Saturday, March 28, 2015

Last Night I had the Strangest Dream

Not so strange, really, because it was all a very familiar setting - some kind of campus where there was a music festival/conference going on. I guess I had just played a set and was now wandering around leaving my guitar unattended. At a certain point I realize I better get back to my guitar but now I'm having trouble finding where I left it. I'm going in and out of different entrances and making my way down hallways until I finally find the stage set-up and my guitar case is there, but alas, the guitar is gone. This has a devastating effect on me because I just got it out of the shop at a cost of almost a thousand dollars. My stomach sinks so far that it wakes me up and it still took me a few minutes of semi-awake state before I realized that I still had my guitar and it was just a dream...make that a "nightmare"

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Brian's Summit Summary

The Blues Summit is a biennial conference for blues musicians and industry folks. I always get to meet some new folks, blues musicians and the people who help get the music out there. The keynote speaker was Bruce Iglauer, the founder of the pre-eminent blues label, Alligator Records. He gave a great talk saying blues musicians must not try to just repeat what the old blues guys were doing but to embrace new sounds and subjects. He then recited some lyrics he made up the night before to illustrate: "My Computer is crashing and my network is down..." Well anybody familiar with the Brian Blain repertoire will recognize those words from my song "Computer Club Queen." All week-end, friends were coming up to me saying "Bruce was quoting your song." I never got a chance to tell him personally, but maybe someone else did. I remember when Bruce saw me play a while back and told me later that he liked my set "but it's a little on the folky side for me." I took that as a badge of honour, especially considering I was going to the Folk Alliance conference a couple of weeks later (and I did use that quote a few times - good for a laugh).

I didn't attend a whole lot of other sessions, but I heard a whack of music. We had a Campfire Jam on Saturday afternoon but I never really got around to inviting anybody so it was catch as catch can. Musicians were approaching me all week-end saying they didn't know about it or thought there was going to be another one on Sunday. Truth is, a lot of my potential jammers were enjoying free booze & food in upstairs hospitality suites (and I don't blame them). Some folks had contacted me in advance and they all showed up and like always, I left it to the last minute and there were some great last-minute surprises, especially when I saw Bill King in the hotel lobby and coaxed him into kicking it off with me. Ooops, I wonder if he was a registered delegate? I had already told a few friends that this jam was for delegates only, and to her credit, Kim Doolittle went and bought a registration on the spot and was an integral part of the session, even playing bass when required. It was great to see a veteran like herself playing with an up-and-comer like Sabrina Weeks and it was a precious moment when she leaned into my ear and asked "Who IS that woman?" after Samantha Martin had just belted out a number. Then we were joined by Heather Katz and a larger-than-life fellow called Walter who approached the stage and said "just play some blues and I'll make it up as I go along" and we had a few minutes of freestyle rap-blues. You never know what will happen at the campfire.

My pal Sherman Lee Dillon sat in for the entire session and played some real official Mississippi blues. The renowned violinist Lenny Solomon showed up and gave us a taste of his "blues violin" (That's the title of his new CD). Casey Van Gorkom, one of the regulars at my old Hwy 61 Campfire, played a little bass and brought along his friend Alexander McTaggart from Edmonton who played some barrelhouse piano. The piano got a real workout. Ken McColm backed up Peggy Voigt then Murray Porter showed up and ended up doing some four-handed piano with Lily Sazz. I hope somebody's got a picture of that! I had never met Murray but I knew his partner, Elaine Bomberry and they are some "power-couple."

It's ironic that the Summit was populated with some of the best guitarists in the country, but the two extra guitars I brought sat mostly unplayed.I even put new strings on one of them! Trevor Mackenzie, one of my newest favourite guitarists walked in and I got him up for the finale and several more guitarists trickled in to play as I was packing up. Even my pal Danny Marks did not want to play guitar - he wanted to play DRUMS! Well, that's what the Campfire is all about, mixing things up a bit. Danny is a pretty good drummer and has been a big booster of the Campfire and I think I might have blushed a bit as he gave me props and testified to the crowd about the merits of the Campfire. If we do it again next time, we really have to plan it better. In the course of the week-end I ran into several musicians who were in the audience enjoying the campfire but whom I didn't spot, Shoshona Kish and Kirby Sewell among others. Sorry guys! I think if we do it again we should do it late at night, not in the afternoon.

