Back in 2009 Little Joe won the International Blues Challenge (IBC) in Memphis as a solo performer. He was representing the Blues Society of Tulsa. Little Joe had moved to Tulsa, Oklahoma from Boulder, Colorado where he had busked the Pearl Street Mall since age 9. In Tulsa Little Joe languished in the coffee houses and cafes until he was old enough to play in the bars with his band. Joe took his band to the IBC in 2008 and had a great time. He returned to the IBC in 2009 all by himself and won the thing. Since winning the IBC Little Joe has performed at festivals from coast to coast and border to border, traveling to shows on four continents appearing solo occasionally but most times with his band.
Following the 2010 release of his critically acclaimed CD “Believe I’ll Make a Change” Little Joe joined forces with Jazz at Lincoln Center as part of the Rhythm Road. The Rhythm Road is an educational and cultural exchange program started in the ‘50s by the US State Department. Originally known as the Jazz Ambassadors, the Rhythm Road has featured such musical legends as Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington, Dizzy Gillespie, Dave Brubeck and now Little Joe. Little Joe and his band traveled for over a month throughout the Persian Gulf region of the Middle East. Little Joe and the band performed concerts, night clubs, colleges and schools in Kuwait, Bahrain, Oman and Saudi Arabia in the months leading up to the Arab Spring uprising. His musical documentary of the tour, “Shuffle Diplomacy”, is worth watching.
Little Joe McLerran has become a musical Ambassador of sorts. He has taken these American Blues to some very out of the way places. With his Piedmont Blues cover Little Joe travels worldwide explaining how the Blues, rooted in the culture and voice of those who came to America’s shores, willingly or not, became the root of all popular western hemisphere music. In 2011 he took the band to Paraguay, South America on another cultural exchange mission for the State Department. The connection made in Paraguay with local blues enthusiasts led to the formation of a new blues society, the AsoBlues del Paraguay, soon to be affiliated with the Blues Foundation in Memphis. Coinciding with the release of his new record, FaceBook Blues, Little Joe is at it again. This year he is taking the band to Columbia and the Cali Blues Festival on yet another State Department mission of cultural exchange.
“I play the pre-war blues. I started with the Piedmont style which is rooted on the Southeast seaboard. It has a heavy ragtime quality. I’ve had a number of different influences over the years. I spent a lot of time in New Orleans as a kid getting to hang out with Snooks Eaglin and others, so my music also has a touch of the Big Easy. Of course I love Big Bill and Tampa Red, Mississippi John Hurt and Jelly Roll Morton and I compose most of my songs with that style in mind. Most of my inspiration comes from artists most people have never heard of. I really like that a lot.”