Friday, June 26, 2015

Blainletter 76 – Festival Fever

I think I just saw Al Di Meola fire his guitar tech right on the stage of the Toronto Jazz Festival.  He was having trouble with his amp (a hi-end boutique amp called Fuchs) but it sounded fine to me (and probably to the other thousand people in the tent).  You can see in Bill King's video that he keeps turning around and calling over his guitar tech but then a little later he came on the mic and said "paging my guitar tech. Is my guitar tech in the house?" And then after a pause, "Is there any guitar tech in the house?" At which point some guy stood up and Al invited him up to the stage. Then the real guitar tech shows up and Al says to him"you go sit down, I've got a new guitar tech" but then both techs were crouched behind the amp.

You could tell he was already pretty niggly about his sound – he was late for the sound check (he was flying in while the rest of the band was on the tour bus) and I could hear him saying "nothing is the same…it's all changed!" so they kept working on his guitar sound while Hilario Duran waited patiently to start his set on the outdoor stage.  Then, after the band was introduced, I was surprised to see Al and his guitar tech walk past me towards the dressing room and I overhear him saying something like "well, where are they, then?"  Moments later he walks past me again and I see he's putting in some earplugs – I guess that's what he was looking for. 

The audience's patience was further tested when he stopped the show (after the tech-firing incident) and asked the audience to give him 5 minutes to fix his amp.  No one seemed very troubled by this and I got the feeling his crowd would walk over a bed of burning coals to see their guy. I was not around for the rest of the show so I can't report what happened at the end. You'd think they'd carry a spare amp – they were hauling a big trailer behind their tour bus.  Maybe that trailer was filled with the elaborate plexiglass wall that was used to surround the amp (and another one for the drummer).

The night before I had a very pleasant a late night hang with Booker T and his wife Nan (?) hearing about their son the guitarist who had just joined the band (Blainreaders will know that I'm a big advocate of fathers & sons playing music together).  And I got to tell Booker how my first exposure to music (that I can remember) when I was barely able to walk and found myself at eye level with two stockinged feet playing the pedals on a Hammond organ and feeling the sound through my body. I didn't get to tell him the part when I looked up and saw the first black person I'd ever seen in my little life (there were no black people in Sherbrooke). That was at a summer resort called Beau Site in the Eastern Townships - Little Lake Magog.

A video posted by brianblain (@brianblain) on

Here's Booker on guitar singing "Mannish Boy"  (did you know he wrote "Born Under a Bad Sign"?  And played bass on Dylan's "Knockin' on Heaven's Door"?  And lots more! Fascinating hearing stories from Booker as renowned musicologist Rob Bowman was encouraging him to get to work on his autobiography. 

Now that the Festival is almost done, I've had a little time to do some blogging (as well as laundry, a home cooked meal and mowing the lawn!).  One little fire to put out – the modem in the Jazz-FM tent got fried in the big downpour but it's fixed now.  The festival is running like the well-oiled machine that it is.

One show just got cancelled – Sonny Knight and the Lakers at the Horseshoe Tavern on Friday. "Transportation issues" as they say – code for "somebody couldn't get across the border." The band just posted a pic of themselves gazing at Niagara Falls from the American side. They also were scheduled to play at Ottawa and Montreal jazz festivals.  Blackburn will taking their spot at the Shoe on Friday night.  I wish I could say come to Snarky Puppy in the tent but it’s sold out (I think it was the first show to sell out!)  But you can bet there'll be another thousand people standing outside the tent, where the sound (and the sightlines) are not half bad.

These ten days of Jazz Festival are about the only time of year that I have anything resembling a full-time job (come to think of it, it does not resemble a full-time job very much but you know what I mean).  Alas there was no "play" for me at this year's festival, no gigs with or without the Blainettes.  But the good news is next week I head down to the Mont Tremblant Blues Festival to play with my buddy Larry Kurtz – and they've got us doing enough sets and workshops to make up for 3 festivals.

A video posted by brianblain (@brianblain) on

Opening night of the jazzfest was a funk-fest and the whole square was packed with fans of Parliament Funkadelic, Morris Day and The Time, and my favourite – Dumpstaphunk.  I had been very disappointed when a huge downpour forced them to shut down their set after a couple of songs at Beaches Jazz last year, and I'm sure they were quite disappointed too.  Well they made up for it this time and put on a great show.

Morris Day is someone I never heard of – probably because I'm the only person on the planet who did not see the movie "Purple Rain." I had retired to the media trailer to catch up on some work but had the window open and could actually see a bit of the stage (the drummer).  I listened but I was not drawn to get a closer look but I was told after that half his appeal is the dancing and the stagecraft.  After seeing a couple of video clips I see what they mean.

