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

A video posted by Peter Blackstock (@blackstock360) on

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.

Saturday, April 4, 2015

Blainletter #74 Happy Easter

Here's a big THANK YOU to all who contributed to the Indiegogo Campaign to fix my old guitar. I knew she had more life in her...Here's a big THANK YOU to all who contributed to the Indiegogo Campaign to fix my old guitar. I knew she had more life in her... I shot a quickie thank-you video on the iPad:

Special thanks to Gord at the 12th Fret who did a great job. It was ready sooner than they said and the repair cost less than they estimated,. How often does that happen. $967 was the bill. Seems like a lot of $$$, eh? I don't know if that beat up old guitar is worth a thousand bucks on the open market but it is sure worth it to me. I wish I could say I was "back in business" but the truth is that the business is kinda slow right now. Maybe it's just as well because I'm going to have a lot of non-music stuff on my hands with The Crescendo deadline yesterday and the jazz festival website going live on the 14th. I'd still rather be playing guitar but I figure if I just hang around long enough I'll qualify to be part of some tour package of Canadian blues old-timers :-)

Speaking of old Canadian blues guys, King Biscuit Boy, who would be seventy this year if he had lived this long, has gotten a lot of props in the last week, a two hour radio documentary hosted by Rob Bowman on CIUT and a "jam" at the JUNO Awards with the hottest blues players on the scene today. The song was "Corrina," a bit of a signature tune for Biscuit. I posted an iPhone video on my Facebook and got over a thousand views. You can see it here

Other JUNO highlights:

Hanging out with my old bandmate Lily Sazz and the Linden brotrhers after the "Blame it on Hamilton" event. Colin is working on the TV show "Nashville" and will be going on the road this summer with some of the stars of the show. 

The first JUNO event I attended was Thursday night -  a French-Canadian "soiree" that included some Quebecois delicacies (which were mostly gone when I got there) and a craft-beer sampling (of which I did not partake) but I did see the show by Marco et les Torvis - a bit reminiscent of "La Bottine Souriante" and that's a good thing. Maybe a little over the top with the schtick and mugging for applause. Before the band were a couple of septuagenarians, a gentleman playing jigs on a harmonica and a blue-haired lady with some rather blue jokes which she read from crib notes. Her humour went over great with the Quebecois crowd but there were a few afro-franco's in the crowd who looked a little aghast.

I didn't get to any of the exclusive private parties but Gibson Guitar put on a big shindig after the Gala in the former Hamilton train station where I ran into a few old friends including Phillip Sayce, who just signed to Warner Bros. and I bet will be a Blues nominee next year. He said he'd enjoyed my You Tube videos. The sound was great, even for a big ole train station. Steve Marriner introduced me to one of the most respected audio engineers in the country. He's the house mixer at many big events and we commiserated how more headline artists insist on using their own soundman - sometimes to their detriment. I joked that there should be an App that would allow the resident soundman to sit off to the side and "override" the mix being done at the console by the visiting soundman. And I must admit, a lot of them would not even notice... He thought that was a pretty good idea and I'm sure many others would, too.

I was in Hamilton for three and a half days as part of the army of media weasels covering the JUNOs. We get to watch the awards but not in the big hall. We are sequestered into a room backstage with a couple of big-screen TV's where you watch the show until the sound gets turned off for a Q & A with the winners. I didn't have any questions and just wanted to enjoy the musical performances so when it came time for the blues jam, I snuck into the main hall and shot the aforementioned video.

I looked over and saw my pal Blues Doctor Julie Hill - a staunch vegetarian - and was thinking I would have swapped the vegetarian lasagna in the media room for the big fat steak that was being served at the $450-a-plate gala dinner. The reporter next to me thought they were "rubbing it in" too much, when our media co-ordinator read off the menu from the gala dinner.

Really, we should be happy that they're feeding us at all - how often does that happen? In the media room I found myself chatting with David Farrell. I guess you could say he was the senior music industry journalist in attendance and I had a chance to thank him for his nice review of "New Folk Blues 2.0" on the New Canadian Music website. David was very encouraging and said NFB2 was "clearly not a rank and file blues album." He said that like it was a good thing :-)

If I sound "whiney" about the JUNOs, I guess I'm still smarting from their rejection of my album because it had the same base tracks as a previously released album...yeah, that's why I called it "2.0" I couldn't dispute their argument that you can't just add some horns and strings to an album and then re-submit for a JUNO the next year. 

Sunday was the big broadcast with the red carpet and celebrities but I woke up with a cold, coughing and sneezing. I made it to the noontime "Songwriter Circle" but after that I just made my way home to watch the JUNOs on TV with a nice cup of tea. The "Songwriter Circle" was at Hamilton Place's "Great Hall" - a beautiful facility but I think there's a big design flaw to that room. I noticed right away that there was a small army of ushers and flashlights were being turned on at any sign of movement - and now I know why. Twice I tripped on their steps and I wasn't the only one as I observed someone in the First-Aid room. You'd think they'd try to accommodate the geriatric crowd that come out for the classical concerts. Anyway, I've still got a sore ankle - I can't say the performances did much for me, considering this was the "creme-de-la-creme" of Canadian songwriters - Lights was my favourite - but like I said, I was a bit under the weather.

Two things I noticed at the JUNO's:  I don't think I saw a single CD hand-off in the whole week-end. The only band that mentioned CDs from the stage was the band from Quebec, Marco et les Torvis who entertained at the "soiree francophone." CDs have not only ceased to be the main delivery system for music, but they are no longer even a "calling card."

