Jenna and Her Cool Friends: From KMA to Memphis

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Arts, January 2012

You don’t have to take my word for how good Jenna and Her Cool Friends are. Of course, if you’ve heard them, you know. If you haven’t, consider this: the won the Smoky Mountain Blues Challenge and have the honor of representing Knoxville in Memphis starting today at the International Blues Challenge. It is set up like a battle of the bands and the winner gets a large boost towards a career on the national stage.

The pictures accompanying this post are from their most recent appearance at KMA’s excellent Alive After Five series. On this particular night the group had added Ben Maney on keyboards and included a drummer new to the group. They sounded as if they had played together for years.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Arts, January 2012

Jenna Jefferson, KMA, January 2012

Both sets were excellent. In the first, the death of Etta James was noted with a fitting tribute version of “I’d Rather Go Blind,” and Jenna never sounded better. The difference in her and other singers who may have sung a tribute to Etta that day is that Jenna has always incorporated her music. She also tipped the hat to various other female blues singers and continued her excellent tradition of teaching a little about the history of the singers and songs as the set moved along. Always interesting and never disruptive to the flow of the show, I look forward to what I might learn almost as much as I do to the music whenever I see them. Almost.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville, 2012

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville, 2012

The music is just too good. Keith Ford keeps the rhythm steady along with an excellent bassist and drummer whose names have thus far evaded me. Ben Maney is, of course, one of the finest keyboard players in our city and is a much sought after side-man by musicians from all genres. He joins a band which already prominently features Michael Crawley who is, without question, one of the finest harmonica players in the city. Jenna is, obviously for anyone with ears, an amazing blues singer. So, how could you beat a band like that?

Ben Maney with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

Michael Crawley with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

Detroit Dave Meer with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

I’ll tell you how: Add Detroit Dave Meer on guitar. I’ve always enjoyed his playing, but for some reason it seemed to me he launched into a whole different level that night. He may not be the fastest or the loudest guitar player. He doesn’t strut about on the stage and sneer like a rock star. All he does is lay down one tasty lick after another. Tasty and tasteful, with just enough nastiness to hit you below the belt, but enough style to be served in the finest venues. The guy is just crazy good.

While both sets were excellent, Jenna told me later she felt the second set really stood out and I agree, though admittedly, who am I to disagree? Sometimes in a concert something takes over that is just bigger than the music and the band. It’s similar to a basketball player who has a night when they can’t miss or a writer who simply serves as a conduit for some other force. It was that kind of night.

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Art, January 2012

Jenna and Her Cool Friends, Knoxville Museum of Art, January 2012

I’ve listened to them practice in the days since the show and they simply get tighter and tighter, working on every small component of what makes for great blues songs. It is some of the most soulful music you’ll ever hear, but each song has also been worked hard to find the jewel beneath its surface. So you have great art, stunning talent and hard, hard work. They practiced so long last weekend I just knew Dave’s fingers must be bleeding.

Detroit Dave Meer with Jenna and Her Cool Friends

So now they are on the road and I’m hoping they win the competition in Memphis. I told Jenna they would win unless the judges simply got it wrong. I also told her I felt they really need to record this band right now and she assured me they are heading into the studio in February. My Ipod can’t wait. Welcome them home like the great band that they are whether they win, lose or draw in Memphis. Find them when they play at a venue near you and look out for that CD. You’ll be very glad you did.

For now, I’ll leave you with a video from last year of Jenna performing “I’d Rather Go Blind,” which I mentioned above. The first time I heard this song was in the Bijou sometime back in the 1980’s performed by the great KoKo Taylor. Here Jenna shows why it’s one of her signature songs.



  1. Dave…you are still a badass stringbender,,,great licks Detroit brother

  2. Knoxville Urban Guy says:

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