Wednesday, August 12, 2020

On Appropriation of the Blues

There's been a lot of discussion lately about Blues Music being appropriated and and how come Blues Societies are just a bunch of old white men. I even saw a post from a female black blues singer (in the States) who was complaining that white blues singers were taking away work from her.  One blues singer in town, who is neither white or black, was feeling pangs of conscience about this and really feeling like maybe she didn't have the right to sing the blues.  

Well here's a quote I just pulled off an old video recording of Jodie Drake, who was a "grande dame" of the Blues in Toronto in the early 90s when she was honoured with a tribute concert at the Toronto Downtown Jazz Festival: "The Blues have to be really felt. And if you don't feel 'em inside, then you don't have it. If you have to acquire it and put it back in, then that's not really...if you have to learn it from the book or the record and then apply it...but if it's really there inside you don't have to do all this..."  She's not saying anything about black or white.  She's saying you either feel it from inside or you don't. And that would explain why there is a dearth of young black blues musicians. They're not feeling it inside. They're feeling another another beat inside, a "different drummer" as it were. 

And yet a lot of old (and young) white men (and women) who do feel it inside, follow that "call" and pursue a life singing the blues or just enjoying the blues wherever they can. And, in the case of the few academically-inclined, studying the blues. It's not a large percentage of the music lovers and players, but they are devoted to this music and even organize "blues societies" to gather with like-minded folks.  Every city and town (in most of the world, I reckon) has their resident blues band and a small group of fans who are probably not young and not black. And some of these fans have formed "blues societies" to ensure that they get their fix of live blues. 

As for the players, blues is probably the easiest style to learn when you're starting out and it's ideal for "jamming" because the changes are predictable and you could put together a bunch of blues players from various countries around the world and they could just start playing and everybody would know where to change chords even if they never heard the song before.  Then you've got songwriters like myself who use the blues form but try to create interesting variations on the chord structure and usually adding lyrics that are more appropriate to these times (we can't be singing about working in the cottonfields with a straight face). And it must be said, there are players (and fans) who are locked in to the "generic" blues sound and never really break out of that bag - much to the consternation of other blues players/fans who go "Oh no, I cannot listen to "Sweet Home Chicago" one more time!"

Lastly, the blues has been the entry point for countless musicians who went on to explore far more complex music like jazz and pop but hopefully those early blues grooves remained in their DNA and enrich the music they're playing now.

Campfire Cameo Jan13, 2018 w/Raha Javanfar, Adam Solomon and Micgael Fo...

the Campfire Cameo is from Jan, 2018 with Raha Javanfar, Adam Solomon and Michael Fonfara

Saturday, August 8, 2020

Campfire Cameo Jan 13, 2018 w/Adam Solomon, Raha Javanfar and Michael Fo...

Campfire Cameo Jan 13, 2018 w/Adam Solomon, Raha Javanfar and Michael Fonfara

Adam Solomon plays some afro-blues and Raha Javanfar belts out an Etta James tune. Michael Fonfara "The Fonf" is one the Yamaha Grand and yours truly playing bass and guitar

Sunday, August 2, 2020

Blaincast #20 the jazzy edition

...where you'll see the first public performance of my rendition of "Everything Happens To Me" - in fact it's the first time I was actually able to get through the whole song without messing up any chords. You'll hear more jazzy tunes, some standards and one I wrote...and some stories of recording it with Richard Bell. The Campfire Cameo this week features Mr. Rick and Howard Willett playing some country blues, with Jesse Whiteley on the piano and me on bass.

Monday, July 27, 2020

Blaincast #19 a couple of new acoustic tunes and a bit of bluesy electro...

Here's a replay of yesterday's Blaincast - the electronica segment screwed up but I did another round last night and tacked it on here if you want a taste of my "guilty pleasure." As part of the "electronica' theme. the Campfire Cameo goes back to 2016, when I had moved the Campfire Jam to the venerable Old Mill in Toronto. They wanted to bring a little blues into the Home Smith Bar, which was strictly legit jazz until then. I called upon some blues friends and we were packing the place and the jazz regulars were loving it. I decided to push the envelope and got Joel to bring his electronica rig and I had my MIDI guitar and we pulled out all this stuff for the last set. It took our regular guests, Alison Young, George Koller and Michelle Josef a bit by surprise and nobody knew what to expect (including me). I've been scratching the surface artificial intelligence technology and machine learning to create a "hyper-looper" and my computer just doesn't have the power to do these things. I have dumbed it down so that it doesn't crap out if I tell it what key I'm in and only use one MIDI channel at a time (I started out with a different channel for each of 6 strings).

