Saturday, June 9, 2018

Saturday, May 12, 2018

Blainletter # 102 | Happy Mother's Day

What's Goin' On

Greetings Blainreaders!  I didn't realize how much was going on last month until I started collecting my thoughts for this blog - got some great little video clips (vlogs?) too. Just added a bunch of new subscribers - mostly from the house concert where I put out a sign-up list and mentioned it from the stage (which I rarely remember to do). If you just got this email and never heard of me, it means I couldn't make out the handwriting and sent it to the wrong address.  Just go ahead and unsubscribe at the bottom of this message - but I hope it's all good because I just topped 400 Blainreaders! Thanks to all for the encouragement.

Regular Blainreaders will be aware that Mother's Day has a special significance for me – I've always tried to make a special event and this year it falls on my regular Campfire night at the Old Mill.

I can announce that I've entered the pre-production phase of what will be a new CD in the fall.  I'll be trying out a  bunch of new (half-written) songs at the gig but my audience at the Home Smith has always been most supportive.  I was lucky to get Jesse O'Brien back because every time I play with him I get more than the just a piano player.  He brings something else to the party and this time he brought his Colin James bandmate Chris Caddell.  And since I was going to divert from the usual song-circle format, I decided to bring in Michelle Josef, a drummer for all seasons.  Of course it would not be Mother's Day if I didn't dig deep into the memory vault and pull out my 1973 cult classic, Don't Forget Your Mother

I'm happy to report I'll be playing the Orangeville Blues and Jazz Festival on Friday, June 1.  It will be a busy day starting with and acoustic set with Larry Kurtz at the local branch of the TD Bank.  It's our annual "bank job."  Then at 5pm I take to the street and play for another couple of hours.  Joel will be coming along to do the heavy lifting.

Out and About

My old buddy Scott Cushnie, "Professor Piano," celebrated his 80th birthday with a bunch of friends on the patio at The Duke.  We thought we might move inside but every table was reserved for the five o'clock show by Robbie Lane & The Disciples.  Robbie heard that Prof was on the patio and came out to say hello and checked with him if he had played the piano on Robbie's 1964 hit "Fanny May".  Scott said yes and so Robbie and the band played it for Scott.



I didn't get to take in much of Canadian Music Week –what with my own gigs and pre-production (not to mention updating the jazz festival website, and editing newsletters for the blues society and the musicians union) ...but I did check out a showcase put on by a Quebec management/booking outfit called "bonsound" – kinda reminds me of "Good Noise," my old label in the seventies.  I thought of them the other day when some old-timers were reminiscing about when they got signed and "everybody in the band got a steak dinner and a leather coat" – I had to laugh, because when I was negotiating the renewal of my contract they didn't want to give me the agreed $$$ but André Perry's wife Yael said "you can keep the coat" (a beautiful leather coat of André's that they lent me for a photo shoot).  "Plus ça change…" as they say in Quebec…

Anyway, I stayed for two bands, a very poppy outfit and loud punk band but I really had to get home and get out this Blainletter before the gig. I did get to chat a bit in French and ran into Jordan Safer who has gone from running the Music Managers Association to being a manager himself – well, at least he'll know what he's dealing with. I also ran into Ron Proulx at the Paddock on Wednesday night.  I made a special trip to hear a bluesman from France, Slim Paul who put on a great show.  I mentioned to Ron that I missed his Facebook Live blasts and I guess seeing him inspired to do a little Live Facebookin myself.  You can view it on my Facebook. Slim ended his set by laying his guitar on the floor and making it feed back – a la Hendrix (you can't see it very well in the video and I made my way out before the climax but if he lit it on fire, I suppose he had a very durable guitar for that, a steel-bodied resonator.

In all my years going to these conferences and festivals, this was the first time I left the house without my pass.  The earnest young volunteers at the door of the Paddock were not buying my excuse but Nico, the owner, went over and put in a good word for me. Still, I figured it would not be a night for a club crawl so I stayed put at the Paddock and heard a great young singer songwriter, Laura Mitic from BC – a fine guitarist playing a fine guitar (a Jeff Tweedy signature Martin, she told me). Then I saw Shawn Clarke who I met a few years back when he was working with Kaya Fraser, Allan's daughter. He put out his album on vinyl – old school! During Shawn's set, the room got awfully noisy - he was visibly annoyed - and finally I turned around to see who was making the racket and there was a woman I recognized as the poster girl of modern independent labels and I suppose the others were all music execs too...I think I wrote a song about this....