But speaking of guitarists, what a phenomenal array of great players in Toronto this weekend. The Quebec contingent, Jordan Officer, Paul Deslauriers, Steve Hill and Michael Jerome Browne. Then there was Yukon Slim (aka Brandon Issak) from...yeah, the Yukon, my guitar discovery of the week along with Conor Gains and Ross Neilsen from New Brunswick. Then there's the amazing Steve Dawson, the wild Sugar Brown and that guy playing the baritone guitar with Wicked Grin. It was guitar heaven!

I got to meet a few of the movers and shakers whose names I have been hearing for years, but nice to have a little "face time" with Peter North and Cindy McLeod. Cindy was a great friend of Kathi MacDonald and I was happy to share some of my road stories from my German tour with Kathi.

The awards show was excellent. Even in the second balcony, the sound was just fine. Great performances and some touching speeches. The most memorable line for me came from Raven Kanakatka who said "Blues music is the vein of gold that runs through this mountain of music." Nice. Great to see Nanette Workman getting the Blues With A Feeling Award and had a nice chat with her. She was great friends with my ex-wife and brother-in-law and we had lots of memories of those days. And now, I'm able to tell her about my time visiting Sherman Lee in her home town, Jackson, Mississippi where she still maintains the family homestead.

Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Les Gagnants!

Great to see such a strong showing from the Quebec where the blues is thriving and where a bluesman can make a living without ever leaving his province (and in some cases without ever leaving the city where he lives!)

Met and heard some amazing musicians at the Blues Summit and Brandon Isaac (Yukon Slim) was one. He won Acoustic Act of the Year. I was knocked out by him and saw a couple of other great guitarists at the Summit who I'm embarrassed to say I never heard live - Ross Neilson and Conor Gains.

Lots of words of wisdom from the podium this year (not to mention a great Keynote Address from Bruce Iglauer). The best was Raven from Digging Roots in accepting the Cobalt Prize: "Blues Music is like the vein of gold that's running through this mountain of music" I asked him where that came from and he just made it up on the spot!

The Maple Blues Band played great. Danny was a fabulous host - sometimes wandering into the audience with a wireless guitar.

Sorry for my friend Joel who arrived at the theatre thinking he'd be able to get a ticket but he was turned away because it was ...SOLD OUT!

