“Ped’go!” I would bark out every time I ran into Steve Pedigo, always glad to see him – which was too infrequent these past couple years. Steve was as multifaceted as they come, and he was a lot of things to a lot of people. He was everything from a loving father to a political pundit to a handyman to a motorcycle mechanic to a blues ambassador to a radio disc jockey. Steve’s waters ran deep, and if you named a topic, he could carry on an engaging discussion. I always felt time with Steve was well spent, no matter where, when, or for how long. He was self-deprecating and incisively funny.

The announcement came 10 days after the final notes of the 2015 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival should have filled LeClaire Park: There would be no 2015 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival.

Citing financial difficulties, on July 15 the Mississippi Valley Blues Society (MVBS) said that it had canceled the festival. This followed a decision in February to move the blues fest from its traditional Independence Day weekend to the Labor Day weekend, and to reduce it from three days to two - changes designed to lessen the chance the event would be flooded out of LeClaire Park, to give the blues society the opportunity to raise more money, and to cut costs. The board was sharply divided on both the date-change and cancellation votes.

There are several cruel ironies here.

The cancellation comes a year after the Blues Foundation honored the festival with a Keeping the Blues Alive award for U.S. festivals, citing the Quad Cities event as "one of the longest-running, most-prestigious blues festivals in the world."

And there was no Fourth of July flooding in LeClaire Park this year, and the weather was rain-free and just about perfect. Had the festival happened at its normal time - as it had for the past 30 years - the MVBS would very likely have shored up its financial position significantly. "It would have been the best weather we've had in 16 years," said MVBS Board Member Ric Burris.

Instead, the organization now faces an existential crisis. Will the MVBS be able to put on a festival next year - as its president and many board members hope to? How will the group rebuild its board and fundraising efforts in the wake of this year's cancellation? And would a Mississippi Valley Blues Society without the blues fest be a shell of its former self - or could it perhaps be a stronger organization more focused on its education programs and smaller concerts?

If you're an amateur guitarist hoping to turn pro, particularly one with an affinity for blues rock, you could certainly choose lesser talents to emulate than Kenny Wayne Shepherd. The 37-year-old musician, after all, has been already nominated for five Grammy Awards, has won two Blues Music Awards and two Billboard Music Awards, and was once named the world's third-finest blues guitarist by Guitar World magazine, with only B.B. King and Eric Clapton ranking higher.

If, however, you're an amateur guitarist who feels that the world of professional music will forever be out of reach due to your inability to actually read music, don't let that dissuade you from following your dream. It turns out that Kenny Wayne Shepherd doesn't read music, either.

"Yeah, I still play by ear," says Shepherd, who unofficially began his career as a self-taught guitarist at the tender age of seven. "I used to have to sound songs out one note at a time until I got from the beginning to the end of it. It was kind of a tedious process in the beginning, but you know, it's gotten easier over the years. Modern technology is a big help now, because I can just record things on my iPhone, but yeah - I just play what sounds good, and then I just have to remember it."

"Anyway, that's just some of the stuff," the soul-blues singer Mighty Sam McClain said to me in a recent phone interview. "You're a good listener."

He'd been talking, nonstop, for 31 minutes, responding to the simplest of opening questions: "What have you been up to?" After the compliment he paid me, he chattered for another 39 minutes, with just a few questions to prompt him.

Admittedly, the man has a lot to talk about.

He left his home in Louisiana at age 13 to escape an abusive stepfather. "He hit me a couple times," McClain said. "He hit me in the head with a hammer. Once. Then he hit me with a walking stick. So I was getting ready to kill him. I really was. He was a hunter. And there were guns all over the house. ... I thought about doing it."

Instead, he said, "I crawled out the window, and I didn't look back."

He then hooked up with Little Melvin Underwood, initially as a roadie and by age 15 - in the late 1950s - as a singer.

As he's the son of the late Clifton Chenier - the Grammy Award-winning accordion legend commonly known as "The King of Zydeco" - it makes sense that C.J. Chenier would have a parent to thank for his initial entry into the world of professional music. And he does: his mom.

"I was, like, 20 years old," says the native of Port Arthur, Texas, "and I was playing piano in this funk band I put up in my hometown, and one day we were playing a bazaar at a Catholic Church. And my mother sent one of my friends to tell me I needed to come home, because my daddy called and said he wanted me to go on the road with him. And I was hesitant, because I had never been to too many places, and I knew that everybody in my daddy's band was way older than I was.

