Sunday, September 7, 2014

Southside Shufflin'

Having made no arrangements for a media pass, I arrived at the main gate prepared to pay my ten bucks (and glad to contribute and I noticed that all the people in the line were being searched and any bottles confiscated. They even made a little girl empty her water container. And here I had a nearly full coffee from Tim Hortons! I stood by the side and started to gulp it down when the security lady said "It's OK. You can come in if it's Tim Horton's." Man, Tim Horton's owns their ass! I guess that's why the festival is so fussy about making sure that "Tim Horton" appears every time they say "Southside Shuffle."

The first band I saw was The Burgess Brothers - Tyler Burgess is a great singer and plays drums with the laid back feel of Levon Helm and I always liked Chris Burgess' guitar playing even though he's as lackadaisical about his career as I am (I think he mostly likes working on cars). Still he's got a signature sound on that Strat - the same one he's been playing for 30 years I was told by Jerome Godboo, who was standing next to me.

Had a nice chat with Jerome and it was mostly about the role of the bass player - Jerome has been working without a bass lately and finds that his harp-playing is coming through better. He also complimented me on my style of bass playing - which is downright simple but in the groove. I guess if he's gonna have a bass player, it should be one who plays less.

I only made it to the last day of the Southside Shuffle because Friday night was rained out and I had a bass-playing gig at a block party downtown on Saturday. But I'm thinking they might have saved the best for last, though I sure wish I'd been there to see Janiva Magness. Here's a video that Randall shot of Janiva singing "I Won't Cry"

I've seen Janiva Magness at the Beaches Jazz and even talked with her a bit but now reading her bio in the programme book about how both her parents committed suicide when she was a teenager and she was on the streets at 17 (and pregnant). Yikes. She's got a right to sing the blues.

But notwithstanding that, and all the other fine female vocalists that played the shuffle this week-end (and there were many great ones), I can't imagine any of them equalling the performance I saw by Angel Forrest. There were some jaw-dropping moments, even from one of the aforementioned female vocalists who was sitting off to the side of the stage and started out looking unimpressed until she could just not hold that stoic look and started swaying with the music. So my fellow Townshipper showed them how it's done. And all without any bass and drums, just her voice and two acoustic guitars. It didn't hurt that one of them was Paul Delauriers who is moving up fast in the ranks of Canadian guitar royalty. There's something special about reaching the energy level of a rock-band in full flight with only acoustic instruments. I love it when that happens, and I think I have achieved that myself a few times.

Friday, August 1, 2014

Blainletter #70 Holiday Edition

Blainletter #70 July-Aug 2014

Greetings Blainreaders – it looks like another month has slipped me by so this will be another bi-monthly Blainletter. We'll call this this July-August Vacation Issue.  I don't think anybody's going to complain about one less email.  And I did heed the complaints that my letters were getting too long, so I'll try to keep this one short, even though there's lots to tell.

First things first, I have a gig tomorrow…ooops make that TODAY.  Actually the gig is probably over by the time you read this. Oh dear.

Saturday, August 2 - 1:30 - 4:30 p.m. (I'll be going on about 3:30)
Portobello Restaurant & Bar  995 Bay St., Toronto ON  M5S 3C4  416 926-1800

The Words and Music Salon is a long running series that mixes music with poetry and other readings.  There will be 3 other musicians playing (and 3 poets reading).  No cover.

Anyway, I've got to send this out - better late than never.  It's long overdue and I always get someone coming up to me saying how much they enjoyed it.  A special welcome to my newest Blainreader, Vid.  Vid and I met at the Toronto Blues Society booth at the Waterfront Blues Festival and were chatting about music and tai chi and when we got around to exchanging names, he exclaimed “I know you – Overqualified for the Blues!“  Isn't that heartwarming. And I got a nice compliment from my old friend Michal Hasek who played my song about Lenny Breau on his radio show and said it brought a tear to his eye.  These are the moments we musicians cherish.

And, if I might continue blowing my horn,  I have been advised this week that my Klout score has gone up and I'm number six on Reverbnation Blues chart (whatever all that means). And this is the topper:  I'm featured on the current episode of STOP-TV, a program in the Eastern Townships.  It's a half-hour of “moi“ singing and talking.  It's worth checking out if only to see the fancy editing that my old bandmate Maurice Singfield did.  I was singing in front of a green screen and he has me transported into an old barn (or the seashore for my tune about Cape Cod – complete with seals and dive-bombing seagulls)

Just got the authorization code to take ownership of  Considering I was an “early adopter“ of the internet (like back when there was only one browser, Lynx, and it was just text-no graphics), you would think I would already own the dot-com for my name but I am so cheap and for the longest time I dragged my heels and then when I finally went to get it, it was gone. The other Brian Blain is a pecan farmer/vintage race car driver in California who bought it but wasn't using it.  As the years went by, I noticed a lot of folks were going to brianblain (dot)com so I'll never know how many messages (or gigs) I missed over the years. I asked him if I could take it over and he most generously agreed. Anyway, it'll be a slow transition but by next year I'll be

As I was putting together the newsletter for my housing co-op (yes, another newsletter!) I included a story by a local part-time historian about my street and was surprised to see that my house on Woodfield Road was kind of infamous.