Winners of the 18th Annual Maple Blues Awards

Steve Hill

Steve Hill

Brandon Isaak

Matt Andersen

Angel Forrest

Wicked Grin

Steve Hill Solo Recordings Vol. 2 No Label Records; Producer: Steve Hill

BLUES WITH A FEELING AWARD (Lifetime Achievement)
Nanette Workman

Johnny Winter

Steve Hill

Tied: Guy Belanger and Harpdog Brown

David Vest

Jon Wong

Tom Bona

Greg Morency

Angel Forrest

Peter North

Sunday, January 18, 2015

Campfire Jam - old friends meet, new friends are made

The Blues Summit is all about "career development" and there are some among us who believe that the campfire or jamming of any sort helps with career development. Well I beg to differ. These jams have introduced artists who went on to tour or record together. Maybe a few songwriting collaborations have ensued, too. At the Summit, the jam is mostly about giving folks who are not doing an "official" showcase to get in a little playing and I think we achieved that. I love the moments when people connect for the first time, even though they've heard about and admired each other for years. What a trip hearing Lily Sazz and Murray Porter doing some four-handed boogie-woogie on the piano. And there's usually a moment when somebody gets to play with one of their "heroes" for the first time and this time I got to play for the first time with someone I've always admired because he does so much stuff, playing, producing, publishing, writing, photographing...there sure lots more (gourmet cooking?) - I'm talking about Bill King. Another not-usual-suspect on the blues scene was Lenny Solomon, an amazing fiddle player witha huge resume - and now he mae a CD called The Blues Violin. Then there was my buddy Danny Marks who got on those drums and was having the time of his life (sticks courtesy of Michelle Josef) with a And I like it when veteran Kim Doolittle, leans over into my ear and whispers "who IS that singer?" Well it was Sabrina Weeks, all the way from the west coast. Young Alexander McTaggart was rockin it on the 88's too and I'm looking forward to hearing more of him. Peggy Voight and Ken sat in. Heather Katz sat in too. Sherman Lee Dillon, now packing his lunch for a trip back to North Carolina was great company for me all week-end and I was glad to put him up at my place in appreachiation of the time he let me crash at his place in Jackson Mississippi (and invited me to sit in at his son'e club, Frank Jones Corner). But oddly enough (for a blues event) there were not very many guitar players or harp players coming out of the woodwork - considering I brought a couple of extra guitars and even put a new set of strings on one. I thought Danny Marks would pick up one of them but he wanted to play drums - and he filled in (pardon the pun) very well when Michelle Josef was called away. And I don't think Michelle ever got her sticks back... Trevor Mackenzie showed up just under the wire and then there were a few more trickling in as we were packing up. Other's though it was happening both days and thought they would come to the next one...Oh well

Thursday, January 8, 2015

Remembering Jim Galloway

Jim Galloway passed away last week and I will miss him. I worked with him from 1992 to 3006 on the Toronto Jazz Festival and also had the pleasure of having him play on a couple of tracks of "Overqualified For The Blues" Listen to the baritone part on "One Way Ticket." Even after he retired as AD of the Jazz Festival I would see him now and then, sometimes to help him figure out a computer problem, other times just to taste a new flavour of single malt. He was a model musician and a model human being. I just loded up a video that I shot of him and a few friends at the 2007 jazz festival. I used his camera and just lately had talked to him about putting it up on the web and now here it is for all to enjoy

Saturday, November 29, 2014

Blainletter #71 - Giggin' in Guelph, tryin to fix my guitar, David Gogo, Downchild, Women's Blues Revue, SOCAN rant, Jian and more

Hello to my most cherished Blainreaders. Boy these Blainletters are getting fewer and further between.  Don't mind me if this one goes on a bit.  And if I don’t get around to sending Holiday greetings, consider this my best wishes and appreciation for your support this year.

I just got in from hearing Jack De Keyzer and I have to say “It doesn’t get much better than that.” What a crack unit! They were playing at Monarchs Pub in the Eaton Chelsea and we can only hope that venue will continue with their blues nights now that booker Mike Smith has moved on (but check out their new menu – deelicious!) More on my nights out on the blues scene later, but to start I’d like to appeal to any friends and fans in the Guelph area to come out and see me next Thursday.

Thursday, December 4, 7:30-10pm - Brian Blain and Mo’ Kauffey - Magnolia CafĂ© 88 Yarmouth St, Guelph (519) 766-4663

This is a new series in a relatively new venue and I’m the first guest at the “Winter Workshops with Mo.” Please come or if you have friends in Guelph let them know. It will be me & Mo’ swapping songs and stories, playing some originals and some standards. Admission is $10.

