On February 7, 2009 Little Joe realized a goal, four years in the making, by taking 1st Place at the 25th Annual Blues Foundation's International Blues Challenge [IBC] held in Memphis. With three stellar sets in his fourth consecutive trip to the IBC, Little Joe walked away with the crown, all by himself.
Since winning the IBC, Little Joe has traveled from coast to coast and to Europe playing festivals and club dates. These dates include The Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Oregon, The Illinois Blues Festival, the Rootsway Blues Festival in Parma, Italy and the Legendary Rhythm and Blues Cruise into the Pacific.
Little Joe McLerran, "Perhaps the finest Piedmont Blues player on the face of God's green earth", writes Billy Austin, editor of "Blues News". No small wonder. Little Joe has spent 16 of his 24 years on God's green earth working on his Piedmont chops. For his first public performance Joe sang a Leadbelly song and played another by Rev. Gary Davis as his 4th grade classmates provided theatrical support.
Little Joe was born in Boulder, Colorado in July 1983. By the time he was 9 years old Joe and his younger brother Jesse had started their first band, "Buddy Hollywood". With Jesse on drums they would set up on the Pearl Street Mall in Boulder playing Beatles, Bob Marley and all those great old blues songs Joe was learning. The mall patrons were amazed to see these young kids playing songs by Big Bill Broonzy, Skip James and Mississippi John Hurt followed by Ob La Dee Ob La Da or Redemption Song. They could make a couple hundred bucks in a couple of hours. They always filled the hat whenever they made an appearance on the mall, much to the dismay of the homeless guys hanging out playing Eagles songs.
When Joe turned 15 the McLerran family moved to Tulsa, Jesse took up the washboard and they started playing the old blues songs again. Jesse patterned his washboard after that of an old family friend, Washboard Chaz Leary from New Orleans. Chaz was Jesse's godfather and Jesse had been watching Chaz play all his life.
Joey changed his name to "Son Piedmont", taken from the term Piedmont Blues, a style popular in the southeast USA in the 20s and 30s, and Jesse became "Washboard Jesse". Without a street mall in Tulsa, gigs were hard to come by and they're tender young ages, 16 and 17, the bars were out of the question. They finally landed a steady Sunday afternoon gig at the Rivers Edge Bistro in Tulsa and began to catch the attention of many of Tulsa's finest musicians. This led to a few restaurant gigs and private parties. That year Jimmy Junior Markham invited them to play the Oklahoma Blues Festival and gave them a lot of encouragement.
Enlisting their father on bass they began working on a CD project. For several months they worked on the CD inviting their friends, Dexter Payne, a multi-instrumentalist from Boulder, and Big Mike T. Travelletti, a harp player from Sapulpa, to join them. During the final stages of mixing the CD Jesse was killed in an accident. Joey was devastated by Jesse's death and nearly a year passed before Joey could listen to those tracks again. Playing music, other than in the solitude of his home, was the last thing on Joey's mind. In memorial and as a tribute to Jesse, the "Pearly Gates" CD was released in 2004 as Son Piedmont and the Blues Krewe on the Roots Blues Reborn label.
Joey performed as a roving busker during the 2004 Oklahoma Blues Festival held in Tulsa. Scheduled to appear the final night on the Blues Stage was one of Joey's heroes, 93-year-old Homesick James. Homesick's traveling companion, Johnny Long, a great country blues player himself, had known Joey since his days in Boulder. When scheduled travel plans fell apart Joey volunteered to drive Homesick and Johnny back to Springfield, MO. Joey was in the catbird seat having Johnny Long riding shotgun and Homesick James in the backseat cussing up a storm. After spending the day together Homesick gave Joey the name Little Joe, a hundred dollars and told him, "Go buy a new pair of shoes". Joey did that and a new hat too.
Little Joe booked himself into the Shades of Brown coffee shop on Brookside in Tulsa and played every Monday night for the better part of a year. He invited other players to join him and jam those great old blues songs he had collected. These weren't your standard 12-bar blues songs. Little Joe's set list included classic rags, delta slide songs on the National Steel, Piedmont tunes and swing tunes, a vast repertoire of songs from the greats, Blind Blake, Big Bill, Tampa Red, Georgia Tom Dorsey, Lightnin' Hopkins, Blind Boy Fuller, Bumble Bee Slim, Leroy Carr, Lonnie Johnson, Mississippi John Hurt, Muddy, Robert Johnson and of course, Homesick James. Some spirited music came out of those Monday night jams. His most faithful sidemen were bassist Robbie Mack, who showed up every Monday night, Ryan Patterson on snare drum and trombonist Chris Tucker.
At a jam session in Tulsa one Sunday afternoon Little Joe attracted the attention of David McKnight, a record producer from Fayetteville, Arkansas. Guitarist Lloyd Price had suggested to David that Little Joe, and the style of music he played, might be just what David was for. David was contracted by the Hit Records label in Fayetteville to produce another CD for the label. David produced the "Hard Way" CD at the Cat House Studio in Fayetteville. Although Homesick James declined an invitation to appear on the CD, Lloyd Price and Canadian Harp giant, Ray Bonneville, made notable contributions. Robbie Mack played bass on the CD and warned Joey of the perils of working with a record label. Sure as heck they misspelled Joe's name on the liner notes.
Little Joe started experimenting with a larger band and the use of a keyboard player. When Hurricane Katrina leveled New Orleans, Joey's old friend Washboard Chaz evacuated to Tulsa and played gigs with Joey for about a month. The Dusk til Dawn and the Stillwater Blues festivals were among the gigs they played together on that trip.
In January 2006 Little Joe represented the Oklahoma Blues Society at the International Blues Challenge held in Memphis. Although he did not win the competition, he sparked a lot of interest in the blues community and put on two thrilling performances. Everyone (but the judges) thought he won it. Said Little Joe? "There's always next year". And so it was. In 2007 Joe returned to Memphis with bassist Robbie Mack, this time representing the Blues Society of Tulsa, with a solo/duo performance at the IBC. No sour grapes here.
That spring while on tour in Colorado, Little Joe recorded his third CD, "Live At Last". With his harp and clarinet playin' buddy Dexter Payne, an old friend and contributor on Joe's first CD, along with the Legendary Damprock on the drums and Robbie Mack on bass. Joe was rockin'. The CD is available, along with all of Little Joe's CDs, at cdbaby.com or Joe's website, www.littlejoeblues.com.
In 2008 Little Joe took his band to the IBC after winning the competition in Tulsa. The band is comprised of Joe's closest musical allies and is a force to be reckoned with.