Now that I’ve played a gig at the legendary Black Swan, I decide to drop in at the regular Saturday All-Star jam session. I have not gotten the feeling that Toronto musicians are very hospitable – it seems that no-one is really happy to see another musician that’s going to take up valuable space on stage. As my old blues buddy Butch Coulter joked in one of his tirades “Welcome to Toronto – Wipe that smile off your face”. Anyway, Lorraine puts in a good word for me and I am included in the lineup for the second set. When I knew we were about to go on, I had to make a short trip to the washroom and when I got back upstairs everyone was on stage. I went directly to the stage and was pointed in the direction of a vintage Fender Amp in the corner. I plugged it in but alas, no sound. I’m turning knobs and leaning over the back of the amp looking for a standby switch thinking “This is some kind of initiation. If you can’t find the standby switch on a twenty year old Fender amp, then you’re not allowed to play the blues. At least not in this town”. While I’m thinking about all this and trying to get some sound, I hear “Ah on-two-three-four” and the band is playing. I was near the PA mixer so I just found an empty strip, plugged into that and cranked it up. I watched the next guitar player who got up and I couldn’t hear him doing a thing, although his hands were moving. I guess he knew more about the etiquette of jamming – pretend everything is alright (even when it isn’t), look cool and never have eye contact with anyone on the stage.
A couple of weeks later I went by again, this time with no intention of playing, but just to meet someone. In the washroom, I ran into Gary Kendall, the organizer of the jams (and on of the leading blues bookers in town) and although he didn’t recognize me right away, as soon as he did place me, he invited me to sit in on the next set. This time I used the guitar that was there and that was fine. I played for quite a while, mostly laying low in the background but then one of the singers called “The Thrill is Gone” and they asked if I wanted the solo. I said sure, then as someone was counting it in, Gary turns to me and says “The solo’s at the top”. I had just enough time to figure out the key and managed to play an introductory solo without any goofs. Phew. I left the stage after a set with a guitarist who had an armload of effects pedals and played with the guitar behind his back. And to further amplify the myth of the greasy blues bar, my jacket was stolen from the table where I was sitting. Another initiation, I guess. The most positive aspect, though, was a terrific horn player called Sax Gordon who was in town with Luther “Guitar” Johnson and who put us on the guest list for the Sunday Night at the Bermuda Onion. There Lorraine and I got to hear a blues show that was as good as it gets. Machine-gun delivery with exceptional musicians, especially the piano player, Joe Crown. Luther played with Muddy Waters and Joe has capture and added the piano sound epitomized by Pine Top Perkins.