I have to say there hasn’t been much call for my services lately, and that’s probably how it will remain as long as I’m just sitting around waiting to be invited. Last month I did a little recording with Zoe Chilco and played at a Buddhist event with jazz legend Reg Schwager and his amazing wife Kiki Misumi. Still, I’m enjoying playing guitar as much as ever and I’m never going to stop so maybe when I’m 70 (which is only a couple of years away) I might get “discovered” and included in some kind of tribute to old Canadian blues guys…

Speaking of the guitar (the same one I’ve been playing for the last 50 years) it took another fall and this time it’s going to take more than a glue job. It’s going to cost a lot to fix and I’m reaching out with a crowdfunding campaign to finance the repairs. If you hate to see a guitar go to waste, please make a donation right here:

Last Friday night I was listening to the blues show on the French CBC and I went to their website to look for a playlist from last week to find who played that phenomenal version of “It’s A Man’s World.” I had already asked a few knowledgeable friends if they knew of a new version of that song with phenomenal guitar solo that went on for 5 or 6 minutes. Nobody had any idea but now I finally find the playlist and imagine my surprise and delight when I see that it was my friend David Gogo. Not just Facebook friend, but one who has helped me out on a couple of occasions (once when I needed a mic cable and another time when I was having one of my campfire jams at the Blues Summit and there were many musicians in the house but nobody wanted to play yet, but good ole David came up and I passed him my dear old Epiphone (the one that’s now in two pieces) and we kicked it off in style.

So then I go to iTunes and buy the track but then I notice that the version on the playlist is different…so I search again and now buy the new version as well (they both sound very similar – must be the same organist). Now I have bought both versions and it occurs to me I probably have a David Gogo CD in my collection. And sure enough, I find “Live at Deer Lake,” the CD with the live version. Would you say I can’t get enough of that song? Well, click below to hear young Emily Burgess tear up a solo on Divine Brown’s version at the Women’s Blues Revue. I’m sure David would approve.

Last month I met Divine when I was the special guest in Raoul Bhaneja’s play, “Life Death and the Blues.” Here’s a clip of me and Raoul doing “Overqualified for the Blues” (at the end you hear me trying to emulate the way Divine can hold a note forever – as seen in that clip of “Man’s World.”

Jian, Jian, Jian: Everybody’s talking about Jian so I can’t resist sharing my thin connection with him. After a JUNO Awards event a few years back, I found myself walking alongside him on Front Street so I mentioned that we had met at Derek Andrews’ birthday party many years ago where we jammed together - he was playing drums and had to repeat his name to me a few times before I got it. So now as we’re walking along I ask if he would like a copy of my new CD and hand one to him. He looks down at it and says “Brian Blain. That’s a good name. I wish I had that name.” I bet he’d be glad to have a new name right about now.

Something to Celebrate: Last week I marked a milestone in my music career – I got my statement from SOCAN (they collect royalties for performances of your compositions) and for the first time in 42 years, it was not a negative balance. That’s right, all this time I’ve been paying back a $1000 advance that I received when I signed with SOCAN (then BMI Canada). Every few pennies I earned since then was deducted from my national debt until today, when I will be allowed to keep those pennies (and I do mean pennies).

Over years of management changes, mergers and many new names and logos, the one thing SOCAN never lost track of was anyone who owed them money. I wish their collections department was as proficient at finding ways to collect for performances (this statement was for performances at this time last year – a full year and this was for performances in Canada. Don’t ask how long it takes when the performances are in another country!) I just wish they could start compensating composers for every single spin. They’ve always maintained it can’t be done but they must know that eventually they will have to do it. There I go again, biting the hand that feeds me…

Out and About: Harry Manx breezed through Ontario after two back-to-back marathon tours of Australia and UK and we made our way down to Hamilton to see his show.  It was quite stellar, as always.  Steve Marriner played with him and they've done this together so much that it was second nature. I think the last time I was in Guelph was when I opened for Harry Manx (did I mention I'm playing in Guelph on Thursday?).

BrianB, Steve Marriner, Alyson MacGregor, Harry M and Lily Sazz

Earlier that week I had a nice evening at Monarch’s Pub listening to Gary Kendall’s band with some fine Gold-top guitar playing from Darren Poole and a couple of nights later I was off to the always impressive Women’s Blues Revue. Despite the unavoidable obstacles, a singer who got sick, a band member who barely made it to Toronto after being snowed in in New York State, a great show was pulled off. And most agreed it was one of the best ever. Better attended than the last couple of years – we even had a “virtual” attendee in the wings as former WBR guitarist Donna Grantis (now in tour with Prince) was Face-Timing with Shakura and the girls. There’s a photo gallery on the TBS website.