Carrie Davies, a maid who shot one of the wealthy Massey family after he tried to rape her, stayed with her sister Maud at my little “shotgun“ during the trial.   That was 1915. The trial was quite sensational and the Toronto Star acting as the apparent mouthpiece of Massey’s powerful relatives, sought to discredit Davies but the jury found her not-guilty. It was a turning point in Canadian justice because up until then, male members of a household would take sexual liberties with their live-in domestic servants with impunity. Carrie's lawyer, Hartley Dewart became leader of the Ontario Liberal Party not long afterward but due in part to his role in Davies’ trial, the Star‘s management actively worked to prevent him from becoming premier in the 1919 election. After losing in that race, Dewart retired from politics. (As my ex-mother-in-law used to say, “no good deed goes unpunished“)

Out and About:
It seems like I've been spending every week-end at the foot of my street at Woodbine Park – a 28-acre park that they built quite recently. It looked a bit naked and gawky for the first couple of years but it is now home to Afrofest and (for the first time) the mainstage of the Beaches Jazz.  Afrofest, previously at Queen's Park, were moved there kicking and screaming and now Beaches Jazz has been evicted from Kew Gardens and moved there as well.  A lot of people will miss the cozy setting but they'll learn to love Woodbine Park (I think Afrofest has).  At the press conference for Beaches I came face to face with Mary Margaret, the new city councilor for the Beaches and asked her straight out, “What happened to Kew Gardens?"  And she looked me straight in the eye and said, “I have no idea."  I think she's got what it takes for a long political career.

The Waterfront Blues and the Beaches Jazz festivals are so close I was able to take in a lot of music this month. The outstanding highlight for me was Sugar Ray and the Bluetones.  Every time I see them I say to myself “it doesn't get any better than that.“ I missed the big night on Saturday because I was enjoying a lovely poolside jam session in Port Credit with Allan Fraser & Marianne Girard along with Lynette and David Hines and Allan McKinlay.  I raced back to catch the last set of some guys I had heard playing on the street on Thursday night - I was wishing I had bought their CD on Thursday and was intent on finding out who they were.  No, it was not blues, nor was it even traditional instruments.  They were playing electronica but it had a groove and I wanted to hear more.  And I'm happy to say we've connected and are planning a session together.  Many of you will know that I have another musical persona besides the gentle folky bluesman – I have a Stratocaster equipped with a MIDI controller and I get some pretty crazy sounds.  I started this project so that I would have a band to take to the gigs where people aren't interested in listening to my “story songs“.  I've done it a few times with my son the DJ under the banner BlainBlain and it gave me the bug.  You'll like it, really!

I walked the entire length of the Queen Streetfest and took numerous little video clips on the iPhone.  I started to assemble it but it's not done yet.  I'll put it up on the as soon as it's done. 

Thanks for reading this far.  Remember you can unsubscribe at any time by replying to this address.  See you out there,

BrianB (aka Colorblind Brian, The Stringbuster)

Link of the Day: "4 Reasons Why Music Careers Are Getting Trounced By Tech":

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Chet Atkins' Epitaph

“I’d like for people to say that I played in tune, that I played in good taste, and that I was nice to people. That’s about it.”

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Blainletter #69 June 24, 2014

Hello to my cherished Blainreaders and happy Fete Nationale to all my friends in Quebec. I feel like I know each and every one of you, and with the new anti-spam legislation, I am legally obliged to know each and every one of you. Makes me glad I never put anyone on this list who didn't ask, but if by some fluke you don't know me (or have forgotten me) then please reply immediately and I will remove your address.

We're already at the halfway mark at the Toronto Jazz Festival and even though I'm temporarily full-time (for ten days, at least), I'm still (barely)managing...I just got the July MapleBlues off to the printer, I've uploaded a bunch of pics & videos to the Jazz Festival website and I think it's time to play a little guitar :-) ...because I'VE GOT A GIG ON FRIDAY!

Brian and the Blainettes at Monarch's Pub (Eaton Chelsea Hotel, Gerrard & Yonge) Friday Night, July 27th at 9PM. No Cover.

