Music fans in the Boston and South Shore areas are well acquainted with the cachet associated with winning the International Blues Challenge in Memphis, since this region annually sends down outstanding performers in that genre, and Norwell’s Susan Tedeschi got her first big national exposure after her band finished second in 1994. Boston’s Michelle Willson and Evil Gal won in ’93, and the past decade has seen groups like the Matt Stubbs Band and the Chris Fitz Band make their own big splashes while representing The Hub.
So, pointing out that Trampled Under Foot is the group that won the IBC in 2008 should tell music fans that the Kansas City, Missouri quartet is the real thing. But don’t take our word for it, consider the Blues Music Award the band just received for Best Contemporary Blues Album of the Year, for their CD, “Badlands.”
Coincidentally, that album, which came out in July 2013, is also their major label debut, on Telarc Records, after releasing four full albums and two EPs on their own imprint. “Badlands” also achieved a neat trifecta, debuting at No. 1 on the Billboard, iTunes, and Amazon blues charts.
Trampled Under Foot will be performing at the Narrows Center in Fall River tonight and then they’ll be swinging back to the area to headline the North River Blues Festival at the Marshfield Fair on Aug. 24.
Trampled Under Foot had its origins years ago, when the band’s principal members were growing up with a father, Bob Schnebelen, who played in one of Kansas City’s best and busiest blues bands. Guitarist Nick Schnebelen (who won the Albert King Most Promising Guitarist Award at that 2008 IBC) and his sister, singer Danielle Schnebelen (voted Best Bassist in those latest Blues Music Awards), pursued their own separate projects for a while, but by 2006 they were playing together, along with their brother, drummer Kris Schnebelen. In the studio, the family trio was usually augmented by keyboardist Mike “Shinetop” Sedovic, and other guests.
The new record features Mike Finnigan on keyboards, and a guest spot from guitar ace Johnny Schell. Kris Schnebelen has stepped away from the constant touring, so Jan Faircloth has now taken over the drum chair, and Sedovic is back on keyboards. But the core of the band’s music is still Danielle and Nick, alternating lead vocals, and also both contributing original songs.
“We’re very fortunate to be going up to New England a lot this year,” said Danielle Schnebelen from her Kansas City home last week. “That’s one area we hadn’t been able to play in much – last year we played the Bull Run (in Shirley) which was our first time in New England. I can remember seeing Susan Tedeschi at the Dinosaur BBQ, when that IBC she’d been in really helped break her out nationally – everybody in our local music scene was there.
“The IBC definitely helped us, and now the last album has been another big step up,” said Danielle. “Our previous two records (including 2011′s “Wrong Side of the Blues”) were on Vizztone, but this is our first full-label release. It has helped get us in front of people who never heard us before, and really helped broaden our fan base.
“We’ve been touring Europe pretty regularly since 2008, and that’s become an even stronger market for us.”
Those Blues Music awards were a particular thrill, not least because Danielle is relatively new to the bass, picking it up around ’06, simply because one brother played guitar and the other drums, and their potential family trio needed a bassist.
“We were told I had been the first female ever nominated for the Best Bassist award back in 2012,” said Danielle. “That was enough of a thrill, coming off the ‘Wrong Side of the Blues’ album, and it created a little buzz for us. When I was nominated again this year, I never really expected to win it. There were some well-seasoned veterans in that category … versus me? I was shocked to actually win, but it is deeply satisfying, and I am proud to be the first woman to ever get that trophy.”
One cool byproduct of their burgeoning profile is getting to meet some of their musical models. Keyboardist Sedovic lists his influences on the band’s website, including Marshfield’s own Anthony Geraci – who’ll also be on that North River Blues Festival bill with Sugar Ray & the Bluetones.
“It was really funny, when we went on this year’s blues cruise,” Danielle said, laughing. “Anthony Geraci came up and introduced himself to ‘Shinetop’ and said he’d read where he’d been an influence on him. It was so cute, and Mike was just flabbergasted.”
The brother-sister songwriting duo does not usually collaborate. Each writes their own songs, start to finish, and then generally sings them. Some of the standout songs on the latest CD include the lost love song “Bad Bad Feeling,′ the funky, upbeat “Dark of the Night,” and Danielle’s wrenching, Tedeschi-level cathartic ballad, “You Never Really Loved Me.”
“Basically, as a bass player, I’m most concerned with rhythm and the foundation of the song,” she said. “The groove is the most important thing I’m trying to establish. Then I want my words to tell a story, or say something. You can say a lot with just words, but to speak and make it work musically is another thing.”
The only cover on the baker’s dozen of cuts on the latest album is a notable one, James Brown’s “It’s a Man’s, Man’s, Man’s World,” sung passionately by Danielle.
“I had done it once at a Diva Festival, where the idea was women’s songs only. I had always loved the Etta James version of that song, so it was easy enough to pull off that first night. But then the response we got – within six months so many people requested it every night, we decided to record it. I think it’s still a pretty cool song, and we do it now, pretty much every night,” she said.