Don't know how much CMW I'll see tomorrow but I'm mostly looking forward to seeing Harry Manx at Hugh's Room.

Last week, I got to check out the tiny perfect venue called the Senator Wine Bar, right next to the Jazz Bistro.  Owner Bob Sniderman was not ready to be out of the music business so he demolished his office space above the Senator Restaurant (the oldest continuously operating restaurant in the city) and managed to wrangle 24 seats, a cocktail bar and a Heintzman upright piano into that narrow space.  Julian Fauth plays there on Fridays and usually has a guest.  This time he had a couple of old buddies from the days when they were all living in Kensington Market and one of them even sang a tune written by the notorious Kensington Market character, Ricky Atkinson.  It's a biographical tune about all the banks he robbed and purses he snatched but he "never hurt a woman."

A couple of weeks before that, the week-end of the relentless freezing rain, it was a birthday celebration for Paul Trotter and Arlene at the Cadillac Lounge.  Paul and Arlene were a big part of the Toronto Jazz Festival when I started there in the early 90s.  Paul was the Technical Director and Arlene was in charge of the "hotline" – imagine, before the internet we had a phone number where you could check the schedule "online" (ie, on your phone). I remember she had that great Canadian announcer, Fred Davis, in a little closet reading all the artist names and where they were playing. He was not having fun.

I saw some old colleagues I had not seen for years. I was invited to do a couple of tunes and looked over to see the legendary roadie, "Brillo". WhenI introduced my song about Kathi MacDonald, "Bulletproof," he was quite overcome -  it turns out Brillo had been on the road with her and could relate to the lyrics.  He was quite emotional and I thought it was great that I could keep Kathi's spirit alive in some small way.  Trotter had discovered an old piece of film shot at a festival in the 70s and he had it restored for the event and it turns out it's a very young Willy P. Bennett. 

More Ancestry

I used to call it my "Motherless Day Blues Show" in reference to my being a "foundling" and adopted by Mr & Mrs Blain (the whole story is related in my song "Enfant Choisi."

Now there's a whole new development …as a result of my DNA test, my geneaological consultant Marg Stowe has narrowed down my birth parent(s) to the point that I think I just made a Facebook friend request to someone who is probably a half-sister and there's more to come.  I've been hesitant about all of this business, but Marg has been dogged in her research and it looks like I'll soon be enjoying an extended family.



Saturday May 12, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Mother's Day Special with Chris Caddell, Jesse O'Brien and Michelle Josef  The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto, 21 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Friday June 1, 12:00 noon  Brian Blain & Larry Kurtz  TD Bank, Orangeville Mall (part of Orangeville Blues & Jazz Festival)

Friday June 1, 5:00pm  Brian Blain w/Jesse O'Brien and Michelle Josef  Blues Cruise - on Broadway (part of Orangeville Blues & Jazz Festival)

I call it my "living" album because it started life as a solo "live" recording with bassist George Koller and has now been "sweetened, stacked, mixed and mastered" with new instrumentation on all the songs. It starts with New Orleans marching horns from Alison Young and Colleen Allen on "Forgotten",  “Alice“ gets violin and banjo from Drew Jurecka and Tim Posgate. There's a reggae percussion workout with Trinidadian Wayne Stoute and the wonderful Michelle Josef, some sweet slide from Harry Manx on the French tune, barrelhouse piano from Toronto expat Patrick Godfrey and organ grooves galore from Australian B3 sensation Clayton Doley. "The Ghost of Clinton's Tavern" is a full-tilt electronic ambient remix by my son the DJ. 

Saturday, April 7, 2018

Jason Buie Fundraiser Toronto 2018

When west-coast bluesician Jason Buie died suddenly last week, few folks in the Toronto Blues community had ever heard him though he was a pillar of the blues community in BC. He stuck to the west coast and had given up touring a few years back in order to raise his twins as a single parent. But when he came to town for the Maple Blues Awards in January, we all had a great first impression of Jason. He touched everyone he met and gave a memorable acceptance speech when he received the Maple Blues Award for "New Artist of the Year."

Jason was hardly a "new artist" (he had been playing for 35 years) but he was new to us and a bunch of Toronto musicians jumped in to raise some funds to help out his kids. The Toronto Blues Society set up a GoFundMe campaign  (donate here) and Gary Kendall volunteered to organize the music - and he must have spent all week on this project.

My connection with Jason came about because someone had put up a Facebook post offering an internet stream of the Maple Blues Awards gala but in fact it was a scam, a common one, and Jason was the one to discover it when relative of his was victimized.  I had to talk to him about that which morphed into a discussion about whose Fender Strat was the most beat-up (distressed).  Funny, I ended up having a similar discussion with Dan McKinnon at the fundraiser...

