Saturday, May 4, 2013
Not much time to play guitar this last little while - peak period for my desktop publishing enterprise. Two newsletters and a website all due practically the same day. But's it's done and no major screw-ups (even got a nice fanmail complimenting the website). So now I'm back in music mode and hitting the road….
Fri May 10 9-11pm
Gladstone Hotel - Melody Bar
9th Annual Motherless Day Blues Concert with Brian and the Blainettes
This is probably the only time you'll get to hear me singing my cult classic, "Don't Forget Your Mother". And if you like you can hear the mega production here
Thu May 30, Fri May 31 and Sat June 1 6-9 PM
THREE NIGHTS at the fabulous Il Corso Restaurant
(part of The Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival)
Sun June 2, 2-5pm Grand River Chop House - 5 Amaranth W, Grand Valley, ON
(part of The Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival)
Fri June 7 Black Shire Pub 511 Talbot St London, ON (519) 433-7737
(Blues Masters Series)
Sun June 30, 3-6pm Distillery District Main Stage - Brian and the Blainettes
(part of the TD Toronto Jazz Festival)
It's been a little while since the last Blainletter so I'm trying to get this out before the end of the month and I think I'll keep it short this time. I've had some friendly comments that it gets a little long-winded (and one not-so-friendly comment from an ex-girlfriend who writes "I never hear from you except for that stupid Blainletter which I never read anyway…"). So we've unsubscribed her but I'm glad to report that whenever I'm out and about there's always an encouraging word to keep it up.
I had some great gigs with Robert Davis and Malcolm Gould last month and was happy to play a couple of tunes with Shrimp Daddy and Danny Marks at a fundraiser for the lovely Jenn Martin, my rep at Indie Pool who had a nasty snowmobile accident. I hope she's back in the saddle now.
Lots of folks have been asking me when I'm going to start up a weekly campfire jam but the stars have not aligned for that yet. Meanwhile, young Jake DeBolt (Daisy's son) got something going at the little "Sideshow Cafe" just down the street from me so I've gone over a couple of times and I will again. It's on Wednesday nights. It's attached to the Center of Gravity Circus HQ at Gerrard and Greenwood.
On the "Living Album" project I upgraded my computer with Protools and even though it's giving me a little trouble right now, it's been a pretty smooth transition. I never thought I would end up with ProTools - I've hated it ever since it started out as Sound Tools but it's what everybody is using and now I am too. I'm glad to report a couple more contributions to the recording fund and I intend to get into the studio in the next month to do the final overdubs and then we can come out with New Folk Blues 2.0. Thanks for your patience (and if you really can't wait, then most of the raw tracks (just guitar, vocal and bass) are available for download on my Reverbnation. Even though I don't have a new release, I still hear a teack on the radio now and then so thanks to my friends in radio land who haven't forgotten Brian Blain, especially Ted Crouch who gave me a spin on the inaugural edition of "Acoustic Avenue" http://voiceoftheshuswap.ca/programs/
I saw a few great shows lately including James Hunter at the Horseshoe. I love his sound with the tenor/bari combo. He'll be back at the jazz festival opening for Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. That will be a great night. I guess the biggest show I got to last month was Fleetwood Mac as a guest of my dear friend Jacquie and it was pretty awesome. The Air Canada Centre was packed and the production was great. Before the show starts, a booming "voice of doom" warns about any picture taking or recording, listing all the different devices that are not allowed from throw-away cameras to cell phones. Then the show starts and all kinds of people rush the front and start taking pictures - some are tapped on the shoulder and others are allowed to the front (usually cute girls with big smiles and short skirts). I guess they have to make the official request…but then how are you gonna stop them from taking pictures? I haven't been to too many, but I can tell arena shows have come a long way. I was interested to hear pioneer impresario Michael Cohl (who promoted the Rolling Stones & U2 tours and lots of others) he was speaking at Canadian Music Week. Bob Lefsetz said "he told us NOTHING!" but I thought it was a real eye-opener about how that industry operates. Then next day, his arch-rival and former employee gave his take on the state of the industry and the one thing they could agree on was how they both hated Bill Graham (and I guess he hated them back). I ran into another pioneer promoter at the coat-check - it was Donald K. Donald and I was surprised that he remembered me - he seemed happy to see me though we had a bit of a falling-out in the 70s when I bailed out halfway through a tour where I was opening for April Wine. I just couldn't keep going out onto those stages (solo) and trying to play a "warm-up" set while thousands of kids yelled "A-Pril-Wine, A-Pril-Wine" I was told in no uncertain terms that I would never work for him again and I never did.
