Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Blainletter #100

Hey Blainreaders – this is the 100th edition of the Blainletter. I guess that's something to celebrate! Thanks for reading, following, friending or otherwise lending some support and encouragement for my musical adventures.

So here I am promoting my upcoming gig at the Old Mill Home Smith Bar.  THIS SATURDAY NIGHT, Mar 10, I will be joined by Larry Kurtz and a couple of Blackburn Brothers.  Larry is a longtime collaborator (here we are at the Tremblant Blues Festival) and the Blackburns are carrying on a great family tradition on the Toronto music scene.

In addition to my "residency" at the Old Mill, I'm happy to report I've been engaged for a house concert in April and a festival in June.  And I expect there will be a few more gigs trickling in. 

Out and About

This is the first year in a long time that I have not attended the Toronto Blues Society Guitar Workshop (I even hosted it a few years back).  I have been transportationaly challenged so this time I had to be satisfied with a few Live Facebook clips to give me a little taste.  I had just seen Dan Mackinnon at the Aurora Winter Blues and he was hosting the workshop and looked like he was doing good and asking the right questions.  Dan is a blues-rocker and I did a double-take when I saw he would be opening for the Mad Dogs and Englishmen at Aurora where It was a pretty "mature" crowd.  If you remember Joe Cocker and that musical travelling circus back in the 70s, then you probably qualify as a "mature" music lover.  It was great hearing blues belter Cheryl Lescom who reminds me of the great Kathi MacDonald (who toured with the original Mad Dogs and who I had the adventure of touring with before she passed away).

Aurora Winter Blues was the same week-end as the Cold Weather Blues but they were two different kind of events, though both featured top-notch local blues talent.  Aurora was in a beautiful "soft-seater" setting (on the campus of the upscale St Andrews's College) with an appropriate ticket price while Cold Weather is a no-cover club crawl in the Beaches (Queen St East) with 10 or 12 blues bands. 

At the Cold Weather Blues Fest I got to hear Connor Gains and Jennie Thai,  a couple of young players who are making a buzz on the local (and national) scene and stretching the boundaries of the blues. Then I happened into a crowded upstairs room and saw a bunch of old friends -  Clint Ryan, who was one of the first musicians I met in Toronto and his longtime bandmate Rob Sagar (who glued together my old Epiphone guitar the first time the headstock broke off).  Here were two guys who have been playing together for their whole musical life and they were jammin' with with the fabulous Burgess Brothers, Tyler and Chris, who have been playing together for their entire lives, I guess. The House was rockin'.

 Here's a clip of highlights:

Sugar Brown (who is killing it on guitar these days) and his Blues Army Michelle Josef, Russ Boswell, Jesse Whiteley and Jon Wong. 
Montrealer Bharath Rajakumar was flying in for the Saturday night but that was my night in Aurora so I missed out on this amazing harp player. I'm sure it was a great night! 

Ken ("Sugar") was kind enough to give me an original lino-print of the artwork for his forthcoming CD (being launched at Hugh's Room on March 21 with the added benefit of a double bill with Ray Bonneville). 

Like the Winterfolk festival, they have their share of niggly neighbours, so most of the venues quit the music at 11pm.  At Winterfolk, one of the official venues (Terri O's) pulled the plug on the first night due to noise complaint from a neighbour. We’re a long ways from being a “music city” when even a folksinger is too loud and annoying for some residents. It was great to see Mose Scarlett who hasn’t been playing around for 2 or 3 years and hearing new tunes from old friends (and old tunes from new friends:-) Discovery of the week: 15-year olds Moscow Apartment.

Here's a little compilation video of some shows I saw at Winterfolk.

More Internet Challenges

I mentioned in the last Blainletter that I had moved the domain to the same provider for all the domains that I manage.  Big mistake.  Both website and mail were screwed up for a week.  If you were trying to contact me in the last couple of weeks at you may have got a bounced message.  I've been suggesting people use my gmail:  Now both my .ca and .com are pointing to the same (incomplete) website.  But as I write, my devoted son is upstairs trying to get it operational.  Thanks, Joel  (not sure if he reads the Blainletter :-) It never fails.  Every time I try to tidy up things (paper or digital) it never fails that a little while later I'll be looking for something that I've purged. 

And about the Oscars

As I was writing this Blainletter, I had the 90th Anniversary Oscars playing on the iPad – it was fun watching but the musical segments were underwhelming until the last one, a powerful performance of The Greatest Showman's  "This Is Me" by an artist I never heard of, Keala Settle.  The audience went crazy if only because there was finally a little musical energy coming off the stage. Mark Stafford, who I had a chance to play with at the Campfire and also the Southside Shuffle, was one of the artists who worked on the set for the Best Movie of the Year, The Shape of Water and the whole Toronto crew was celebrating at the Palais Royale.  Way to go, Bird!

Sunday, February 11, 2018

Blainletter #99

I'm here writing up my February Blainletter and how nice it is to turn on the radio and hear John Valenteyn promoting my Campfire Jam on Saturday – He just played a track by Emily Burgess, who will be guesting. Thanks JV (and everybody should listen to John Valenteyn's Blues on CIUT 89.5 Thursdays at 4pm).