Sunday, July 26, 2020

Campfire Cameo Nov 4, 2016 Joel George Koller, Alison Young, Michelle J...

Were going back in time to 2016, when I had moved the Campfire Jam to the venerable Old Mill in Toronto. They wanted to bring a little blues into the Home Smith Bar, which was strictly legit jazz until then. I called upon some blues friends and we were packing the place and the jazz regulars were loving it. I decided to push the envelope and got Joel to bring his electronica rig and I had my MIDI guitar and we pulled out all this stuff for the last set. It took our regular guests, Alison Young, George Koller and Michelle Josef a bit by surprise and nobody knew what to expect (including me). The electronica adventures has been my "guilty pleasure" for almost as long as I've been playing country blues but I didn't take it out very often and had gotten a little discouraged in the last year or so as I was even touching on some elements of artificial intelligence and machine learing to create a "hyper-looper" and my computer just doesn't have the power to do these things. I have dumbed it down so that it doesn't crap out if I tell it what key I'm in and only use one MIDI channel at a time (I started out with a different channel for each of 6 strings). All this to say I fired it up last night and Joel and I had a (distanced) jam and I'm going to noodle away on after the Campfire Cameo for anyone who wants to stick around.

Thursday, July 23, 2020

Blaincast #18

Here's the replay - the intro got chopped but you'll see a couple of videos celebrating the birthdays of Allan Fraser and Daisy DeBolt and some stories about those halcyon days as well as a "Campfire Cameo" from 2018 at the Old Mill featuring Chris Caddell singing an old Robert Johnson classic and myself doing a tune that I just discovered as I was going through the archives. First time I included one of my tunes in the Campfire Cameos (you hear enough of me already) but this is a tune I had just written and promptly forgot, probably because I felt a little uneasy about it (if criticizing theocracy, patriarchy, fanaticism, and misogyny is politically incorrect). I didn't want a fatwa issued on me :-) It's called "We've Done That Too". And since I was stirring the pot, I pulled out another recent ditty that could get me in trouble, "Arrested for Stealing a Kiss". Listen before you flame me

Saturday, July 18, 2020

Campfire Cameo May 12 2018

From Brian Blain's Campfire Jam at the Old Mill, Toronto May 12, 2018. Chris Caddell sings the Robert Johnson Classic and Brian sings a tune he had just written (soon to be forgotten) called "We've Done That Too". Jesse O'Brien on piano and Michelle Josef on drums.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

Blaincast #15

Here's a replay of Sunday's Blaincast without the long pauses and glitches. For those who bailed, you missed my CD Release announcement (it will be August 28), a couple of acoustic versions of some tunes on the album, the premiere of a brand new tune about Loreena McKennitt (I love to write songs about musicians) and a Campfire Cameo from 2018 at the Old Mill with
Ken Whiteley
AleC FraSer Jr.
Casey Van

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Brian's Backyard Blaincast #13

Here's a replay of Sunday's Blaincast. The Backyard Blaincast was back in the kitchen for this chilly Sunday. This edition features three brand new tunes - hot off the press. Two of them get a little political, "The Wall" and "Loyal to a Fault" and the third is a remake of a song I wrote 20 years ago about Canadian music legend Loreena McKennit. There's another "Write-a-song-with-Brian" challenge and the hook is "You'll Never Hear the Shot that Kills You". The Campfire Cameo features Sugar Brown playing some barrellhouse piano (who knew) and Suzie Vinnick singing her fan-favourite, "Oreo Cookie Blues" and we finish off with Joel and I doing a test-run of some new online jamming software called "NinJam."

Friday, June 12, 2020

Brian's Sunday Backyard Blaincast #12 (in the kitchen)

All Blues Edition - playing some blues classics in honour of African American Music Appreciation Month and Black Lives Matter. The Campfire Cameo features Jesse Whiteley doing a tune his father (Chris) wrote - "Some Musician was to Blame". There's a "Write-a-song-with-Brian" segment and we wrap it up jamming with My son the DJ on a new program called "Endless"

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Quote of the Day

I blogged it before but it bears repeating:

"God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money."
-Quincy Jones

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Campfire Cameo #5

Blainletter #125

Brian on Bandcamp | Celebrating African-American Music Appreciation Month | Sunday Blaincast 2pm on Facebook Live | Streaming Suggestions
June 2020
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Listen/Buy "Water Song" and "The Mother I Never Knew" at

Greetings Blainreaders on Lockdown.  It's wearing me down a bit… you too I expect.  But even though I'm not very motivated, I've been keeping up the Sunday Blaincast (2pm at I've been doing a batch of original tunes every session and now, at Episode 12, I'm starting to run out!