The rest of Canadian Music Week was a thousand bands all trying to sound the same and then when you went to the panel discussions it was all about "Authenticity" and finding your own sound. One guy said he listens to 11,000 submissions a month and narrows it down to a couple of hundred recommendations for his blog. Yikes!
My Facebook friends already heard about my guitar disaster - My beloved Epiphone took a fall and I didn't even open the case until I got to a gig at Gate 403 and saw it sitting there in two pieces. I posted a picture on Facebook and never got so many comments in my life….The guitar is glued back now, but it's road days are over - it could not withstand another shock - so I've been shopping around for another flat-top.
Maybe you'll get a kick out of this little video we made of me trying out guitars
We brought along the briPhone and shot a little videoclip of my "Great Guitar Search." Linda has latched onto the name "Awful Video Productions" because her first attempt at video - Allan and myself at the Tranzac - was one of Richard Flohil's weekly video pics which he referred to as "an awful video of great song," or something like that… For the great guitar search, I started at Capsule Music then Long & McQuade and played a lot of guitars that were mostly under $1000…still haven't found one that I couldn't put down so I may up the ante and head to the 12th Fret next. I dropped in already and the first guitar I picked up was a beauty - a Bourgeois (never heard of them) but it was 5K. I realize I'm more concerned about how it feels than how it sounds - my Epiphone had a rather small neck - almost like an electric. I've checked out a few guitars that friends had for sale and if any Blainreaders out there might have a suggestion, send it my way.
I'm also on the lookout for female sax player who could fill in for Colleen Allen who had to bale out of the Gladstone gig on the 10th. Both Colleen and Carrie are very busy sax players so I have recruited the phenomenal Alison Young but now need another tenor/bari gal and I'm open to suggestions on that too.
And let me finish with my congratulations to a bunch of great musician friends - Steve Strongman just won the Blues JUNO and Jim Galloway just got married. And my oldest musical buddy Allan Fraser has moved to Toronto and we have had a few opportunities to play together and there will be more. On a sad note, there have been many passings including Richie Havens (who crossed paths with many friends of mine over the years/decades) and the irascible Johnny V - a great guitar player who I always admired even though he was a bit cantankerous. He's the first guitarist I ever saw who leaned a piece of plywood in front of his Fender amp so the people in the front would not get blasted. I think J-W Jones does that too.
Thanks for reading this far. It was snowing just yesterday but I think Spring is in the air. Let's go for a long walk! BrianB
Monday, April 1, 2013
In 1973 I had just released a single called "The Story of The Magic Pick" on the Montreal label Good Noise Records and was sent to Toronto on a promotional junket which included visits to disc jockeys accompanied by the promotion person from the distributor (Polydor), Lori somebody...I think.
After doing the rounds of radio stations (how often does that happen nowadays?) I was escorted to Eggertons, the premiere showcase room in TO, to do a guest appearance. which I guess had been arranged with Jim Holt and I sat through a long set by whoever was the main attraction that night and just when I thought I was about to be called to the stage, there was a commotion as a large group of important-looking people made their way into the room, and I seem to recall they were being sheperded by an English gentleman with long flowing white hair (I may have blurred this into another similar event - I await some clarification from anyone that might have a better recollection than me).
What I do remember is that I was informed that somebody more important than this unknown Montreal artist would be doing the guest spot. So I sat back and watched someone I'd never heard of singing a song I'd never heard..."Sometimes when we touch...." To add insult to injury, I was later informed by my label that Polydor had released a single called "Spiders and Snakes" in the same week as mine and they only had enough resources (payola??) to promote one "novelty" record at a time. Needless to say, neither of those songs ever made it onto my "favourites" list.
