Friday, November 30, 2007

On The Road with Kathi

[Posted by Brian Mon Oct 29, 2007] I just played 5 nights in a row and I can't remember that happening to me since the 70s. And it's a beautiful tour, fascinating venues, great audiences and short drives. Last night I was presented a bouquet of flowers as I took my bow (CAREER MILESTONE #33). It was also a milestone for me to play on a stage where the dressing room/green room is behind the stage and I was able to slip behind the curtain and into that room while Butch did his solo feature. That was also cool, but every gig is different and nothing was more different than last night when we played in a 13th century Castle - a Benedectine Monastary before that. Now it's just Schloss Gostek, home to some squatters turned entrepreneurs and now the info centre for the recently uncovered/restored 7000 year old solar observatory and some say temple of sorts. I stood in there alone and began twirling around slowly and then I was compelled to start turning the opposite direction. As I walked away, I thought to look back down into the valley at the site one last time and I received a very powerful message to NOT look back. Which I didn't. OK, enough of the spooky stuff. Back to Music:

The first night of this leg of the tour was Divaldo Pod Charou in Pisek, CZ. It's the first place I ever played in Europe and I was glad to be back even though I wonder if they remember me. We have to sell the CDs a little cheaper here - just because the Czech Republic is not as economically flush as many other European partners. This tour followed a 3 day break in Dresden where I was able to co-write a song with Kathi *and* edit my MapleBlues newsletter remotely. With me here in Germany, the publisher in Spain and the office manager in Paris, it was good to have the internet (and for those reading this who don't know me personally, I was making websites when they were text-only.

We took a train to Prague and it was a familiar ride to me. We were picked up at the station by Hansa, our driver fo the rest of te tour. In Pisek, they put us up in a "sports" hotel next to the arena. The bedrooms all had 3 beds in them, but we each got a whole room to ourselves. Saw some old friends and made a few new one (Malak is a local musician who really enjoyed the show and was very complimentary to my guitar playing - one other sound guy said my guitar was an "orkestre" - I guess he meant I got a lot of sound out of that $250 Johnson resophonic.) Anyway, enough patting myself on the back...did I mention I got a bouquet of FLOWERS???)

The club in Pisek put us up at what they called a "sports hotel". It was next to the arena and each room had 3 beds - it had been home to many a hockey team, I'm sure. As I walked down the dark hall, I had a vision of being a young hockey hopeful, a contender, on my way to play an important game that might bring me to the attention of the NHL. The hotel was called The Buly - we had lots of bully jokes in the van after that! Still, I can't complain about the accomodations on this tour. It's been first class, sometimes literally first class.

Driving down the road I'm hearing lots more stories - why is their a harpsichord intro on "For Your Love" by the Yardbirds (because there wasn't a piano or organ in the studio that day...btw, it was Brian Auger playing). Or how did Keith Richard get that distorted guitar sound on Satisfaction (he dropped his amp). And why was Sonny Terry not talking to Brownie McGhee (well, maybe some things are best kept private).

The Maltzhaus in Plauen, Germany took the record as the oldest club I ever played - it was built in the 1200s. We had a great audience (goes without saying in this country). I got a big roar from the crowd in the middle of a guitar solo. One guy in the audience even knew who Magic Sam was. Kathi and I had written a song on a day off and we performed it for the first time. All these towns are turning into a blur of cobblestone streets but what I do remember is when we got a TV with an english channel (or two). This one had CNN and BBC all-news along with a couple of channels that featured pretty graphic ads for phone sex and then some kind of phone-in gambling game with a semi-nude hostess. Also two (count em, 2) channels with jazz - one had old footage of Thelonius Monk and the other was showing more contemporary jazz. Curtis Tigers was playing a great tune that inspired me to start re-working "Last Time I Saw Lenny" (note to self: in F)

Next day in Pirna, we played a room where there was a spacious, comfortable dressing room right behind the stage. We were served a fabulous spread Tapas-style from the Spanish restaurant next door. How convenient to have a dressing room where I was able to slip in and sit for a minute while Butch did his solo feature spot. Great PAs in all these venues, this one was the Klein & (something) - considered the Rolls Royce of PAs (The Courthouse in Toronto just installed one of those high-end systems)

The last gig of this leg was The Schloss Goseck (the castle I mentioned at the beginning of this post). The gig was great - wonderful audience , a real cross section of "townies" and the ver alternative types who started out as squatters here and now interact quite nicely with the local populace. This morning after the gig, I got up at 8:30 and walked up from the Castle where we played and walked through the village and over to the site of this restored 7000 year old sacred spot where cavemen would calculate the time of the year by the way that the sun would shine through certain openings in this tall woodden "fence" which has been rebuilt according to the ruins that were recently discovered. I had the place to myself. I stood in the centre and did my tai chi set, then chanted and spun around slowly and without making any conscious effort I realized that I was now spinning the other way (???). Then as I walkied away from the site, I had a very strong feeling that I should not look back, so I didn't. That's as "mystical" as it got, but I did have a little incident as I was leaving the abbey where we stayed (part of the castle). There was a rack of tourist brochures and I grabbed one and as I was looking at it, another fell to the floor. I thought some light-hearted message like "well, if you're a ghost doing that then thank for leaving me alone to a peaceful sleep" and then a whole stack of brochures flew off the rack onto the floor....hmmmm. Kathi was shown the chapel last night and said she felt nothing spiritual in there and more likely that horrible things had gone on in there.