Colleen Allen and Carrie Chesnutt are the Blainettes, and if you can picture this, they will both be playing baritone sax on some tunes. I was inspired by the dueling trombones in Big Sam's Funky Nation (or was it Galactic...) so I think we'll have a bit of duelling baritones. Colleen was part of David Clayton Thomas' band at the festival and pulled out the bari a few times. When I told her I wanted to do dual bari's she said "...because you can never have enough bottom." Victor Bateman will be playing bass and if you want to blame someone for encouraging me to pursue my music in this town, it was Victor who heard a few of my tunes at a birthday party and dragged me over to his buddy who had a DAT machine and we recorded a demo, which became my first CD, which led to a second CD then...well, you get the idea.

Out and About:

Tonight I made two great discoveries. One was the band Galactic (even though I had them confused with Lettuce - who are appearing in a couple of days).

An amazing singer (Maggie Koerner) and a kick-ass band. The other discovery of the day is Ben & Jerry's Cherry Garcia ice cream. Mmmmm.

My favourite festival moment so far: Kellylee Evans at the Jazz Bistro.

I only made it for the last 3 songs but they were ripping it up. Kellylee doing some wild free-style vocals, Robi Botos digging into his keyboard making it sound like a screaming stratocaster and guitarist Justin Abedin getting some sounds like I've never heard before - twisting and turning the tuning pegs to create an amazing solo. Reminds me of the time I saw Kevin Breit do a solo where the guitar wasn't even plugged in but the amp was cranked and he was just tapping and squeezing the guitar cord to create a loud buzzing solo that was undeniably musical. I love it when conventional instruments are played in unconventional ways.

Besides this recent flurry of Jazz Festival activity (did I mention amazing sets from Shemekia Copeland, Chaka Khan, Lou Pomanti's new band Oakland Stroke, Melissa Ethridge, Robert Randolph....hey it's not sounding very jazzy with this list, but as always, there's something for everyone).

Here's Lou Pomanti pulling out all the stops:

I remember the first time I was headed out to hear Robert Randolph I was told to bring some earplugs and it's true he gets loud but I thought it would be different in the tent but they brought their own soundman and right away they had the kick drum as loud as it would go. I saw our regular sound guy making his way out of the tent subconsciously shaking his head. Don't they know we've got a sound system that can make an artist sound just like his recordings played on a huge expensive stereo. But I guess they want the live experience to be different - more like a kick in the gut.

There was a great moment when Robert Randolph spontaneously invited a 17-year old Andrew Prince to join him on stage:

This was not staged at all, Robert somehow knew this kid played guitar and when I asked Robert afterward if he does this at all the shows he said "Not lately." I guess he had a feeling this kid could play - and he certainly held his own. To take you behind the scenes a bit, Andrew and some friends had contacted the jazz festival office to see if they could somehow get into the Snarky Puppy show at the Horseshoe. Since they were all underage, that was not possible but media staff took mercy on them and invited them to this show instead. Andrew could not believe when RR pointed to him and called him to the stage and for a while, the kid couldn't figure out how to get around the barriers but he eventually found his way and was handed a guitar - and then it was RR's turn to be surprised as Andrew held his own as the two traded solos on Who Do You Love?

Snarky Puppy at the Horseshoe was the hot ticket last night and I'm embarrased to say I never heard of them (they won a Grammy, after all) but I got the buzz and I was going to check it out but then I heard them doing a couple of tunes on the radio and it was just not enough to get me into that Legendary Sweatbox, er, Horseshoe. Still, everybody's talking about it today so I guess it was pretty amazing.

At this time of year I would normally be reporting on all the music I heard at Canadian Music Week, North by Northeast and Luminato but I was on tour in Quebec during CMW, I didn't apply for a media pass to Luminato because last year even though they gave me a pass they did not give me access to any of the shows I wanted to see. And for the first time since its inception, NXNE declined my request for a media pass. Oh well, I missed out seeing hundreds of bands that mostly sound the same.

I did get to a NXNE Film Festival event (all the music festivals now have a film component). This was a film about Vann Pianoman Walls, an R&B pioneer who moved to Montreal in the 50s and was a big influence on my blues pals Stephen Barry and Michael Jerome Browne (who figure prominently in the film). And I was surprised to discover that the Director of the film, Steven Morris, was from my hometown, Sherbrooke, and remembered me practicing with my band in our garage on Prospect Street. Another film I saw was about Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper's manager and a real character. That film is called "Supermench" and is a great look at the music business.

On the home front, those who were shocked to see the X-Ray of Linda's broken knee will be happy to hear that she's recovering nicely and the knee is now bending about 40 degrees.  Joel has been doing security and the jazz festival and doing a lot of web-work and not enough music. The garden is overgown and the grass needs to be cut.  So what else is new

While in Quebec, I recorded a TV Show for STOP-TV and Maurice Singfield just sent me one of the tunes - Ramene Moi Demain - which has some retro visual effects that are pretty cute. You'll get a kick out of it:

See you out there,  BrianB

Friday, June 20, 2014