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This lack of available basic information is part of a trend. Sherrick has eliminated the distribution of board meeting minutes. He has also scaled back the meetings from monthly to quarterly.
Apart from its fledgling festival and its sending bands to the IBC, about the only thing the KCBS regularly does is publish Blues News. (It also operates a website that looks like it was built during the Clinton presidency.) Baum edited Blues News for three years. She resigned at the end of 2011, after a year of clashing with Sherrick. One point of contention was Sherrick's restriction against listing in Blues News any clubs or bands that don't pay KCBS dues. (For the previous 30 years, every blues venue and act had been included.)
"My feeling is that they have the idea of a society backwards," Baum says. "I believe a society should support venues and musicians by advertising for them, showcasing them, holding events for them. Every single blues event in this city should be included in Blues News. But under Joe, the board decided that only members in good standing were to be featured. So you start to see ill will and venues dropping their advertising. It's crazy. I don't see why musicians and clubs are supposed to support the Blues Society. It should be the other way around."
Powell disagrees. "We felt that if you're a society and you have paying members, then you have an obligation to promote those paying members over people getting free promotion without paying," he says.
Since Baum's resignation, five editors have come and gone, the most recent being Alexander Harrison, a 19-year-old musician and English major at the University of Central Missouri. Despite his age, the issues that Harrison edited — December 2012, January 2013 and February 2013 — were praised among insiders as a return to form for Blues News.
"I have never met Alexander Harrison," Gilley says. "But I picked up the February issue a few days back, and I see a story on Gino Bueno and the Side Show Band, a thing on Crosseyed Cat, a thing on Mary Bridget Davies, and a historical piece on Blind Willie Johnson. It was the first issue in a long while that had a good combination of articles, a nice layout. I tracked down Alexander to tell him he did a great job, and he tells me it's his last issue, that Joe Sherrick fired him."
Harrison says he resigned. His days working with Sherrick were numbered either way. Once again, Sherrick's dictate that Blues News cover only dues-paying bands ignited tensions. Says Harrison: "Joe got in touch in November, and I, along with my friend Samantha [Whitehead], who knows a lot about Photoshop and InDesign, agreed to start editing Blues News. We were warned that Joe and Judy are difficult to work with, but we still felt it was a good opportunity for us. There were a lot of hitches in communication — they're not very organized people — but we pulled off the first issue.
"The next month, I told them I wanted to put Gino's band, a non-KCBS member, on the cover for February," Harrison continues. "I wanted Gino because he's not one of the four bands Blues News is constantly covering. I wanted to feature a new artist. Joe agreed and said it was OK as long as we didn't make a habit of putting nonmember bands on the cover. I told him we planned to put Doghouse Daddies, who are very much a KCBS member band, on the cover the next month. Everything seemed fine. We submitted the final proof to Joe and Judy on January 23. Then, on the 24th, I received a professionally worded e-mail from Joe saying that I have no regard for the Blues Society, that I don't understand his vision for the Blues Society, and that he has no choice but to bring the issue before the board. I told him that's not necessary, that I quit, that I don't want anything more to do with his organization."