"But I got home and my mother told me, 'I tell you what: You're not working. You don't have nothin' to do. You'd better pack your bags and get on out of here!'" Laughing, Chenier adds, "And I just said, 'Yes, ma'am!' I mean, I was hesitant, but I was happy."

Mom's directive, as it turns out, has made a lot of people happy, because 25 years after taking over his late father's Red Hot Louisiana Band, C.J. Chenier performances continue to thrill zydeco and blues fans worldwide. Called "the heir to the zydeco throne" by Billboard magazine and "the crown prince of zydeco" by the Boston Globe, the singer/songwriter/accordionist is an undeniable master of his genre - though the man readily admits that, in the early stages of his career, he didn't fully understand what that genre was.

Toward the end of our recent phone interview, I ask Davina Sowers - the lead vocalist, pianist, and bandleader for her five-person outfit Davina & the Vagabonds - what her plans for the future are, say, five or 10 years down the road.

She answers with her own question: "You mean, aside from world domination?"

I'm fairly certain she's kidding. But considering Sowers' rise to professional and popular acclaim over the past eight years, there's plenty of evidence to the contrary.

A Pennsylvania native now residing in St. Paul, Minnesota, Sowers' career in music, as she tells it, began rather inconspicuously, when the singer/songwriter was performing as a street musician in Key West, Florida. Yet since relocating north in 2005, Sowers has not-so-slowly and surely emerged as one of Minnesota's - and the country's - most exciting and accomplished blues artists, touring extensively with her ensemble of Vagabonds and earning much critical praise in the process.

Selwyn Birchwood's e-mail signature doesn't note that his band took the top prize in the 2013 International Blues Challenge. It doesn't say that he won the Albert King award as the Memphis event's top guitarist. Instead, it says: "Selwyn Birchwood, MBA."

And, yes, that is a Master of Business Administration degree. Suffice to say that Birchwood - also a singer and songwriter - is not your father's (or grandfather's) bluesman.

"That's always been a big part of my life is the scholastic part of it," he said in a recent phone interview. "My family has always pushed me to do schoolwork and do well in school. ... A lot of people say that you don't need school because you're playing music. I looked at it the other way: I think if you're playing music, you need it even more, because if, Lord forbid, gigs dried up and you have to get a job in a pinch, it's a lot easier to get a job if you've got a degree or a graduate degree ... . I always saw it as a challenge as well. I always wanted to see if I could do it."

So he got his undergraduate degree in business marketing, and in December earned his MBA. "I was ... kind of seeing how it can apply to my music," he said.

John Primer grew up loving the guitar, but it took a while for him to have his own.

An uncle made one on the side of the house in Mississippi with nails and wire when Primer was two or three years old, in the late 1940s. "I liked the sound," he said in a recent phone interview. "I loved it." He'd lie on the floor, looking at guitars in catalogs.

By the time he was five, he said, he was playing the side-of-the-home guitar, "when they go to the field or something."

At about that time, he said, he ordered one for $7 or so, but "I never did get it." It was at the post office, cash on delivery, and "I didn't have no money. My mom, she was out of town, working ... . She didn't come back in time to get it, so they sent it back. That broke my heart."

Paul Smoker

It would be hard to argue that acclaimed trumpet player and bandleader Paul Smoker isn't an ideal local-musician-makes-good choice for the 2011 Mississippi Valley Blues Festival. After all, the 70-year-old was raised in Davenport, performed in numerous Quad Cities nightclubs (starting at the tender age of 14), and earned four degrees from the University of Iowa, including a doctorate in music.

Granted, if you were feeling particularly quarrelsome, you could note that Smoker isn't a blues musician, as he freely admits. But while he and his bandmates - the four-man ensemble the Paul Smoker Notet - will be performing at this year's festival in the annual slot reserved for jazz artists, it's not as though the blues is a genre he's unpracticed in.

Nellie 'Tiger' TravisWhen Nellie "Tiger" Travis sang "Wang Dang Doodle" - Koko Taylor's signature hit - she could never hit the high notes in the chorus: "We gonna pitch a wang dang doodle all night long."

"I always did it down low," Travis said in a recent phone interview. Then came Taylor's funeral in 2009.

"I hit the high note for the first time ever," Travis said. "That day, it just came out like that. ... I do it all the time now. ... I can't explain it. I don't know if it was a spirit thing, or if I was just so full until it just came out ... . I just know I hit it now."

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