Forty-eight years after forming his first band, John Gardiner has never been more exited about his musical future, and with good reason.
Gardiner’s Sterling Blues Band qualified for the International Blues Challenge in Memphis in January after winning the Queen Street to Beale Street” qualifier in Kincardine.
“It’s hard to put into words, how excited and thrilled I am about this,” he said. “We have so much fun playing together that this is almost just a bonus, but it’s one I’m so grateful to have had.”
Gardiner, the group’s bassist said his fellow band members – vocalist Kim Sterling, guitarist Aug Polowick and drummer Tom Trembley – are not only talented but have strong chemistry.
“I was in my first band at 14, back when we were using milk cartons for drums,” he said. “I was on the road in the 1970s and have played with a lot of talented people, but nothing beats the feeling we have now.”
A longtime journalist, Gardiner said although he does most of the “talking” for the group, Sterling and Polowick are its driving force.
“Tom and I joke that we’re the rhythm ramblers while Kim and Aug make it work,” he said. “They’re all amazing talents.”
Sterling and Polowick write original music for the group. Three of the six songs that earned them the Memphis trip are original. At the challenge, all material will be their own.
“When the audiences couldn’t tell our original songs from the blues standards we covered, we knew we had some really solid material,” he said.
The male members of the group knew each other or had played in groups together over the years, but had semi-retired before deciding to form a band almost three years ago.
“We knew that if we didn’t have a strong vocalist there wasn’t much point in having a band,” he said. “We got in touch with Kim, and Aug gave her some songs to learn. She came back the next week and absolutely nailed some really difficult vocals. That’s when we knew we had a band.”
For the past three years the band has played throughout southern Ontario including a record 11 sets in 31 hours during the South Side Shuffle in Port Credit, one of the biggest events of its kind in Ontario.
“We’ve had some great fun but it’s been hard work too,” he said.
The band has a true Chatham-Kent feel to it since Sterling is from Chatham, Polowick is from Blenheim, Gardiner lives in Wallaceburg and Trembley, a Wallaceburg native, lives in Sombra, just north of Chatham-Kent.
“We manage get together wherever we can,” he said.
The International Blues Challenge is essentially the World Series in the blues world. A total of 230 bands from around the world will be competing.
“We don’t have any expectations,” he said. We’ll go down and do what we love to do.”
Support from the local music community has been strong.
“Tom Lockwood, who went to Memphis a few years ago, has been tremendous in encouraging us,” he said. “The Chatham-Kent Blues Society, which is a chapter of the Canada South Blues Society, has been vital in growing the blues locally.”