Wednesday, September 10, 2003

September allready and I didn't make a single post in August. I aplogize to the two or three of you who were looking for more chapters in my ongoing saga. Since we advertised the release of my CD for September 03 September, and since it's September now and it's still not released, I guess I owe an explanation.

It all started a couple of years ago when Fred Litwin of Northern Blues offered me a contract to lease my indie CD (made five years ago at Puck's Farm). With Bill Garret in my corner, we convinced Fred to let me record a new album. I spent a few months recording my new tunes in my home-studio, set up and operated by Paul Benedict.

The solo acoustic thang did not get them very excited but we had a straict deadline so I called in a couple of players I knew well and we laid down some solid tracks, but I still wanted a "quiet" album - because I find the first one too raucus.

Well, now I find it *too* quiet and now I'm at the stage where I'm overdubbing some gritty electric guitar on some of the tracks. I may re-do a couple of vocals then we're gonna mix the sucker and get it out there. I've got the old Strat out and I'm even using a pick!

Had a nice break visiting the Eastern Townships and Cape Cod. I was happy to visit the Singfield Brothers who I played with in the Seventies. I played them the track I recorded called "Terrace Inn", named after the club we worked at every summer when I was playing bass in their band, Oliver Klaus. Then in Provincetown, I found myself having dinner at Alice Brock's - this is the Alice who has been immortalized in the song "Alice's Restaurant". I was playing a few tunes at the dining-room table and Alice told me that was the table where Arlo wrote that folk classic. I can only imagine some of the other formidable musicians who sat around that table. It's a round oak dining table and looks almost new, but Alice explained that it's quite old but that it is a "self-healing" table. Many a cigarette had burned a mark at the edge but they all faded away - not to mention a lot of spilled red wine, I'm sure. She showed me a crack in the table that had been a major gash where a knife had been plunged into it, but it was now practically closed up. On the drive back to Toronto, we stopped at the original Alice's Restaurant in upper Mass - it's now called the Guthrie Center and presents music regularly.

I haven't been hustling for gigs during the summer - I guess I thought I'd get invited back to a few festivals as I was last year, but ...wrong! Time to get on the phone. Harry Manx was in town for a couple of gigs and invited me to open for him at Hugh's Room but when I got there, it turns out that another opening act had been booked, unbeknownst to anyone. Her name was Heather Horak and she had driven all the way from Ottawa so we worked out a way for both of us to play. I did a couple of tunes then brought her up for a short set. I got to be the M.C for the evening and that was a lot of fun. I was up with Harry till 4:30 the next morning putzing around with my MIDI guitar setup.

I love bass players (maybe that's because I started as a bass player) and this month I played with a couple of greats. Terry Wilkins played with me at Chicago's (along with Michelle Josef on drums and Lily Sazz on piano) and although I generally prefer string bass, he played electric on that gig and it was the same solid groove that I'm usewd toi from his gut-bucket bass. Then a few days later I played with Ka-Cheung Liu, who is making a name for himself on the jazz scene but who really kicks ass with the blues - hope I get to play with him again.

Meanwhile, I've been totally distracted by lots of "other people's music." The Toronto Star Bluesfest brought an incredible array of talent. I was out of town but made it for the Saturday night and Sunday performances. My highlight was David Lindley. I've heard lots of great lap slide lately, and he had that "low-end" that is an essential part of Harry manx' sound, but he brought something else - funny lyrics, for one thing. The site was great, three stages in close proximity. Based, I'm told, on a floor plan developed when the CNE was being considered as a venue for the jazz festival. I didn't even take advantage of my media pass to get into the backstage or VIP area (Gary Kendall thought it was the best backstage buffet of any festival he's attended).

I only had one media pass but Jacquie Houston and I walked right through the gate and straight to the stage area where Rick Fines was playing (playing great, I might add). Then a very earnest volunteer tapped me on the shoulder and said "We saw your pass but we didn't see hers," Busted! Jacquie had a couple of tickets in her purse anyway, but it shows they had pretty good security. At one point, a security person signalled that I should be leaning on the barricade. I heard the volunteers were very well treated, except for the transportation co-ordinator who quit halfway through the festival (another thing I heard behind the scenes).

I got to see Anson Funderburgh - my man on guitar. But this week-end featured a procession of great guitarists - Tommy Castro, Robert Cray, Kelley Joe Phelps, John Mooney, even Richard Thomson. I saw Big Ben Richardson pulling a double shift playing with Tony D then playing with John Mooney. Later David GoGo was ragging on him that he had wanted him for his set, too.

There was one off-the-wall performer named Howard Gelb (sp) who I never "got." He would stop in the middle of a song to play a clip of Ellington on a CD player. Go figure. Somebody even called the Blues Society office complaining about him - not that we had anything to do with it.

The Bluesfest was put on by the same group that does the Ottawa Bluesfest, a phenomenally successful event in Ottawa, and I hope their coffers were filled because they lost their shirt in Toronto.

A few weeks later, it's the Southside Shuffle in Port Credit - a very different kettle of fish. They've got the audience - the streets were packed with throngs of people, I bet most of whom never get out to a blues show. But no big bucks for talent here - mostly local bands playing and no signs of big sponsors. The closest I got to the main stage was looking through the chain-link fence by the porta-potties with a generator blasting. On the street I got to hear some bands I've never heard - Wayne Buttery and the Groove Project, a big 8-piece classic R&B unit. Nice to meet someone in person after you've been reading their emails for years. And The Livin Blues Band had a special guest, Maria Aurigema, a great singer-guitarist from upper state NY. And there was a great young singer called Larissa, I think, playing on the street. (She also had a fine bass player, there I go again about bass players) Who was that young woman playing bass? If anybody has contact info for her, write me at - and I'll know that there's somebody out there reading these rambling blogs.