BLOGGING AND VLOGGING FROM ANOTHER OLD WHITE CANADIAN BLUESMAN WHO NEVER MADE IT BIG

Sunday, April 6, 2014

Remembering Jesse Winchester

I only had a few encounters with Jesse Winchester but they were all memorable.  One time he remembered my playing but another time he didn't remember me.  My first recollection of Jesse is a small apartment in Montreal where he had a big Revox tape recorder on a piano, I think, and it was the first time I had seen a Revox close up like that.

But before I ever saw Jesse, he came into my life when I was managing a folk duo called Breakfast (Allan Fraser and Sue Lothrop).  Sue called me from Montreal and said they were going to need a couple of hundred dollars from the band fund to pay the union initiation fee for an American guitar player they wanted to play with them at the Venus de Milo Room  (on Rue St-Catherine I think).  I said "absolutely not" but they went ahead and did it and Jesse played with them for that gig and a few others. After that, he was playing coffee houses on his own.

Then a year or two later I was asked to produce the 2nd Fraser & DeBolt album for CBS Records, New York.  The label definitely wanted somebody else to produce but were at least reassured that I had produced sessions for an ad agency and knew how to stick to a budget and fill out a contract.  At one point I heard Allan talking to the A&R guy saying "well it's either Phil Spector or Brian"  I had to laugh.  Spector was priced out of the market, one other suggestion from New York was an unknown musician and studio rat called Todd Rungren who had just recorded Jesse Winchester's debut album (and as rumour has it, accidentally erased some important masters).  Finally it was agreed that I would co-produce the album with Jesse and Jesse came down to the Fraser & DeBolt farm in Cookshire for pre-production. Everybody was tripping on mescaline and I think he might have been a bit appalled - though he was still enjoying his brandy.The whole circus moved to Toronto where we set up shop in a brand new studio called Manta (we were the first paying customer and my budget of 22 or 26 thousand was way more than any Canadian album project).  However we accomplished very little in the first 5 or 6 days except to exaspertate David Greene who was their top engineer.  He handed us off to suave Californian called Lee De Carlo who was a little more comfortable with our scene - and even brought his own stash.  But in the midst of this, Jesse lost patience.  I think, as they say, he wasn't having fun - so he just made a call and went home.

A little while later, I went to Lennoxville, Quebec to see Jesse's first gig with his new American band - hand assembled by Albert Grossman, I heard, and shipped up to Canada to play (and presumably record) with Jesse. After playing a bit with Jesse in Canada, they headed back to the states and became the Amazing Rhythm Aces.  Jesse was still getting his feet wet playing with a band but I recall it was a great show - with Jesse digging in to some solos digging in to some solos on a Gibson 335.

A few years later I was introduced to Jesse and he complimented me on my playing at a recent gig.  That made me feel real good.

It was many years till I saw him again.  It was at the Folk Alliance Conference where he was receiving a Lifetime Achievement Award (orsomething equally prestigious).  He was walking with his wife and I spoke to him briefly and refered to that time long ago when we had tried to produce Fraser & De Bolt.  I don't think he remembered too much about that but he was very cordial.

And now I hear that he passed away.  He was definitely one of the great ones - so many classics...


here's a nice audio portrait with wise words from Jesse:

http://www.ascap.com/audioportraits/w/jesse_winchester.aspx

Thursday, March 27, 2014

BITS

Today was my first Blues In The Schools session this year, but this was not just a school but a large kids rehab facility.  I played in a gym and it was something to behold looking out to that crowd - a large group of kids in wheelchairs and all kinds of wheeled contraptions some wearing protective helmets.  But what a great, attentive audience.  Even the little ones were clapping a "second line" beat.  They had already studied African Music and the Underground Railroad.  The music teacher sent a nice review:

"Today we had an exciting, informative and exceptional presentation by Brian Blain. Our students and staff at Bloorview sang, clapped and spontaneously jumped up to dance to the wonderful music presented by Brian. We learned so much about the history of the blues.

Brian began by introducing our group of 70 students and 30 staff to the Delta Blues. He played “The Midnight Special” encouraged us to join in and told us about Leadbelly. Then he helped the children create their own verses to “Pick a Bale of Cotton”. The children were so engaged! They enjoyed learning about gospel music when he played “Wade in the Water”.

Brian was able to captivate the students for the full 45 minute concert. Their smiles, clapping and movement showed how much they enjoyed participating in the program.  Our students range in age from 4 to 21 years old and he was warm, generous and able to relate so well to all of them.  We learned about the roots of Rock and Roll, Elvis, Chuck Berry and also enjoyed his original songs.  

We want to thank the Blues Society. We are so happy to host this “Blues in the Schools” program at our school, especially since our students can’t easily attend performances out in the community. These concerts enrich our music program, our appreciation of music and inspire many young musicians."