Friday, March 1, 2013
Missed Harry's Wednesday Showcase at Folk Alliance but luckily he played again on Friday (with a gig in Quebec City between).
Our Folk Alliance adventures began on Wednesday night, a night that was dedicated to showcasing all the Canadian Talent - all the Canadian roots record labels were showing off their favourite artists in 8 different rooms. We had a blues campfire going in one of the rooms but it was hard to compete with all the amazing music that was going on all around us. Hell, even I wanted to skip out and go see Harry Manx, but I stayed at my post and had some consolation when Harry's keyboard player Clayton Doley dropped in and got the joint jumping with some Boogie Woogie. I had my buddies Allan Fraser and Russ Kelley jamming with me then Michael Jerome Browne showed up and that was a delight. Sam Turton and Jane Lewis dropped in to lead a couple of gospel-flavoured numbers. I stepped out for a moment and saw Darcy Wickham wandering around so I lassoed him into the jam (and got him playing some bass, too). He is one of Toronto's best and busiest guitar teachers and now he's got a uke. Look out! Glen Hornblast had fun at our Winterfolk campfire and re-appeared at the Folk Alliance to sit in (his tune "Freedom Train" is destined to be a folk classic). A couple of english dudes sat in for a couple of tunes - a handsome young man who didn't play an instrument, didn't want to start a song and didn't really do blues. Still, he extemporized some lyrics on a couple of tunes and his buddy played some bass. At the end of the week-end I poked in on one of the last official showcases and saw him front and centre. His name is Sam Lee and he was one of the "not-to-be-missed" buzz acts at the Conference. Who knew?
Allan and Russ joined me the next day for a session where we got together with Sue Lothrop (who had worked with both of them) and we sang tunes that we had written back in the 60s and early 70s. I sang a couple of tunes that I had never performed in public - and announced that I probably would never sing them again, though one of the audience members (I think he was from Vermont Public Radio) shouted that they were great country songs and should be recorded. He said the same thing when he ran into me in the hallway later. There were a few people in the audience who remembered those days and others who were just thrilled to hear and meet Allan Fraser because Fraser & deBolt had been part of the soundtrack of their lives since back then. Allan and I did a couple of private showcases in a hotel room (Allan has been away from the music scene for awhile and was a little surprised at the new "pay-to-play" paradigm in the music business but we had a good time and several folks mentioned to me how thrilled they were to meet the guy who wrote "Dance Hall Girls." Allan has a new CD in the works with lots of great new material - and hopefully we'll be playing around town some more. At our last showcase (2:30 am on Saturday night - or as Allan insisted, Sunday morning) two German blues musicians dropped in and it was a delight playing with Georg Schroeter and Marc Breitfelder. Marc is an amazing harmonica player who takes Carlos' "over-blowing" technique to the next level. Hope I get to play with him again sometime (maybe in Germany…)
There was so much music to see and I'm now kicking myself that I missed some great artists, Bottine Souriante for one. I really enjoyed hearing Gurf Morlix for the first time. He's a living legend. Saw Catherine Maclellan for the first time and I can see why people are quite enamoured with her. I had seen Tony Furtado a few years ago when he was a banjo hero but he has now re-invented himself into a singer-songwriter - and great guitarist. Jim Kweskin was a howl (see clip below) and so were the Howling Brothers. Ken Whiteley was terrific, as always and I enjoyed hearing Baskery (three gorgeous gals from Sweden who really rock). It was great hearing Rose Cousins again, though I made the mistake of coughing while I was sitting next to her and she was out of there like a shot. Can't be too careful these days.
I would say my "discovery" was a couple of young guys called The Milk Carton Kids. Understated, just the way I like it, so they might slip under the radar but they are worth a listen. One memorable highlight was sitting back and listening to a long set from Judy Collins. I had never seen her live and it was quite magic. She had the whole room singing along, too, and of course just about everybody in that room was a singer. The show started with a strict advisory that no recording devices were permitted, but then after a tune where everybody had sung along in a million harmonies she said "I wish we had recorded that"…Oh well. And I got to meet and hear Del Rey, a great singer-guitarist who Daisy deBolt had always wanted me to meet and now I have. We talked a bit about Daisy, and Del said Toronto was not the same for her anymore without Daisy .
