Local band wins Magic City Blues Challenge

Local band wins Magic City Blues Challenge

Skyler Saufley and The 99th Degree to battle in Memphis

By Toni Stauffer

Skyler Saufley is a 24-year-old Delta blues musician who lives near Crawford, Ala., and gives guitar lessons at The Guitar Boutique in Phenix City. On the surface, you might not think Saufley is anyone to crow about, but then you probably haven’t heard him play guitar, discuss his influences and love for the blues genre. Once you pay attention, this soft-spoken young man’s incredible talent becomes impossible to ignore.

Currently, Saufley plays gigs with his band, The 99th Degree, and sometimes he is billed as a duo when he plays with whoever is available, which is usually the band’s upright bass player Heath Williamson. The band has traveled as far north as Blind Willie’s Blues Club in Atlanta and as far west as Birmingham, where on July 21, they played in the Magic Blues Challenge for the first time—and won. 

As the winner, Saufley and The 99th Degree will represent Birmingham in Memphis in the next leg of the battle, which will be in January—The International Blues Challenge. The event draws a lot of music scouts from record labels from all over the country.

“It was weird,” Saufley said of the Magic City event. “They say it’s a blues challenge, but there’s not a whole lot of people playing this music. It’s really like you’re playing along with little rock bands. There’s some great bands, but no one plays the old stuff like we do.” 

Saufley said he thinks that is part of the reason they won. “I don’t want to say it’s dying music, but there’s not many young people playing it. It’s not as popular anymore, so it’s really different when we do it.”

Saufley finds he travels more now. 

“I try to play as much as I can,” he said. “Memphis is exciting that we get to do that.” 

Saufley said he’s never traveled outside of the U.S. He’s just now getting to the point where he can play bigger venues like Blind Willie’s, which he describes as one of the last real Blue’s joints. 

“I’ve been sneaking in there since before I was old enough to see the bands,” Saufley said, laughing. “You drive two hours to see a band and then get kicked out for not being old enough. Now I go and hang out, and they laugh that I used to do that.”

As for the future, Saufley says he just wants to keep playing the music like it’s supposed to be played. 

“A lot of people forget that this is African-American music, so you have to acknowledge where it came from and who played it first.” 

As for his band’s name – that comes from a lyric in Robert Johnson’s song “Stop Breaking Down.” Besides Heath Williamson, the band also includes drummer John Etheridge and harmonica player Austin Hardiman. 

Their next gig is August 2 at Crackerjack’s Bar & Grill in Valley, Ala., starting at 8 p.m. On August 25, they’ll hit the stage at Blind Willie’s Blues Club in Atlanta at 6:30 p.m. For more information about Skyler Saufley and The 99th Degree, find them on Facebook.