Wednesday, March 5, 2014

Blainletter #67

This will be the February/March issue since February just slipped by me this time.  There's one gig in March and it’s next Sunday Afternoon:

Who: Brian Blain (solo)
When: Sunday March 9, 2-4PM
Where: Full Of Beans Coffee Roastery, 1348 Dundas St W, Toronto
No cover & good coffee

I had a thought to send a one-time mailing to my entire address book (3000+) if only to see how many of those addresses have gone stale but I just don't have it in me to carpet bomb all these folks, many of whom don't even know I play guitar (and don't care).  But you, my cherished Blainreaders, give me sufficient encouragement to continue this enterprise.  I may reach out a little more this time because a couple of weeks ago I was clicking around in Google+, just trying to figure out how it works, and I guess I sent everybody in my Gmail a request to join my “circle.“  Something happened because for several days afterwards I was receiving  notifications that so-and-so is now in my “circle.“  (almost 400 so far – some I know, some I don't).

Bottom line is I guess I now have yet another social network to manage.

The second Sunday in May is, of course, Mother's Day and for the last ten years I've always done a show on that week-end or right after and called it my Motherless Day Concert.  I had some great guests over the last few years but this time we're doing something different and taking it on the road.  I will be celebrating Motherless Day in Quebec this year with a couple of gigs in the Townships (Ormstown on May 9 and Knowlton on May 10) and maybe another date or two will materialize between now and than (suggestions welcome!).  I'll also be doing a TV appearance and a bit of a media push – I've got a great French tune on the album and I want to get some play in Quebec.  The song is all about my favourite place, The Eastern Townships.  I did a quickie slideshow on YouTube with photos from Daniel Racine, who wrote the words.  You can check it out here



Since I couldn't make it to Kansas City for the Folk Alliance Conference I did watch a few webcasts from the hotel-room showcases.  It was neat watching Chip Taylor singing his mega-hit “Angel of the Morning“ for a handful of folks in a small hotel room. Just like being there.  I think I may have been the first to webcast from the Folk Alliance (back in Memphis 2011) where I streamed my set as well as The Sweetness (Chloe Charles was in that group) and also incurred the wrath of Melanie BrulĂ© who was waiting to go on next while I was fiddling with the knobs. I'm sure all is forgiven now and her music career is going gangbusters

Watching the Olympics I was trying to see the parallel with music – The fact that there are champion skiers on that big stage does not diminish all the people who love to ski. There are so many people playing guitar and writing songs and all of them must think, like me, “hey, I'm just as good as that guy.“  But maybe we should just accept that there are some “elite“ artists (and sportsmen) that make it to the big stage and then there's the rest of us musicians and skiers and curlers who just do it because we love it

I heard a quote attributed to the Buddha the other day and I can't get it out of my mind: “Do your work the best you can with no expectation of any reward or recognition.“ I guess that's what I've been doing all along (although I may have faltered in the “best you can be“ department.  I think in music, there's something to be said for music that is “effortless“ – especially when it's been allowed to percolate over many years/decades.  Maybe this is just me trying to rationalize my laziness…


Saw some great Words of Wisdom about co-writing, if that's of interest.  I have never had much success as a co-writer but never really put much effort into that, either.

And while we're pulling out the Words of wisdom, here's some from Bob Lefsetz (he's the guy that will tell you to your face that if you're not selling CDs and getting people out to your shows it's because you suck). Here's what he had to say about the artist as businessman (a concept that is continually being drummed into us at music conferences and other Career Development opportunities)

“A businessman plays by the rules, an artist breaks them.
A businessman puts money first, an artist sees money as a byproduct.
A businessman has a plan, an artist flies by the seat of his pants.
Lose your job in business and you can find another, screw up in art and your career might be over."

…and much more here


Out and About



Harry Manx and Clayton Doley passed through town on Sunday on their way to the western leg of their tour (where Kevin Breit will be joining them).  I'm sure you heard about the theft of Harry's Mohan Veena at O'Hare airport and the subsequent capture of the culprit.  You and five million other people! Harry had us in stitches as he did his impression of the detective in charge of the case – kind of a Chicago mobster patois.  Here is a link to the happy ending


While we were having dinner, Clayton asked me who I'd heard lately and I was caught a bit off guard but this is usually the forum where I talk about who I've seen in the last month or so:

I enjoyed hearing Whiskey Jack playing the other night, and harmonica man Howard Willet gave me his new CD and what I heard so far sounds real sweet.

This was the first year in quite a while that I didn't play Winterfolk – I thought I might be doing one of my campfire jams but it was not to be, however I did take in a few shows and enjoyed hearing Mr. Rick doing a solo set (solid, official), David Bradstreet (with some fine guitar from Jason Fowler) and of course my old pal Allan Fraser who was performing with Marianne Girard.