Drummer Al "Baby" Webster, who was a bandmate & roommate of Jason's in BC had brought him to Toronto a while back and introduced him to Jeff Healey, who was one of Jason's guitar heroes.  Later when Jeff made his way out west, they would get together and became fast friends.

The Fundraiser has raised over 2K for his kids and it was great to be hanging around with a bunch of my peers, though I think once again I was the oldest person at the band table where we gathered after the sound check. We were offered a complimentary dinner - and dinner at Hugh's Room is something most musicians can't afford, but tonight it was "on the house." I went for the steak - the most expensive item on the menu (as Gary Kendall pointed out to me), but it's the only thing left on the menu that I hadn't tried. I was disappointed in the salmon last time so here was my chance to try the steak (and it was good).

It was great sitting around that table as the "old-timers", Gary, Terry Wilkins & Bucky Berger and Lance Anderson told stories of the glory days to the next generation of blues players (in Quebec, we call them "la releve" (the ones who will take over). As I was eating my steak, I was reminded that a steak dinner (and a trip to Montreal) was what I received as payment for my first professional recording session .  "Les Marionettes" with Le Trio BAK on Disques Match (1963).  Recorded at RCA Studios on a 3-track Ampex (that was the most tracks available at the time). And here I am, at the "sunset" of my career and I'm back playing for a steak dinner again - but this time for a worthy cause.

Thursday, April 5, 2018

Blainletter #101

Tonight at Hugh's Room Live - Jason Buie Fundraiser - It's a benefit concert for a young blues guy that most of us just met at the Maple Blues Awards in January where he won "Best New Artist." Jason Buie made a big impression on everybody who met him that week-end and we were shocked when he died suddenly last month leaving behind 3 kids (with 10-year old twins he was single-parenting).  The Toronto Blues Society jumped right in and organized a fundraiser for his kids and several of us who made a short but sweet connection to him offered to put on a show. Gary Kendall has been hard at work organizing it and has put together a great lineup featuring Suzie Vinnick, Lance Anderson, Mark"Bird"Stafford, moi and three of the fastest-rising stars on the local blues scene, Raha Javanfar, Dan McKinnon and Jenie Thai with the solid rhythm section of Bucky Berger on drums and Terry Wilkins or Gary Kendall on bass. Admission is $30 at the door but rest assured it is going to a good cause

Saturday, April 14 is the Campfire Jam at the Old Mill with my very special guests Harpdog Brown from BC, Jordie Edmonds his touring partner and the brilliant Jesse O'Brien on the big Yamaha grand.  We will be playing some down home, old-school blues and I'm really looking forward to it (details on the sidebar or at the bottom of this Blainletter if you're reading on a phone).

On Saturday, April 21, I'll be playing another solo house concert at the home of Ann Kerr-Linden in the Spadina/Bloor neighborhood.  It's a beautiful space and I remember it was a great arrentive audience last year.  It's not a big space and Ann likes to know how many people are coming so if you're interested in seeing yours truly, intimate and interactive (no amps, no PA), send her an email at

So, spring has sprung, apparently, but today there was snow in the air
and huge winds that took down this tree at the top of my street.

There's lots new around here, in particular a new car, because the old Volvo had ceased to be "Old Reliable" and I was using it sparingly and then, out of the blue, I was offered a car for (virtually) free.  This is not unusual for me.  Every car I've had since I came to Toronto has been either free or damn near. It started when my future ex-wife uttered her parting words, "you can have the Tercel. I'm getting an Accord!" And ever since then, whenever one dies another appears. It's my car-karma. And I try to be true to my Car-ma  by giving lifts to folks who don't have wheels.  This one is a Honda CRV called "Winona." I'm just feeling pretty good about making it through a long and bitter winter (see Quote of the Day).

Ancestry Update (Careful What You Wish For Department)

If you've been following my adventures in DNA-land, you'll recall that I was getting close to finding one of my birth parents (in case you didn't know, I was adopted).  We were confident that we knew my great-grandparents on one side and it was just a matter of elimination to narrow it down to possible parents.  I was actually in touch with a couple of cousins, making more inquiries, when all of a sudden the line kinda went dead.  No response and I expect that was because somebody was getting uncomfortable with all this poking around the past. And I respect that, so I've put on the brakes.  But at the same time, someone new just sent in their DNA and I get a notification that I've got a new connection.  And my intrepid investigator Margaret Stowe used that connection to verify some previous DNA connections and now we're well on the way to discovering my "other" birth parent.  It seems I had two great grandfathers who were cooks at the mining camps in the turn of the century. Another great uncle was a miner in north Africa during the first world war, and travelling in uboat infested waters. More to follow...

