Johnny Cash’s “Folsom Prison Blues.”

Although the line-up has seen its share of changes, the current one includes singer and lead guitarist Jason King Roxas, Tommy Stiles on lap steel, rhythm and slide guitars, drummer and harmony vocalist Michael Patrick Moore, and bassist Paul Squillante.

“It’s the young guy with three seniors in the background,” Moore jokes of the seasoned members.

The musicians first heard of the Memphis competition from their publicist. After doing a bit of research, they learned that Northern Nevada hadn’t had any representation for five or six years—not since sending blues soloist Jeff Jones out of Tahoe.

The fire was lit, but King and friends couldn’t just send themselves. Part of the competition rules was that each band had to have a sponsor.

“You can’t just go in there and say, ‘I want to play this,’” says King. “You have to be endorsed by a blues society that’s affiliated with a blues foundation.”

So they knocked on the door of the Reno Blues Society, a local nonprofit organization with the goal of increasing awareness of the culture, history and diversity of blues music.

They succeeded in getting the board’s attention—and also got themselves some competition once word of the opportunity spread.

“Nobody here wanted to do this thing [initially],” says King. But after word got out, other local blues bands wanted the RBS sponsorship. As the festival deadlines for entry drew near, the board had to decide which band to endorse.

“What ended up happening was they took the bands that had released CDs throughout the years and had a listening party,” says King. “They judged based on originality, gigging history, and their regional appeal. … [Ultimately] they went with us.”

The band’s CD Blue Skies & Black Shoes, which helped them win the endorsement, contains many of the toe-tapping tracks King and his talented backers would take to the competition’s stage.

After arriving in Memphis, the band made it through the first round of quarter-finals on Feb. 2.

Their set included all original tracks written by King. Part of the appeal may have been greatly due to the songs’ dance-ability factor, something the band members pride themselves in.

“We tend to be on the higher energy side,” says King. “[People were saying], ‘When you guys got on stage, everything just kicked up a notch.’”

That energy carried with them to the second night of competitions. While they didn’t get all the way to the finals on Saturday, the musicians aren’t disappointed with their performances or the experience as a whole.

“I think we did exactly what we were suppose to do,” says King. “We went there, and we turned heads.”

With an international competition now under its belt, what’s next for the Jason King Band? A nap may sound necessary, but it’s not in the cards.

“When I got back, I started working on new songs,” says King. “I was humbled and inspired all at the same time.”

But they may need a break from barbecue, admitting they heartily ate their way through town.

“If anyone wants to go to Memphis, we can tell you where all the good places to eat are!” says Moore, with a laugh.