The week before that I saw 5 or 6 acts but the highlight was Trombone Shorty. He uses every musical and stagecraft trick in the book. As I walked into the cavernous Phoenix along a winding hallway the sound was getting louder & louder and I was thinking I should have brought earplugs but it's just that the hallway ends right at the stage so when I got further back in the room it was. The band was already going full tilt - as if it was the last tune of the night. stretching out the endings with wide arm gestures to the drummer, high on a riser in center stage, leading to a drum solo or a quick modulation into the next tune. The drum solo had saxes playing punches egging him on. He did the obligatory one-note sustain solo but he held it longer than you've ever heard (more than 3 minutes by my count) and by the time he released the tension, the audience exploded. Later he pulled out the classic Maynard Ferguson high note. He has a tenor/bari sax section pumping away throughout - just the way I like it, then he had them stretch out by trading off on 8-bars "in the round". At one point, the horns were playing harmonies to Shorty's vocal. When it was time for (another) drum solo, the saxes punched it up. They also did some vocals, and I can't remember if they had tambourines but it reminds me that the next time I do a gig with the Blainettes I'm going to have them shaking the tams when they're not playing. When Shorty did a wacked out version of St. James Infirmary, Josh G. leaned over and said "This must be the ballad of the set."

Before I got to Trombone Shorty I wanted to drop in at the inaugural event for the Blues Society's "Third Thursday" at the Dominion on Queen. As it turned out, there was another event happening the same night, "The Wee Folk Club" which I had previously attended when it was located in the back room at a bar in Dundas Square. And once again they were in the back room, but the Dominion has a very nice back room, but I don't think they use it enough. The back of the back room, where I was sitting had a bit of a dank odour.  Banjomeister Chris Coole played a few tunes - including a great original called "A Hundred Dollars" which harkens back to the day to the days when a musician would never get less than a hundred a night and the gigs typically lasted more than one night - sometimes six! He was followed by a woman I had never heard, Anne Walker, but everyone in the room seemed to know her. A near operatic voice singing trad folk songs, or originals that sound like trad folk. 

Host of the Wee Folk Club, Scottish trad singer Enoch Kent, did the intros and reminded the artists that they were expected to share some stories too. I had previously inquired about playing the series but was told you needed songs that told stories - now anyone who knows my music will tell you that my songs all have stories - it's all I write! But I think they meant stories that resemble Chaucer more than Randy Newman. Enoch took delight in announcing that the "jazz" group in the front room would be starting later because all the microphones were in the back room. In fact, there were other mikes in the front room, though the direct box wasn't working. Chris Antonik was the artist selected to kick off the first night and he had Jesse Whiteley on piano. They played mostly blues standards, which I suppose is what most blues fans want to hear, but considering there was at least one important music journalist in the house, I would have tried to pull out a few originals.

Jesse told me off stage that he would be (re)joining the 24th Street Wailers and I had to laugh because back when that band was starting out I put something in the blues newsletter suggesting that Jesse was leader of the band and I was promptly corrected that he was just a sideman.

I still had one more stop, my friend Dr Ric was playing at Monarch's Pub and I thought they would be playing till 1am but was told that they were going to finish at midnight so I slipped out of the Phoenix before Shorty finished so I could catch a couple of tunes from the Melony Jade Band (Melony was the lead singer of the Trailblazers back when I met Lily Sazz - that's a long time ago...). Melony looked quite stunning and the band was tight but once again, it was tunes that you've heard a million times and if you're going to cover a standard you need to give it your own twist, like the way Shorty totally deconstructed "St. James Infirmary," though I'm not sure I liked where he took it. Anyway that was 5 acts in one evening and it's not even Jazz Festival season! And I was home just a little after midnight.

I had thought to hang around the Phoenix and maybe have a chance to give one of my CDs to Shorty. New Folk Blues 2.0 kicks off with my "homage" to the Crescent City and one time I'd love to present it someone from that town. I've always kicked myself that I didn't speak to Allan Toussaint when he walked right by me after his performance at the Jazz Festival. I wanted to stop him and hand him the CD and tell him I wrote a song about his town called "Forgotten". But I was too shy then and I was too shy last night too. Maybe they'll hear it one way or the other - I ran into one of the interns from last year's jazz festival who mentioned she heard Brad Barker playing my CD on jazz FM last week. The music will make its way out there, one way or the other.