Winterfolkin':The month before JUNOs was the Winterfolk Festival where I did get to play a set and even did a bit of an electronica mash-up with Joel as a finale! I also did a songwriting workshop with the inimitable Wendell Ferguson, who I got to know a little better and here's where we discovered our mutual admiration for guitarist Lenny Breau. I sing "Last Time I Saw Lenny" and Wendell plays those beautiful harmonics just like Lenny. After the song, Wendell has a couple of funny stories about a recording session with Lenny.

Fraser & DeBolt on vinyl:  Actually, F & DeB have only ever been on vinyl, and one of those albums was produced by yours truly.  Two of the out-takes from those sessions are part of an upcoming double album (LP) release on the audiophile label, Roaratorio. I have been involved in the restoration of many old tapes for this project and a couple of nights ago I finally got to sit back and listen to the sequenced and mastered songs by F & DeB, the original acid-folk duo.  And it is going to be a feast for their die-hard fans (40+ years without anything new).  Daisy passed away but you can still hear Allan performing with Marianne Girard, and they do some fine reworkings of some Fraser classics like "Dance Hall Girls."  Watch for a CD from them this year.

Columbia Records loved Fraser & DeBolt  - well, for as long as any label could love an artist - It was a revolving door at head offices in New York (aka "The Black Rock"). I think we went trough 4 A&R Directors in the course of this project. We had a big budget (huge by Canadian standards) to make a second album but we tried to record with some Townships players and what we really needed were studio cats. After a week of messing around in Toronto's newest studio, Manta, the band and my co-producer Jesse Winchester went back to Quebec. We might have all gone back to Quebec but Rick Capriole, the assistant engineer (we called them tape jockeys back then)  said he had a band that could walk right in and make it happen. And they did! The band was Simon Caine and included Dennis Pendrith, Pat Godfrey and other great players. Tuck Fox stayed on and played  some guitar and piano as did the Americans, Cal Hand and Joe Ferguson. Joe Mendelson also played on a track. Other tracks on this new release are from live recordings and radio shows. It's worth the wait.

Out and About: Harry Manx came to town for the first time in a long time. It was a great show with Steve Marriner sitting in on harp in that most elegant venue, the historic Winter Garden Theatre. What an amazing space, built in 1913. My seatmate Greg Vandall remembered that he had taken part in the restoration project by helping collect the branches that adorned the ceiling. On Sunday, I decided to finally check out Ken Whiteley's Gospel Brunch at Hugh's Room, especially since he had a great sacred steel player as his guest, "Big Ben" from Rochester. It was quite uplifting.

I slipped out of Hugh's to catch the end of the the Lazy Cat Cafe at the Bain Co-op. This was the scene of my guitar tragedy when the Epiphone took a fall and broke its head off. It was only fitting that I should come back to the "scene of the crime" and I wanted to show the guitar to David Shilman who had suggested I start a crowdfunding campaign to get it repaired. The 12th Fret did a beautiful job, but the strings had not really settled yet and when I was asked to sit in for the big finale, I just grabbed it out of the case as they were starting to sing "Jambalaya." I noticed right away that I was way out of tune, but I just tried to strum discretely until I was called to do a solo. Well that caught me off guard and it sounded like shit but I guess they were not too concerned because this morning I got an email inviting me to be the "feature" next month.

Overheard on the Street: Number 9 Studio owner George Rondina is looking for a partner. A lot of fine music has come out of that studio, much of it shepherded by George Koller. It could be a marriage made in heaven but you know what they say, "If you want to make a million, you better start with two" (actually it was me that said that in my "Entrepreneurial Blues" :-)

The buzz about the "Cobalt Prize" and the article we published in MapleBlues has generated some comments from some distinguished musicians in the blues community who are wondering out loud if the blues really needs a "saviour". I'm thinking a thousand bucks and a whack of publicity is a nice windfall for a songwriter who the Cobalt jury considers has the best contemporary approach to the blues idiom.  Maybe I should have submitted "The Day Coke Saved The Blues," my tune about how one songwriter's tune got picked up for a Coca-Cola commercial and literally saved the record label who owned the publishing (gave it a second wind, anyway). But I never entered a song contest yet, so I'm not going to start now. Besides, this tune is a little too inside, since I know the folks on the jury and the creator of the Cobalt Prize figures prominently in the song. The winning song was from two great friends who are most deserving, Raven and ShoShona (aka, Digging Roots). It's not your typical blues song, but that's the whole idea, isn't it?

I found a great blog post called 9-things-you-must-know-before-choosing-a-music-venue from an L.A. musician who has a great DIY blog for indie musicians. There are some new live-music showcase venues materializing in Toronto. Thanks to Richard Flohil's First Thursday Series, the Painted Lady on Ossington might become a music destination. And there's a new venue in the west end called Fat City Blues.  I like the name and I like the pictures I've seen (yes, there's a real piano). Then again I heard of a restaurant that was gearing up as a live music venue but cancelled the whole idea when they were told they would have to pay SOCAN thousands of dollars for a license. It was a deal-buster for this small business.

Sorry if this got a little long.  There's even more stuff on my blog,  Have a great Easter and see you out there!

Your pal, BrianB aka The Stringbuster, Colorblind Blain, Buddha of the Blues

PS: I have recently received spam from both my addresses (blain & editorial) They have subject lines like "Start Your Career with us"  or "Please Look it"  I'm told I can't do anything about it - it's the perils of having the same address for so long. Do not click on the links in these messages and please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of any assistance

My old high school pals from St. Pat's started a Facebook group and one of them sent me some pictures I hadn't seen since then (if ever). Check out Brian as teen-age bass player with attitude:

Preview my new website,  BrianBlain.coma portal to everything Blain.  My blog, is linked, there's an EPK, a slideshow of pics, tips on blues shows in town and I've even put a widget that plays my favourite YouTube videos by other artists. Feedback welcome.