The month of June is African-American Music Appreciation Month (decreed by President Jimmy Carter in 1979) so maybe I'll dig up a few old blues – not that I have that many in my repertoire. I want to do my bit for Black Lives Matter – I won't be out there marching  (I get tired walking around the block) but as someone whose entire musical output is so rooted in the music that came out of the black experience, I stand in solidarity. Last week I sang a song by Bruce Murdoch called "Down in Mississippi" which is pretty heavy. Not your usual Brian Blain fare.

But the good news is I've had a bit of a flurry of new songs. Part of the momentum came from my new Blaincast segment, "Write-a-song-with-Brian." Three tunes in the last 2 weeks and another one percolating.  I've had some participation on my last two "Write-a-song" sessions though I've not used any of the lines provided so far and those songs are pretty much wrapped up.  I guess they were very close to completion already.  This time I've got one line: "You Won't Hear the Shot that Kills You".  Or "You Never Hear the Shot that Kills You". And I've got a preliminary riff to go with it and a few ideas floating around but I hope I could encourage a "professional" songwriter or two to jump in this time.  You've got between now and 2pm Sunday to collect your thoughts. Maybe we could even do it on Zoom and play with the chords a bit…

Regular Blainreaders will know how I love to jam and, in the current socially-distanced reality, the "holy grail" I've been seeking is a program that would allow real-time jamming over the internet – and now one just showed up on my radar thanks to Alex Pangman who will be doing a live jam with her band on Saturday (on Facebook, she's Alex Parker).  The program is called JamKazam and I just saw a pretty impressive demo.  There will be jamming online….I knew it!  The Campfire will rise again!

On Multitasking

I'm always doing a couple of things at the same time but this is ridiculous. At top of mind is the MapleBlues newsletter which I have to wrap up but instead I'm sitting in front of 3 screens and flipping audio on and off from a couple. On the iPhone I'm attending an online webinar at a music convention that would have been happening in California but is now online (and free). At this moment, it's about songwriting "try to go deeper on one idea. Instead of moving on after you have a couple of good lines, but ask yourself "what else can I say about this?" So the whole verse says one thing.

On the computer screen I just watched the Spacex launch (success!) And, as it ended one of my blues heroes was playing on Facebook Live. The amazing Jimmy Johnson - surprised to hear him talking about his 90th birthday. But there he was, playing tunes and hoping for a few tips so he can get his amp out of the shop. And if I had another screen I would have been watching the riots on CNN just to see if America will self-destruct before our eyes.

If I had sent this a little sooner, the lead item would have been "Bandcamp waives their revenue share in order to help artists and labels impacted by the pandemic."  I am new to Bandcamp but I've got a couple of singles up at and if you buy yours before midnight, ALL the $$$ will come to me.  We used to say "there's hundreds of dollars to be made in this business" but these days, it's "pennies".  Not complaining…pennies add up to dollars (eventually)

Streaming my life away

I've been spending more time on the iPad than the TV these days.  Amazing to discover so many new artists playing Live on Facebook or YouTube.  This month's MapleBlues has a good list of blues-friendly events coming up and I've added a couple of other links:

The June MapleBlues (digital edition) is now online and includes a nice list of upcoming blues streaming:

Here's another great link to who's streaming when:

If you're streaming yourself...

I've been talking a lot about streaming with a lot of colleagues and listenened in a few online webinars and workshops I have gone back to some notes I made to put this together for a meeting at the Toronto Blues Society to see how we can support the blues community and put on a few streaming events ourselves.  The TBS will be streaming a guitar workshop on

I'm no expert at streaming but I've been doing it longer than most - I was streaming from my back yard more than ten years ago and I wouldn't be surprised if I was the first person to stream a showcase from the Folk Alliance.  It was 2011 in Memphis and I had one of those late-night room showcases so I set up my little Macbook and used U-Stream (which was probably the only game in town) and did my set for a handful of viewers.  It went OK and after me was a group called The Sweetness with Chloe Charles and I asked if they wanted me to stream them as well and they said sure but after them I had to restart and next up was a young and eager singer songwriter called Melanie Brulee.  She also wanted to stream but I was having a little trouble getting it going again and I could see her starting to fume as she was watching the precious minutes of her time slot being wasted and finally she (or maybe it was me) said "never mind."  It's one thing to be streaming yourself from your back yard and something else to be making it happen for someone else with a strict time limit.