It's been cold and miserable and I haven't been getting out as much, not to see other bands or even for gigs of my own, but my old stand-by, The Campfire Jam at the Old Mill is still going strong.

My guests THIS SATURDAY EVENING are three young players who made a big first impression right out of the gate (ie, Humber) with the 24th Street Wailers. Jon Wong and Jesse Whiteley paid their dues with the Wailers and are now back home in T.O. where they can be seen around town in various combos. Guitarist Emily Burgess is part of another "buzz band", the Weber Brothers out of Peterborough.  Emily also plays guitar in the Women's Blues Revue band and seems to be doing a lot of work with Sue Foley these days.  There's a great profile on her in Peterborough's  Electric City magazine

Come join this old boy and some of the hottest young players you'll ever hear on Saturday, February 10 from 7:30-10:30

More Ancestry

Ever since I sent in my DNA I've had cousins coming out of the woodwork, and this has been particularly interesting to me because I was adopted and at this late stage of my life I was getting a little curious about my "provenance."  The Ancestry thang was pretty confusing to me but thanks to my friend & genealogist Marg Stowe, we have whittled it down to confirming one set of great-grandparents:

Magloire Depatie (1864-1915) and Josephine Charron (1857-1912) .  If you are acquainted/related to either of these folks, let me know. As opposed to most ancestry-freaks who are digging back in time, I'm looking forward from the great-grandparents to the grandparents then the parent who would be my birth parent. Fascinating.

Domain Changes

Today I moved to a new domain host and it's been a while since I did one of these migrations but I seem to recall there was usually some screw-up with the email.  If you're sending me mail and it's bouncing back from, try

Still getting the new .com website presentable – the A/B audio player is finally working but I have to get it installed on all the tracks.  It's kinda cool to be able to switch back and forth between the original solo live recording and the "sweetened" version.  I also created a "Campfire" page with pics & vids from the campfire jams over the years and a little history. Check out and next I'm going to make a page with some of my explorations in electronica (aka, The Stringbuster). After getting away from it for a while, I just had another round and I believe I will rassle this beast ultimately.  I just might need a little more processing power. Had a nice little jam with my son the DJ and nothing blew up (or locked up).  That bodes well for future collaboration.

Out and About

Here's a few highlights of the Maple Blues Awards gala

The Maple Blues Awards was a big night – great to see Colin James jamming it up on stage with Steve Marriner. Colin took home awards for Electric Act of the Year, Recording/Producer of the Year and Guitarist of the Year. Harrison Kennedy won Songwriter of the Year and  I got to meet Victoria’s hot new guitarslinger Jason Buie who won New Artist of the Year. I might not have met him had it not been for an internet scam that spoofed a few people into signing up for a webcast (there was no webcast) of the awards and giving out their credit card info (and then having to cancel the cards).  It was some friends and relatives of Jason who got burned so we were trying to get to the bottom of it.  Unfortunately there was not much to be done – but stay away from an outfit called "musiclivestream" The complete list of winners is available here.

During the day there were some interesting panel discussions and Q & A sessions with publicists, grant givers, and booking agents.  Here's my take-away:
Booking a Festival: Don't send attachments (MP3s or otherwise). Offer links to 2 or 3 recent video clips with decent sound - preferably in asetting similar to the one you're pitching. They love it when the video shows a great crowd reaction.  The single best way to get a gig is to be recommended by another festival director or "influencer."

Getting a Grant:  FACTOR has a 2k grant that seems quite approachable and a quarter of the applicants receive it.  I might try for it but the deadline is only a week away! And grant expert Barbara Isherwood advises that you to give yourself plenty of lead time. Well, maybe not this time. It seems to be important to have a "team".  Oh well, that leaves me out. For their purposes, an album is at least 6 songs or 20 minuts.  And what do you know...FACTOR doesn't require a budget anymore.  That was the part that always confounded me.  Though I'm sure they're still sticky about receipts.

Social Media: Facebook is changing their algorithms so that you will mostly see posts from your family and friends.  It is worth it to spend a few bucks to "boost" your post but space it out over a period of time - don't spend it all at once. When you have an opportunity to put some keywords, put the names of artists whose crowd you would like to appeal to.

And remember the most essential thing is to have your website with your home page (which should include samples of your music, a bio, photos and upcoming shows)

I've got some other notes from similar conferences.  I should dig them up and flesh out these tips.  Everything is changing anyway.  I asked about Next Big Sound - which had been touted as an essential online "chart" of your social media activity - which in some musical genres can be a very influential factor.  Anyway, that Eric Alper seems to think it's not relevant any more - or maybe just not at our level. Never Mind...

And back to webcasts, I watched the "pre-broadcast" of the Grammys on my laptop and it was fine resolution and no disruption.  The production values were comparable to the big show on Sunday – Paul Schaffer had put together a killer band. There was even a live performance by Taj Mahal and Keb 'Mo'– a nice contrast with all the slick production numbers.  You might even say it had a "meandering" quality :-) Taj and Keb' Mo' got the Grammy for Best Contemporary Blues Album. Good on 'em!

