Chad Altenbaumer and his band, The Triptones, will take the stage tonight on Beale Street in Memphis to compete in the International Blues Challenge. Musicians from around the world come by invitation only to compete at the contest, considered the top blues competition in the world.
Staff Photo By Angela Pitts

Blues Brother

Chad Altenbaumer's skill with a six-string have earned him and his band a shot at stardom at this weekend's International Blues Challenge in Memphis

By BRUCE ALSOBROOK, News-Telegram Managing Editor

Jan. 31, 2008 - He wasn't born blind or a sharcropper's son or anywhere near the Mississippi Delta, nor did he sell his soul to the devil. But like B.B. King or Muddy Waters, Robert Johson or any of a number of other legends, Chad Altenbaumer can make a guitar sing the blues.

And there's no argument from those who have heard him that he and his band, The Triptones, deserved to earn a spot this weekend for a chance to win the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, Tenn.

Altenbaumer, a native of Sulphur Springs, left for Memphis early today with bandmates Jason "Snocone" (the nickname "is a long story," Chad says) Jones on bass and Chris Lancaster on drums.

Tonight, and with any luck, Friday and Saturday, too, they'll take the stage at a Beale Street club to challenge for the chance to win the International Blues Challenge, described as "the world's largest gathering of blues acts."

The event represents an international search by The Blues Foundation and its affiliated organizations for the blues band and solo/duo blues act ready to take their act to the international stage, according to the IBC web page.

"Winning the International Blues Challenge is better than having a $100,000 publicity budget," said Zac Harmon, who won the 2004 International Blues Challenge.

Chad, of course, is not alone. The Triptones is a three-piece outfit, though hardly button-down, that includes Jason "Snow Cone" ("It's a long story," Chad says) Jones on bass and Chris Lancaster on drums.

Chad sings lead vocals, but his true prowess is on lead guitar. And liek any good musician, he has "no more than a dozen" guitars, but his main instrument is a WashburnJ9 with "all sorts of Gibson guts in it." (Like any good guitarist, he likes to tinker with the sound.)

Altenbaumer doesn't emulate other guitarists -- he's got a style all his own. He actually admires horn players, and the performer he'd want to copy would be Lester Young, an acclaimed American jazz tenor saxophonist.

In fact, he considers the style of music he's best at more of a "jump blues" sound.

Unlike some guitar heroes, Altenbaumer didn't start playing when he was a pre-teen. He said he started playing when he bought an old acoustic six-string -- "or what was left of it" -- for three bucks at a garage sale about the time he turned 18.

Ironically, Altenbaumer also sold an electric guitar that had been gathering dust in his closet at the same garage sale.

His father, Perry Altenbaumer, is understandably proud of his son's prowess, but wasn't always sure it's what he wanted for Chad.

"We did not encouage this," Perry said this week, saying he and Chad's mother did encourage him to be in the high school band, just not necessarily the rought and tumble rock 'n' roll lifestyle.

"We thought he spent way too much time playing it, but he never quit," said Perry.

Hank Smith taught Chad how to tune that guitar, and he played anything he heard, but eventually gravitated toward the blues full-time.

Chad and Co. earned the trip to Memphis last summer by winning the Paris Blues Society's "Memphis or Bust" contest. The Paris group is one of only 160 affiliates of the International Blues Society that can send a representative to the annual festival in Memphis.

The semifinals begin Thursday and Friday about 5 p.m. at various clubs along Beale Street, with the finalists being announced Friday night.

The band finals will be held from 2 p.m. to 7 p.m. Saturday at The Orpheum Theatre, with solo and duo finals beginning at 8:30 p.m.

On the Web:

24th International Blues Challenge

www.blues.org/ibc/

The Triptones:

www.myspace.com/thetriptones

www.thetriptones.com

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