That's all for now (two months' worth).  Thanks for reading.  See you out there, BrianB


Tuesday, February 4, 2014

JUNO Nominees are...

brianblain at the JUNO nominations


view full image

"@thejunoawards blues noms Harrison Kennedy, monkey junk, James buddy Rogers, david Gogo, Downchild"

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Trombone Shorty kicked ass at the Phoenix




Out and About


Best show of the year (of course, it's only been 2 weeks). Shorty uses every musical and stagecraft trick in the book. As I walked in to the cavernous Phoenix along a winding hallway Already was thinking I should have brought earplugs but it's just that the hallway ends right at the stage so when you got back in the room a bit, the volume was fine (not that you could have a conversation). The band was already going full tilt - as if it was the last tune of the night. stretching out the endings with wide arm gestures to the drummer, high on a riser in center stage, leading to s drum solo or a quick modulation into the next tune. The drum solo had saxes playing punches egging him on. He did the obligatory one-note solo but he held it longer than you've ever heard (more than 3 minutes by ny count) and by the time he released the tension, the audience exploded. Later he pulled out the classic Maynard Ferguson high note. At the end of one tune he would cue multiple hits from the band. Not the typical "two times" but over and over speeding up until everybody was blowing and strumming and hitting as fast as they could - ending abruptly with a sharp wave from Shorty. He has a tenor/bari sax section pumping away throughout - just the way I like it, then he had them stretch out by trading off on 8-bars "in the round". At one point, the horns were playing harmonies to Shorty's vocal. When it was time for (another) drum solo, the saxes punched it up. They also did some vocals, and I can't remember if they had tambourines but it reminds me that the next time I do a gig with the Blainettes I'm going to have them shaking the tams when they're not playing. When they did a wacked out version of St. James Infirmary, Josh G. leaned over and said "This must be the ballad of the set."

Before I got to Trombone Shorty I wanted to drop in at the inaugural event for the Blues Society's "Third Thursday" at the Dominion on Queen. As it turned out, there was another event happening the same night, "The Wee Folk Club" which I had previously attended when it was located in the back room at a bar in Dundas Square. And once again they were in the back room, but the Dominion has a very nice back room, but I don't think they use it enough. The back of the back room, where I was sitting had a bit of a dank odour. Banjomeister Chris Coole played a few tunes - including a great original called "A Hundred Dollars" which harkens back to the day to the days when a musician would never get less than a hundred a night and the gigs typically lasted more than one night - sometimes six! He was followed by a woman I had never heard, Anne Walker, but everyone in the room seemed to know her. A near operatic voice singing trad folk songs, or originals that sound like trad folk.

Host of the Wee Folk Club, Scottish trad singer Enoch Kent, did the intros and reminded the artists that they were expected to share some stories too. I had previously inquired about playing the series but was told you needed songs that told stories - now anyone who knows my music will tell you that my songs all have stories - it's all I write. But I think they meant stories that resemble Chaucer more than Randy Newman. Enoch took delight in announcing that the "jazz" group in the front room would be starting later because all the microphones were in the back room. In fact, there were other mikes in the front room, though the direct box wasn't working. Chris Antonik was the artist selected to kick off the first night and he had the Jesse Whiteley on piano. They played mostly blues standards, which I suppose is what most blues fans want to hear, but considering there was at least one important music journalist in the house, I would have tried to pull out a few originals.

Jesse told me off stage that he would be joining the 24th Street Wailers and I had to laugh because back when that band was starting out I put something in the blues newsletter suggesting that Jesse was leader of the band and I was promptly corrected that he was just a sideman.

I still had one more stop, my friend Dr Ric was playing at Monarch's Pub and I thought they would be playing till 1am but was told that they were going to finish at midnight so I slipped out of the Phoenix before Shorty finished so I could catch a couple of tunes from the Melony Jade Band (Melony was the lead singer of the Trailblazers back when I met Lily Sazz - that's a long time ago...). Melony looked quite stunning and the band was tight but once again, it was tunes that you've heard a million times and if you're going to cover a standard you need to give it your own twist, like the way Shorty totally deconstructed "St. James Infirmary," though I'm not sure I liked where he took it. Anyway that was 5 acts in one evening and it's not even Jazz Festival season! And I was home just a little after midnight.

I had thought to hang around the Phoenix and maybe have a chance to give one of my CDs to Shorty (or anybody from New Orleans, for that matter). New Folk Blues 2.0 kicks off with my "homage" to the Crescent City and one time I'd love to present it someone from that town. I've always kicked myself that I didn't speak to Allan Toussaint when he walked right by me after his performance at the Jazz Festival. I wanted to stop him and hand him the CD and tell him I wrote a song about his town called "Forgotten". But I was too shy then and I was too shy last night too. Maybe they'll hear it one way or the other - I ran into one of the interns from last year's jazz festival who mentioned she heard Brad Barker playing my CD on jazz FM last week. The music will make its way out there, one way or the other.

Dr Ric plays some funk guitar with Melony Jade Band at Monarchs Pub