George Clinton and P-Funk were amazing, even though I'm sure it's tamed down a bit from their heyday.  I never saw them back then but I remember doing some recording sessions in Toronto in the same studio right after they had wreaked havoc and after them, us Canadian joint-smokin' hippies seemed like altar boys.

The next night was Tower of Power, more funk.  My drummer friend Mike Fitzpatrick was a little disappointed that Dave Garibaldi was not at the drum kit – it seems he's recovering from hip surgery.  But the band raised the roof and there were lots of smiling faces.  Also got to see a few tunes from Robert Glasper (not as experimental as I expected but then he was promoting an album called "Covered" so I guess it was only natural that he was playing some standards (and a Prince tune that isn't a standard – yet). 
Then there's Mike Stern.  Already the highlight of the festival for many people.  I would count myself in that group, maybe a tie with the Toronto Mass Choir. Here they are raising the roof:

There's a couple more videos on my Facebook musician page at (Beware, they'll probably try to get you signed up to Facebook) Stern has played the festival many times but I either missed it or got there just in time for the encore – this time I heard the whole set and loved it.  Here's a link to a blues standard that he pulled out as an encore – most people in the audience didn't even realize that he sang (though he would sometimes do some vocal scatting along with his guitar solos).  This time he sang "Red House".  Official. 

I've got another link, also on my Facebook, of the last song of the Christian McBride Big Band last night. I couldn't figure out why he had this old school MC guy bringing him on stage but was told afterwards by Don, the volunteer who drove him from the airport, that he was none other than Danny Ray, James Brown's valet and "cape man" for all those years. Now he's introducing Christian who idolized James Brown and now carries a little bit of JB history with him on the road. It seems Danny had fallen on hard times after JB passed away and Christian sure lived up to his name by taking him on and giving him a new lease on life.

Another big band that played was none other than the legendary "Count Basie Orchestra" – on the road for 80 years, if you can believe it.  And trombonist Clarence Banks (a fellow Buddhist who I've known for a few years) is the last remaining member of the band who was there when the Count was still at the helm.  We had a nice visit after the show and, as always, despite lots of challenges, he was the most positive and encouraging.  That's right, even musicians who are at the pinnacle of the music world are scuffling.  I was quite surprised when Phil Dwyer, a first-call sax player for many years in this town, told me that he has just completed his first year of law school and is looking forward to a more stable career.  When I mentioned this to David Basskin, a well-known music industry lawyer, he rolled his eyes a bit and said "I wish him luck" like even a new lawyer can't be assured an easy ride nowadays. 

Quote of the day Music (courtesy of Larry Leblanc) is from from Randy Lennox, the boss at Universal Music: He says "6 is the new 10" – meaning if a respectable hit used to sell 100,000 in Canada, now they would be happy with 60,000.

I would be remiss not to mention that this month three (count 'em, 3) of my old friends from Quebec were in town doing CD launches.  Russ Kelley has made his second CD since retiring from being the boss of the Music Section at Canada Council and even though he hasn't played very much in Toronto he's made some life-long fans with his sincere, heartfelt tunes and mellow delivery (  

Chris Rawlings is someone I always thought of as a "national treasure" of Canadian folk music ever since he put "The Rhyme of the Ancient Marriner" to music - he writes songs about great historical events like Halifax harbour explosion or the Estevan miner's strike in Saskatchewan in the early 1930s.  Great stories, great songs (in English and French!).

Then there's my old buddy Allan Fraser, who I worked with in Fraser & DeBolt and even before. He's now teamed up with Marianne Girard and they made a great album which was released with a big bash at Hugh's Room.  It's not Fraser & DeBolt redux, but they've found their own collective voice and between them have a vast reservoir of great tunes.

On the subject of Fraser & DeBolt, the double vinyl release on Roaratorio Records is due at the end of July and Christmas will be coming early for F&DeB fans because there's some amazing songs on there that you've never heard. (I think if you're still a fan after 40 years of no product and no personal appearances, you must be a fan-atic).

Anyway, I better stop here before I launch into more doom and gloom.  Hope to see you out there and check my blog for a final instalment of my festival diary

To see more of these videos you'll have to got to Facebook and search for me (if we're not already friends – and we should be!)Speaking of which, if you're already on Facebook, please visit my Facebook musician page and give me a "like".  I've been stuck at 149 likes for too long J

The new website is coming along. Still haven't launched it, but I keep adding pictures and I have created a video playlist of my YouTube favourites. You can even see what blues bands are playing tonight. Go to

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Tips for emerging artists

In the early days of the Blues Diary I used to accent any career development tips in red but I think the coloured type has been lost in the numerous transitions and conversions.  So now I'm going to start again with this post and label it "Tips for Musicians"

- "Nowadays, great is not good enough" (overheard at Canadian Music Week)

- When you follow up about a gig request, try to include a "highlight," some recent achievement

- Bookers will look at your gig listings and you should also display a list of past gigs on your website

- Try to get established artists & influencers to put in a good word for you (this will only work if they believe in you)

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Thinking of B.B.

