Blue Moon over Memphis

Atlanta's own Delta Moon has won the 2003 International Blues Challenge in Memphis. Sponsored by the Blues Foundation, which also administers the annual W.C. Handy Awards, it's a top honor — perhaps the top honor — for unsigned blues bands.

After a three-day competition that concluded Feb. 1, Delta Moon won the honor over 50 other acts, perhaps because they are a band in the truest sense of the word.

"One thing that might have made our band stand out is that it wasn't about one guy and a backing band," explains Tom Gray, Delta Moon vocalist/slide guitarist. Gray noticed that on T-shirts commemorating the event, Delta Moon had one of the shortest names. "There were so many bands that [featured] one front guy and his backing musicians," Gray says. "Most of them were, 'So-and-so and the so-and-sos.'"

By contrast, during Delta Moon's winning set at Memphis' New Daisy Theatre, "there wasn't one instrumental solo. It was the whole band playing together," Gray says, including harmony or call-and-response guitar parts between himself and guitarist Mark Johnson, or vocal harmonies with singer Gina Leigh.

Delta Moon claims prizes that include cash, recording time at Ardent Studios in Memphis, festival bookings and PR consultation.

"The biggest prize is just getting a nationwide buzz about the band," Gray says. "People are calling and e-mailing from all over the country, and several festivals have contacted us."

Delta Moon plays Ricky Dean's Olde Town Blues Club Friday, Feb. 14, and Blind Willie's Tuesday, Feb. 18. The band records a live album at Tree Sound Studios Friday, Feb. 21.??