But I was rooting for "Migration Blues" by Eric Bibb (which was nominated for a Grammy this year). Michael Jerome Browne figures prominently on that album and he even got Eric Bibb up to his favourite studio…in my hometown, Sherbrooke, Quebec. Somebody told me Michael wouldn't be going down for the Grammy gala because he knew they didn't have a chance against the Rolling Stones – and, sure enough the Stones did win the award…and didn't even send someone to pick it up.  Besides, the tickets were a fortune and even nominee tickets were prohibitive.  I see MJB has a nice tour of UK coming up with Eric – two of my favourite musicians!

And the JUNO Nominations were announced on Tuesday (this is the first year that they didn't invite me to the nominee announcement – it's usually a nice spread with little mini-quiches and yogurt parfaits).  I guess I have fallen off their radar – or maybe someone from their office read my JUNO rip-off rant last year (I won't perpetuate it here).  Anyway I'm glad to spread the word (even if they don't send me a press release!) Congrats to the Blues JUNO Nominees – Just announced:

Better the Devil You Know

Big Dave McLean

Something I’ve Done


Time to Roll


No Time Like Now

Steve Strongman

Big City, Back Country Blues

Williams, Wayne and Isaak

A nice batch of Canadian Blues!

Quote(s) of the Day

(From Quincy Jones interview)

There were several controversial comments from Q in this interview but these are the ones I like

"I have never in my life made music for money or fame. Not even Thriller. No way. God walks out of the room when you’re thinking about money."

"The greatest singer in the world cannot save a bad song. I learned that 50 years ago, and it’s the single greatest lesson I ever learned as a producer. If you don’t have a great song, it doesn’t matter what else you put around it."

And on the repetitiveness of rap: " The ear has to have the melody groomed for it; you have to keep the ear candy going because the mind turns off when the music doesn’t change. Music is strange that way. You’ve got to keep the ear busy."

For the whole interview, go to

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).  If it's been forwarded to you or if you're reading this on Facebook, you can sign up to the Blainletter at

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

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Brian's Blues Campfire kicks off second year residency

The Campfire Jam found a new home in 2017 and it has been a big hit with the jazz crowd at the Old Mill.  We're happy to announce that we'll be back in 2018, still on the "Second Saturdays" of the month.  This Saturday (Jan 13) I will be jamming with a couple of folks I've never played with: Adam Solomon (actually I did jam with Adam a few years back in the livingroom of a CBC producer – I had just discovered Ali Farka Touré and was very anxious to pick up some Afro-Blues licks on the guitar and Adam was so generous in showing me (they don't call him "The Professor" for nothing). His "African Guitar Summit" CD won a JUNO in 2005 and he has been a mainstay of the African music scene in Toronto and Canada.  Raha Javanfar is better known in blues circles as the leader of "Bad Luck Woman and Her Misfortunes" who are nominated for Best New Artist at this year's Maple Blues Awards – and will be hosting the Nominee Jam after-party to close out the big gala at Koerner Hall on Monday night at Koerner Hall (I think there's still tickets available). Check out the new campfire webpage at  Coming in Feb. it will be a bit of a 24th St Wailers reunion with Jesse Whiteley, Emily Burgess and Jon Wong then in March, I will be joined by the Blackburn Brothers

These Campfire Jams at the Old Mill have been a real highlight of the last year – and my only steady gig, actually. Thanks to all the amazing blues artists who joined me 'round the Campfire last year: Julian Fauth, Sean Pinchin, Kim Doolittle, Raoul Bhaneja, Manitoba Hal, Bill King, Mike Daley, Geoff Daye, Mark "Bird" Stafford, Jesse O'Brien, Rick Taylor, Roberta Hunt, Carrie Chesnutt, Alison Young, Ken Whiteley, Paul Reddick, Sugar Brown, Jenie Thai, Chris Whiteley, Diana Braithwaite, Don Vickery, Michael Fonfara, George Koller, Michelle Josef and Steve Marriner.

I cannot believe how Trump took up so much of my attention in 2017 – it was the most engrossing (emphasis on "gross") reality TV show ever. Everyday I was turning on the news to see what he's done now. I've become a CNN junkie which brings me to the little video clip below.

…the jam went on longer with some great guitar interplay between Sean Pinchin and I but I've cut it short mostly because I screwed up the last verse trying to re-write it on the fly.

This tune was written after one too many reports on refugees who were displaced, starving and dying of thirst.  The song is called "Donner Moi De L'Eau" (Give Me Some Water).  When I get around to recording it I want to do it with a kora player (are you out there, Mansa Sissoko?). Let's call that my New Year's Resolution! I had just written it that afternoon and played it for the first time at the Campfire Jam. Steve Marriner, who had been playing mostly piano that night, grabbed my bass and dug right in with a solid bass line (and, in the Campfire spirit, he later pulled out a tune he had just written a couple a days before).