Grady Champion plays the Boondocks Lounge on Sunday.


Harmonica player Grady Champion wasn't always a purveyor of quality blues music.

The 2010 International Blues Challenge winner, who swings through the Boondocks Lounge Sunday, started his career as a rapper. His stage name was MC Gold, and for a couple of years in the early 1990s he was active in the Miami hip-hop scene.

That is, until he was turned on to the classic recordings of Chess Records artists such as Muddy Waters, Howlin' Wolf, B.B. King and Sonny Boy Williamson.

"I heard those songs and it was over," Champion said in a phone interview from his hometown of Canton, Miss. "I fell in love with the blues."

The early exposure led to nearly two decades in blues music for Champion, who has since become an expert harmonica player and well-versed bandleader.

Champion takes regular tours across the country, playing everything from small clubs like the Boondocks to festivals with audiences in the thousands.

His first visit to Tucson will focus on tracks from his latest album, "Tough Times Don't Last" which Champion released in February.

Made up of nearly all-original material, the recording includes the song "Mississippi Pride," a homage to the singer's home state.

"I wouldn't trade growing up in Mississippi for nothing," he said. "People love hearing that song. It gives them a feel for what it is like."

Champion said his shows aren't tame.

Expect a lot of energy and a lot of dancing.

He is looking forward to performing in Tucson on his way to the California coast.

"I get to meet so many good people doing this," he said. "That's what I love about it."

if you go

• What: Grady Champion in concert.

• When: 6 p.m. Sunday.

• Where: Boondocks Lounge, 3306 N. First Ave.

• Tickets: $8 in advance and $10 at the door. 690-0991.

Contact reporter Gerald M. Gay at or 807-8430.