by PAUL BICKLEY
By day, Mark Menefee, 60, is the Indiana University director of utilities. By night, he’s the black- and-yellow-clad harmonica player “King Bee” of the blues band King Bee and The Stingers.
Menefee formed the band in 2006 with guitarist DK Buchanon. A few years later, he says, Buchanon told him, “We don’t need you to play guitar anymore. Play harmonica.” Menefee didn’t disagree. “I’ve played guitar for
45 years, but I’ve never liked it as much as I do the [blues] harp,” he says. “I don’t think about every note. I’m just releasing, playing what I feel.”
Until three years ago, Menefee was principal vocalist and the group performed about 20 times a year. Since Menefee’s daughter Sarah, 25, took over that role, the band now performs more than 50 shows annually. “Having Sarah up front is what’s made the band as popular as it is,” Menefee says. “She has a big, smoky, mature voice and a great range. … Her voice immediately draws festival audiences and photographers up to the stage.”
Buchanon, 62, who writes for the band, was formerly with The Salivators. “They broke up in an onstage fistfight,” Menefee says.
Paul Karaffa, 44, who studied with drummer Kenny Aronoff and also plays for The Dynamics, joined last year. Bassist Jeff Shew, the newest member, also plays for The Movin’ Hips and wrote the first track of the group’s 2019 album, Meet Me in Memphis.
“We’ve brought a lot of influences to the band,” Menefee says. “Howlin’ Wolf, Muddy Waters, Willie Dixon, Slim Harpo.” He got his King Bee moniker from a Slim Harpo song. “I learned the blues from them, but I don’t know that anything we write sounds like any of them.” Most of the group’s album and performance material is original.
Other major milestones, Menefee says, include the nomination of the album to the Memphis 2020 International Blues Challenge by the Evansville River Basin Blues Society and performing and winning semi-finalist places in 2018 and 2019 at the Challenge.
Menefee hopes to expand the group’s festival performances. He’s already accepted 10 invitations for this summer. “You play to bigger audiences—and you don’t have to lug your own PA [public address system],” he says.