Some guidelines that I've ignored (at my peril)

- Test, Test, Test  (before you go Live)  If you make a change to the setup/settings, test again.  Facebook allows you to make your stream visible to "Only You".  YouTube lets you make it "private."

- Have a back up plan.  If a battery dies or the computer crashes, have another device available

(I have a few more tips I picked up and I'll be adding them to my Streaming Guide on

Streams to See

I think last month I was raving about the webcasts from Kid Andersen's Greaseland Studio.  So creative and phenomenal performances – from Rick Estrin among others. This month my discovery also has the name Andersen (no relation that I know of). San Diego-based Missy and Heine Andersen knocked me out – his approach to guitar is so great.  That's how I want to play.  Check them out at

The Toronto Blues Society is going online with a couple of events:

- Monday, June 15, noon - TBS Presents Meghan Parnell & Dave Barnes (of Bywater Call) as part of City Hall Live Series. Funds will be raised for Unison Benevolent Fund. Live on @ CityHallLiveOnline & @TorontoBluesSociety Facebook page.

- Monday, June 15, 7pm - National Arts Centre Road to Canada Day - TBS 35th Anniversary Concert presented in association with Music By The Bay Live. Livefrom the Small World Music Centre w/ Jenie Thai (7pm) and Jack de Keyzer (8pm), both in trio format.

- Thursday, June 18, 5pm - Cootes Paradise Video Premier. Shot at Hugh’s Room Live and drawn from their soon to be released EP “Downstream”, the live version of “The First Time”.Followed by a virtual interview of the band by DJ Ken Wallis.

- Saturday, June 27, 2pm - Guitar Workshop. Hosted by Jack de Keyzer w/Fraser Melvin, Suzie Vinnick and Madagascar Slim.

Dream of the Month

I'm playing at a music festival not far out of town (maybe it was Hillside). I don't have a guitar and I have a last minute opportunity to play on the big stage. I'm running around asking anybody/everybody if I can borrow a guitar but no will lend me their guitar. I wake up thinking I'm going to have to get back to the city to get my guitar but it will probably be too late. And then I remember the time back in the early 70s at the (first) Winnipeg Folk Festival when I was playing with Fraser & DeBolt. They were about to wrap up the night with everybody on stage (probably to sing "Dance Hall Girls") and Daisy comes up to me and says Bruce (Cockburn) is going to play with us but he doesn't have his guitar so can you let him use yours because mine doesn't have a pick-up. I said no - that I wanted to play my own guitar so Bruce played hers and it was all good except I'm probably the only person on the planet who wouldn't let Bruce Cockburn play his guitar. And now it comes to me in a dream fifty years later....
Thanks for reading this far. Feel free to forward this to any friend you think might enjoy my occasional ramblings (and maybe my music, too). These clips and more are always available on my blog,

See you out there, eventually...

BrianB, aka Butch, Nappy, Shaker, Two-Lane Blain, Colorblind Brian, Stringbuster, Buddha of the Blues


On Sunday June 7 at 2pm I'll be doing my regular Sunday Blaincast celebrating African-American Music Appreciation Month with a couple of blues classics then we'll have another "Campfire Cameo" from the Old Mill Campfire Jams that I miss so much and maybe a little participation on the "Write a Song With Brian" segment. I may even try to have a little jam with my son the DJ with a new program we just discovered called Endless.

If you enjoy the Blaincast, please Share, Subscribe and/or tip! It's all a big help. Special thanks to the folks below for contributing to the recording project
I call it my "living" album because it started life as a solo "live" recording with bassist George Koller and has now been "sweetened, stacked, mixed and mastered" with new instrumentation on all the songs. It starts with New Orleans marching horns from Alison Young and Colleen Allen on "Forgotten",  “Alice“ gets violin and banjo from Drew Jurecka and Tim Posgate. There's a reggae percussion workout with Trinidadian Wayne Stoute and the wonderful Michelle Josef, some sweet slide from Harry Manx on the French tune, barrelhouse piano from Toronto expat Patrick Godfrey and organ grooves galore from Australian B3 sensation Clayton Doley. "The Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" is a full-tilt electronic ambient remix by my son the DJ. 
Copyright © 2020 Brian Blain, All rights reserved.

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