Wednesday, February 27, 2013
Wednesday, February 20, 2013
This is my favourite part of the Campfire, when I just start making up verses and try to get my Campfire pals to join in. Freestyle, as the young 'uns call it. As you see in this clip, I'm fumbling to rhyme a verse but Kim Doolittle jumps right in and creates a couple of verses from the woman's point of view. That's Michael Jerome Browne in the middle - what a fabulous musician!
This was shot last week-end at the Winterfolk Festival (thanks to Brian Gladstone for inviting me to bring my Campfire to his cozy little February function). The festival closed off with a beautiful tribute to Brent Titcomb with performances by many of his musical buddies including "moi."
Other highlights at Winterfolk this year were hearing Rick Taylor and a gathering of the Whiteley clan (there are clips from both of these on my streaming channel - click above on "Watch The Blaincast" and stay tuned because I will be streaming more from the Folk Alliance Conference.
Tip of the Day
There was a discussion on Maplepost about how to decide on the sequence the songs on a CD. Most would say put your best foot forward and put the best song first, but DJ Paul Corby had this suggestion:
Song one : Sonic Velcro
Song two : The Hit
Song Three : The Song Yr Mom Likes Best
Song Four : My Real Deal
Song Five : Let The Quirk Work
Song Six : I Can't Believe Wrote That One In Fifteen Minutes
Song Six : Buried Treasure
Song Seven : I Didn't Know I Could Dance
Song Eight : Still Rivers Run Deep
Song Eight : Didgereedoo / Ukulele / Accordion Attack
Song Nine : Old Time Religion / Good Enough For Me
Song Ten : The Burning-ness
Song Eleven : Walking Through The Underground Garage, Up The Elevator, On
The Street OMG I Can Still Hear That Song!!!!
(I always thought you've got to grab them in the first 30 seconds :-)
Wednesday, January 23, 2013
The Blues Summit is a unique gathering of blues artists, DJs and presenters from across Canada and beyond. This year there must have been nearly 250 delegates (and a few party crashers) and for an artist who's looking for gig opportunities, all he has to do is hang around the hotel for 3 days and sooner or later he's bound to find himself facing the artistic director of the festival he wants to play across a table or in an elevator (time to try out your "elevator pitch." This year there was even a choreographed pitch session where you could sign up for 3 minutes one-on-one with any (or all) of the participating presenters. The artists I spoke to afterwards thought it was pretty stressful and one festival director was totally exhausted by the process. One artists told me she felt a little "dirty" after going through this dance.
speed-schmoozing at the Summit
I always thought it was pretty pointless to showcase until there were people (presenters) who already wanted to see you. If you don't have a "buzz" or some manager/agent pitching you, you probably won't be selected and if you are, it's not likely you'll get a prime showcase slot. As showcases go, the Blues Summit gives you a better shot because there's never more than 2 or 3 performances going on at the same time. But it's a sad state of affairs when I see those kids driving up from some southern state just to play for 40 minutes at Canadian Music Week or North by Northeast - usually to a mostly empty room. The music business has become a pay-to-play thang. Sometimes just the parking and gas makes the difference between a profit or a loss.
My Summit experience was bookended by a couple of piano players - the first music I heard on Friday night was Julian Fauth and he is a delight to hear (and I'm taking notes on some of those tunes in anticipation of the day when we play together again). We were looking for an opportunity to jam but alas it did not materialize. On opening day there was a "Songs and Stories" workshop and I grabbed a clip of Michael Jerome Browne, a master of the folk-blues (and any other kind of blues).
Next day I heard an amazing keyboard player from out west called David Vest and my new favourite guitar player Bill Johnson (who was operating on 2 hours sleep). Vest was a bit of a "buzz act." Who would have thought you could be a buzz act when you're almost 70 years old? I'm encouraged. He has a PHD from Vanderbilt and did some time as a speechwriter/spindoctor in the dark corridors of the military industrial complex but I guess music has redeemed him and "he's Back!" Then I saw Bill Durst play for the first time. In fact I don't think I'd even heard his music, but he was making a buzz in the Kitchener/Waterloo area and now I see why. He was part of a rock band called Thundermug but that was before my time in Toronto.
