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Massena man headed to Blues Masters competition

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MASSENA - A Massena musician will be performing on the big stage this month for one of the big names in the music industry.

Bill “Tracer” Tracy was named as one of the 10 finalists of Guitar Center’s Blues Masters, and he’ll be performing on July 27 in Los Angeles for legendary blues guitarist Joe Bonamassa.

“Joe is one of my top favorite guitarists. To be so far right now is pretty huge. He’s pretty much the number one blues guy at the moment. It’s pretty overwhelming, to say the least,” Mr. Tracy said.

He will be flown out to Los Angeles on July 26 and, the following day, he’ll do a sound check at the city’s historical blues club, The Mint.

“I was told 6 o’clock is the start time for the event. I’ll perform with Joe’s band live at this venue while he watches,” Mr. Tracy said.

That means it’s time for nerves of steel, he said.

“The biggest pressure is knowing that one of your favorite guitarists is watching you play. You just don’t know who else is out in the audience. An area like Los Angeles is full of people in the music industry. I think what might take the edge off is having the sound check and meeting people instead of just throwing you on stage,” he said.

Mr. Tracy was hand-picked by Mr. Bonamassa from hundreds of submissions to fly out to Los Angeles and compete at the grand finals event at The Mint. Other musicians who were selected as finalists came from as far east as Old Orchard, Maine, Hackensack, N.J. and Hanover, Md., to as far west as Riverside, Calif. and Los Angeles.

If he is chosen as the winner, he would receive an opening performance at Mr. Bonamassa’s Los Angeles headline show this fall; $10,000 in cash; gear from top music manufacturers including Gibson, Ernie Ball, Marshall Amplication and Dunlop; an EP produced by Mr. Bonamassa and producer Kevin Shirley, who has worked with groups such as Journey, Led Zeppelin and Iron Maiden; a career consultation and mentor session with Mr. Bonamassa; and a feature in Guitar Player magazine.

“Each of these 10 finalists impressed me not only with their technical skills, but how they were able to showcase their personal musical styles in the songs,” Mr. Bonamassa said in a release from Guitar Center, which bills itself as the world’s largest retailer of musical instruments. “I am proud to partner with Guitar Center on a program that seeks to recognize, inspire and motivate the wealth of deserving, undiscovered talent that exists within the blues community.”

Mr. Tracy said he regularly receives emails from Guitar Center and learned about the competition through one of them.

“A friend of mine gets the same emails. They pretty much talked me into entering. This is the first year they have run this particular program,” he said.

Aspiring blues guitarists from across the United States were invited to submit their best lead guitar performance to one of the 10 official Joe Bonamassa tracks supplied by Guitar Center.

“He had taken his vocal track and his guitar track out. He wanted you to pretty much re-create the song in your own way and shoot a video of yourself playing. I picked a track that I had not heard him play,” Mr. Tracy said.

All artists who entered were ranked based on their online fan growth during the first round by Yoov.io, a platform that syndicates and measures content engagement throughout web. Mr. Tracy said there were about 3,000 contestants.

“You had to first post the video to YouTube, then upload it to the Blues Master website. The first round was all by popular vote. Every time your video was viewed you would get a point. As you climbed in points they would put you in another bracket,” he said.

“At that point you were pretty much having to promote yourself. I pushed it mainly on Facebook. From there, just having the network of different friends, it spiderwebbed everywhere. I’m fortunate to have a lot of great friends,” the Massena musician said.

In the second round, the top-ranked artists were reviewed personally by Mr. Bonamassa, who hand-picked the 10 finalists.

“They took the top 100 and Joe himself personally viewed them and picked his personal top 10. The hardest part to believe is that Joe actually sat there and personally watched my video and chose it out of all of those. It’s overwhelming, but it’s a huge honor as well,” Mr. Tracy said.

Each finalist will travel to Los Angeles to perform at the finale event. and a winner will chosen by Mr. Bonamassa based on the quality and skill of their live performance. The winner will be announced that night, and Mr. Tracy will return to Massena on July 28.

“Pretty much all I’m trying to do is continue to practice and not to psych myself out,” he said. “I don’t want to get too many high hopes. I was hoping to have a fair chance. I, at least, wanted it to be heard. I’ll just go and do the best I can. If it’s not good enough, so be it.”

Music has been a part of Mr. Tracy’s life for more than 20 years, he said.

“I started playing when I was about13 or 14 years old. I grew up around it. My father was a musician as well. I was always surrounded by music and musicians. It just became a love. I pretty much breathe and live music,” Mr. Tracy said.

“I played in groups throughout the area for quite a while. I had been with one group in particular, Unfinished Business, for a while. We played for several years,” he said.

Now 37, he has a private studio on Main Street in Massena, where he teaches musicians from ages 8 to 70 from Monday to Saturday.

“A group of my students formed a group called Bucket List,” Mr. Tracy said.

While he has spent much of his time with groups, he said he was also in a Battle of the Blues competition sponsored by Guitar Center last year. He won the first round in New York in that competition.

He said his musical genre of choice has been blues.

“I would say that for at least 10 years or more now blues have been my music of choice to play. It’s all about emotions. You can play what you feel. It’s a very unstructured type of music, but you also have to have a really good imagination to play the blues. You either have it or you don’t,” Mr. Tracy said.

In addition, he said, “it appeals to every age group. It’s great to see now that there’s a genre called jam band blues rock. That appeals to all ages - teenagers to people in their sixties.”

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