New Recording

I know I told everybody that I didn't think I had another CD in me, but now I've got a few new tunes and I'm anxious to try some new ideas, mixing up afrobeat and electronica with my bluesy grooves so I think we'll be doing some recording next month.  I would not be so confident that this would be happening if I hadn't just received confirmation that a certain very busy and super-talented player has put aside some time to record with me while he's in the area.  Stay tuned.

Out and About

I was not getting out very much last month.  Under the weather and no wheels.  But I did make it out to Hugh's Room Live for Sugar Brown's CD launch which kicked off with an old favourite of mine, Ray Bonneville.  I knew him back in Quebec and saw him whenever I could after he moved to the states.  He's an impeccable guitarist and the best rack-harmonica player this side of John Hammond. I told him that and I hope I wasn't being out of line comparing him to John Hammond.  Ray has a most identifiable sound, the harmonica, the guitar, the vocal, even the foot stomping. Right away – you know it's Ray. It's what every musician strives for – an instantly identifiable sound.

Ken (aka Sugar Brown) rocked the house with his raw delivery and a tight band with Michelle Josef and Russ Boswell.  Nichol Robertson was playing second guitar, a position I've held on a few occasions, and he was pulling out some licks that were way beyond anything I could do (or imagine).  And I had to ask Russ what he was doing to make that string bass sound better than any string bass I've heard on that stage (he brought his own tube pre-amp/DI).

As I was trying to line up a keyboard player for the next campfire jam with Harpdog Brown I went up the road to Sauce on Danforth to see if Julian Fauth might be available (he plays at Sauce every Tuesday-6-9). I thought his regular Saturday at Gate 403 was over now that they're closing but as it turns out the big closing concert is the date I wanted him.  Oh well, next time Julian!

"Po Cholly" Robertson was sitting in with Julian on Tuesday (along with a couple of other harp players). Julian is the most generous of blues musicians on the scene, always inviting people to sit in with him and he wanted me to sing a tune but I was just out of the dentist and not feeling up for it. He is one of those artists whose name I've heard many times since I got to Toronto in 1990. Jack Schechtman (Gabriel) is another (though I may have met him back then). He was a fixture on the Yorkville scene in the 60s and we both ended up at an impromptu kitchen jam at our friend Sarilyn, International midwife. Below is a little video clip that captures a few of my outings last month –and  Here's a little video montage of some moments from last month. The video ends with a little clip of jazz flautist Anh Phung who was doing an event for the Markham Jazz Festival.

Just as Julian's residency at Gate 403 comes to an end, another appears. He has just kicked off a regular Friday at a new venue called the Senator Wine Bar, a tiny upscale room above the Senator Restaurant (adjacent to the Jazz Bistro…which was previously Top 'O The Senator.)  The new venue is owned by Bob Sniderman, son of Sam the Record Man.

…and speaking of Sam, I finally looked up, up, up at Dundas Square and saw the re-incarnated Sam the Record Man spinning discs – a real piece of Toronto music history.

…and speaking of Toronto Music History, I just checked out the display of photos and memorabilia at the small museum above the St Lawrence Market – Jazz Clubs from 1946. Just as I am eliminating a basement full of archives including the newsletters I edited for Toronto Jazz, The LeadSheet and Downtown Jazz.

I guess that's enough for now.  Oh but let's not forget the …

Quote of the Day:  "Winter never fails to turn into Spring" (from the Buddhist scriptures)

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

Upcoming Shows

Friday April 6, 8:30 at Hugh's Room Live for the Jason Buie Fundraiser w/Suzie Vinnick, Lance Anderson, Mark"Bird" Stafford, Brian Blain, Raha Javanfar, Dan McKinnon and Jenie Thai with the solid rhythm section of Bucky Berger on drums and Terry Wilkins or Gary Kendall on bass. $30 at the door.

Saturday April 14, 7:30-10:30pm Brian's Blues Campfire Jam with Harpdog Brown, Jordie Edmonds, Jesse O'Brien  The Home Smith Bar at the Old Mill Toronto, 21 Old Mill Road.  No Cover ($20 min food & beverage)

Saturday April 21, 7:00  Brian Blain (solo)  House Concert at the home of Ann Kerr-Linden in the Spadina/Bloor neighborhood.  $20 or PWYC  Contact for details