Here I am with WBR’s sexy saxist Carrie Chesnut and blues broadcasters Holger Peterson, and Julie Hill

Here's something you'll probably never see again - Canada's two pioneering blues bands, Powder Blues and Downchild, on stage together. The occasion was Downchild's 45th Anniversary. I may not have been around for the early days of the Downchild Blues Band but I've had the pleasure of attending several milestone events in their illustrious history, not to mention having their rhythm section playing on one of my CDs and having a surprise appearance by Mr Downchild himself to play harp with me on a couple of tunes at a festival appearance a long time ago.

Here I am backstage with Donnie and I should note that the guy who got me that festival gig a long time ago, "Sab" Sabourin, was sitting right behind me for the show Massey Hall last night. Sab has been fighting a battle with the big "C" and he was looking a little worse for wear but his indomitable spirit will surely pull him through. He's a full-tilt blues rocker but he saw something in my quieter approach and put in a good word for me on many occasions and I will never forget it. The Downchild celebration featured an opening set by Tom Lavin and Powder Blues, although Tom Lavin was using a local crew for this gig, some "ringers" that he picked up while he was in this part of the country. Ironically, he couldn't use his regular eastern crew because most of them happen to play with Downchild but his "B-team" was as sharp and solid as he could ever want, Tyler Yarema on keys, Tom Bona on drums and Leo Valvassori on bass - whom I hadn't seen in ages.

Leo's the guy who recorded "New Folk Blues" and we had a nice chat with Michael Fonfara - reflecting back on some of the recordings we made together including a song I wrote about Loreena McKennit. I had recorded it with the Downchild rhythm section and it was quite an epic tune, 8 minutes or so, with different sections and tempo changes (you don't get that very often in a Brian Blain composition). But alas a friend of Loreena's and her publicist, Richard Flohil, had both cautioned me that Loreena would not appreciate having her personal tragedy (the drowning of her fiancee and her subsequent abandonment of her music career) as fodder for somebody's blues song. So I shelved it before we even mixed it and just the other day I was going through an old hard-drive looking for some files and tried to find a rough mix but alas there was nothing to be found. I guess it's gone into the ether. All I remember is the chorus, "Sad Loreena, Lady Broken Heart, oh Loreena, don't put down your harp."

There were many more great musical moments at that Downchild show. Phillip Sayce cruised into town from LA to make an appearance - he came a long way to play one song but he made a big impression.
A video posted by brianblain (@brianblain) on

Phillip talked about Jeff Healey and Jeff's spirit was omnipresent in that hall last night. Tom Lavin had a great story about when he met Jeff and Jeff told him about hearing Powder Bluesat the old rotating stage at Ontario Place (his mother had taken him). Ten years later he still remembered Lavin playing some high notes that are not reachable on a standard guitar neck and he asked Lavin how he did it. Lavin told him he was bending the string on the metal pickup cover of his Gibson guitar. Jeff told him "I've been wondering for ten years how you did that!" (Jeff played a Stratocaster and it doesn't have metal pick-up covers). Also great to hear Steve Marriner and the Monkey Junk guys - I will see Steve again when he plays with Harry Manx in Hamilton later this week.

Missed a couple of great shows this week (only because I was attending othe great shows). Anthony Gomes was playing Hugh's Room at the same time as Downchild and on the Thursday night, I was a Jordan Officer CD launch and had to pass on the Harpdog Brown CD launch. When it rains, it pours!

And here's a couple more Instagram clips from this week. Jordan Officer and Alex Pangman. Both shows were a real pleasure...

A video posted by brianblain (@brianblain) on

A video posted by brianblain (@brianblain) on

PS:  is where you go to vote for the Maple Blues Awards.Only a couple of days left.