Speaking of PHD's, young Jesse Whiteley was intensely working on his laptop between sets with the J-W Jones band and when I asked what he was working on he said it was his Master's thesis for York University…and the topic is the Hammond Organ, worthy of a thesis if I do say so myself. And it was a beautiful thing seeing a Hammond B3 being rolled in to the Delta for the Sugar Devils showcase. They had brought in a couple of ringers from the States for some gigs and recording and the organist was Ike Stubblefield, who I had the chance to hang out with a bit. He is a monster on the B3, and I've heard all the greats and played with a few of them.
Steve Hill did a command performance from the coffee table in the Ottawa & Quebec Blues Societies hospitality suite
Steve got a last-minute "official" showcase when fellow Montrealer Ben Racine couldn't make it through the storm and I wonder if anyone was paying attention to his song about his first experience trying to break into the Toronto music scene (not unlike my own).
But now that I'm settled in Toronto, I like to be a bit of a welcoming committee to visiting musicians and my Friday night campfire jam at the Summit was a great occasion for visiting musicians to get to know each other as they pass the guitar back and forth. There wasn't much of an audience, but it was great seeing a veteran like Terry Gillespie sharing licks and stories with a couple of new kids on the block (aka the Axe Murderer and the Harpoonist). And in true campfire style, I even managed to lasso a couple of folks into playing although they never intended to. One turns out to be a festival director from Oregon (and a mighty fine picker) and the other was frequent contributor to the MapleBlues, Richard Barry (I think he's done some time as a speech-writer, too).
Besides seeing a lot of old friends, I had some pleasant surprises such as seeing my face in a book called "A Portrait of Blues in Canada" that was launched at the Summit. It's a "coffee-table" book with hundreds of beautiful black & white photos of Canadian blues pioneers and journeymen musicians shot by Randy MacNeil. Then there was the gentleman who spotted my badge and said he plays my CD on his radio show in Berne, Switzerland. The best was when some guy next to me in the urinal starts singing "Saab Story."
But as the week-end wound down on Sunday night with a spontaneous jam around the grand piano on the mezzanine it was another piano player who left a not-so-pleasant taste in my mouth after he totally dominated the jam, even as other players tried to subtely suggest that he was playing so loud that you couldn't hear the guitars. At one point the (in)famous Quebec harp player Jim Zeller appeared and jumped right into the jam making up songs on the fly. The room was filled with amazing players, yet no-one was going to start playing while this kid was pounding that piano. When he stepped away for a moment, the mild-mannered Joe Murphy slipped on to the piano bench but even that did not deter this youngster. He insinuated himself back onto the bench and pushed Joe aside.
I propose at the next Summit there should be a workshop on "Jam Etiquette" (subtitled "or you'll never work in this town again). At 4am, we were shut down by a rather unpleasant security guard and I think most of us were glad to end it because that piano player was not going to quit. This after being evicted from the initial jam location by an another overly-officious security guard makes me think it does not bode well for any late night jamming at Winterfolk or the Folk Alliance Conference which are both coming up soon in the same hotel. Wait till those security guards have to deal with ten times as many musicians.
I wasn't the only one vlogging from the Blues Summit. Here Chris Martin of cbcmusic.ca is getting a harmonica lesson from Jerome Godboo - using TWO iphones
The icing on the cake was the Maple Blues Awards on Monday night and that was one classy event - I think I repeated the phrase "rose to the occasion" a few times as I discussed the performances and the hosting by Raoul Bhaneja. All the performances were stellar. And despite some grumbling about mixing politics and blues, I don't think it hurts that a city councillor and the Prime Minister's wife are presenting awards. There are blues lovers of all stripes. What a great night!
Steve Strongman performs at Maple Blues Awards gala at Koerner Hall January 21, 2013 after accepting awards for Songwriter of the Year, Guitar Player of the Year and Recording of the Year for his recent release "A Natural Fact"