Tributes to B.B. King were all over the TV yesterday and tonight I'm listening to Holger Petersen doing a one-hour special on BB which includes a long interview with him on his 80th birthday. Holger asks why he keeps playing and B responds that he doesn't really need the money anymore but many of the members of his band are "not as well fixed" so he keeps everybody working, and isn't like a blues musician - if his fortunes rise and his fee goes up, then he just would hire another player rather than pocket the difference.  I just read somewhere that BB's estate was estimated at 5 million dollars.  There's pop stars out there who's net worth is closer to 5 BILLION!

I spent a lot of yesterday listening to BB on the YouTube and was also pointed to a great BBC documentary which I watched:

And now we've commissioned Richard Flohil to write an Obit and I'm looking for a great pic of BB for the cover of MapleBlues

Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Here come the music festivals

Canadian Music Week is more than a festival - it's a bunch of conferences bundled together and the musician-oriented component starts tomorrow.  Actually there's been some music events all week, some of which I would have loved toss but when I went to pick up my badge this afternoon, I was too early.  You gotta wonder why the artist badge desk and the media badge desk were open for business but the conference badge desk was not open till 4.

This blog post is gonna be another big whine - I should be grateful they gave me a damn pass, but I can't help but point out some deficiencies.  I'm not inflicting anyone with my opinions - this is on myt blog where only people who came looking will hear my rant.

To start with, I just got my "welcome to CMW" email at 9:30 tonight.  Then I go the the website to see what I'm going to take in.  Not real intuitive.  I'm finding it hard to find a schedule and when I do, it's not very friendly.  When you bring a list of venues, you should be able to see who's playing at each venue with a click.

At this point, I decided to try the app hoping it might be a little more friendly.  First I try to download it on my iPhone and I get a message saying I need IOS 7 (and I'm still on 6).  It offers me the option to download the previous version but I should have known better, because it just downloaded last year's app (with last year's schedule...).

So then I pull out the iPad and download the proper version, but alas it doesn't really offer me any more features  I was going to check a few shows and see if the web and app were totally integrated or if some poor sucker had to re-enter all the information twice

When I finally get the app downloaded, I see that it does not search by genre (like the website). That's a bummer. I was trying to discover what artists might appeal to me.  Searching by "genre" is the holy grail of festival websites and apps (and it's the next frontier in event calendars..."if you like that, then you'll like this")  Even though the CMW artist description included genre labels, there was no way to pull up all the artists who were tagged with a specific genre on the app.  Oh well,

I'm really just ragging on myself here, because we weren't even able to achieve it on the jazz festival site.  It's not something that can be automated, and anyway we are just giving our opinion of the "genre".  I think with CMW, they actually ask the artists to put some genre(s).  Of course, half the rock bands include "Blues"...

So things I would have seen tonight if I had got my badge:
1) Xavier Rudd was at the Opera House, in my end of town
2) Richard Flohil had a showcase at the Painted Lady with some great talent from Quebec
3) Jane Bunnett kicked off 4 nights at the Jazz Bistro - Just last night I had asked Jane's husband, Larry Kramer about putting me on "the list" (which is unlikely considering he was calling me to point out that I had not included them in the list of JUNO winners that we published in Crescendo. Argh! "You always hurt the ones you love"

Saturday, April 18, 2015

Thinking 'bout milestones

Here I am pushing seventy, playing guitar for more than fifty, and always boasted that I never took a guitar lesson or even made a conscious effort to learn a new chord, never played slide, used an open tuning or stepped on a wah-wah pedal. But for the last couple of weeks, I've been using the internet to learn a couple of jazz tunes (Round Midnight, Everything Happens to Me) and last week when Harry Manx came by with his new 6-string banjo, I became enamoured with the DADFAD tuning. Wonders never cease.

Jimmie Vaughan inducts SRV into Rock 'n Roll Hall of Fame

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Monday, April 6, 2015

The Genealogy of Dylan's "Don't Think Twice"

With all the recent kerfuffles about the "blurred lines" of plagiarism, I was interested to note that Dylan was sued for basing "Don't Think Twice" on a 1959 release by Paul Clayton, "Who's Gonna Buy You Ribbons (When I'm Gone). Dylan got out of the suit by showing that Clayton had based his song on an old Negro public domain song called "Who gon Bring You Chickens"

There's an entire academic lecture about that song right HERE (you can skip across the first 10 minutes of introductions)

When I heard those clips of Marvin Gaye's tune compared with "Blurred Lines" on the news my first thought was that the 7 million dollars should go to the Gaye's drummer because that groove is what they copied...but how you gonna copyright a groove? The lawyers must be loving this.