[Posted by Brian Wed Oct 24, 2007] I was going to send you all individual postcards but I left behind my bag with my address book in Switzerland so this will have to do.

Greetings from Switzerland! We've just completed the first leg of our tour. These gigs were with a full band that included a German rhythm section with very big ears - Ingo Rau on bass and Vladi Kempf on drums. Playing with Kathi McDonald is akin to being on the stage with Etta James or Aretha, and any connoiseurs of blues vocalists would probably agree. I have to get used to playing with goose bumps running up and down my body for half the show. Shortly into the first set on the first night, Kathi leaned into me and said "pretty good for the first night with no rehearsal..."

I ran into Madagascar Slim at the Toronto Airport - he was heading out on a Western Canada tour with Tri-Continental. He warned me about Air France being hard on instruments (they wrecked his Fender acoustic) but they allowed me to take the guitar in the cabin with me on two flights so far. And I dare say the food on Air France is tastier (even though they played the same damn Robin Williams movie I saw the night before at home)...I even had a bottle of wine with my dinner...good preparation for this tour allright. I just mentioned to Miss Kathi that I've been called upon to open more bottles of wine in the last few days than in the last couple of years in TO. If I had to choose between ice cream or booze, it would not be hard decision for this old blues guy. As some tight-ass reviewer wrote a while back..."Brian Blain Bluesman? Ha Ha Ha..." Well this tour could turn it around - I've had more wine & cheese than at a year's worth of CD launches. And tomorrow we head to the Czech Republic where beer is cheaper than water (and safer to drink) so here goes...

Just before jumping on that plane, I was at the OCFF conference in London where I think I managed to line up a little work in both Western and Eastern (as in St Johns Nfld) Canada. I have to accept the fact that if I want to play I'm going to have to hit the road. The highlight of the conference was jamming in our little "blues room" What a pleasure playing with some of the up and comers on the blues scene like Steve Strongman and introducing them to some of the veterans like Danny Brooks and Bill Bourne and Rob Lutes.

In a moment of rationality I bought a watch at the airport, but I realized after the first gig that the hands and the watch face look the same to Ole Colorblind and I can only see the time when the light is right (ie *not* on stage).

As soon as I got to Germany we headed down to Freiburg, on the edge of the Black Forest - right where Germany, France and Switzerland meet. We did a gig in Freiburg (this must be the bicycle capital of Europe) It is apparently the warmest place in Germany. A real college town. We did a show there then a couple in Switzerland (though nothing within a view of the Alps...damn). The first gig was a club called the Albani in Winterthur which transformed into an after-hours rave scene after our show. We were lucky to get our stuff off the stage before the place turned into a veritable mass of tatooed flesh. They were dancing madly to old Buddy Holly records and singing along to "My Boyfriend's Back." Go figure...

We ate our dinner in a rather funky place too - lots of leather and piercings but the food was great and the punks quite friendly. Actually the club had reserved a table for us at a nice Italian restaurant but we got there too late and it was packed. Man, those Swiss really know how to run a hotel. The place we stayed in Winterthur was not only clean and elegant but visually so modern...No rectangular mirrors in these rooms. The Alte Post was quite the contratry - very rustic. Kind of in the middle of nowhere but 90 people came out of nowhere and filled their little concert room. I felt pretty close to home when I saw the owner's wife wearing a Rita Chiarelli T-shirt and when I commented on it, they started playing Rita Chiarelli CDs. They love Rita at the Alte Posta. Very appreciative audience and I've already sold most of my CD's - I only brought 50. I was a little embarassed that I didn't know the last names of the bass player & drummer when I was doing the band introductions but then later in the set, Kathi whispered in my ear "I don't know your last name..."

As we ended the set with a Long John Baldry hit, It Ain't Easy, Kathy was in tears and I couldn't understand why until she told me afterwards that this venue was the first gig on the last German tour with Long John. I brought along a copy of the new Long John biography for her - she had not received one from the publisher so she was devouring it right away and I was hearing her having laughing fits as she read some of the things she had related to author Paul Myers (she is probably the most-quoted Baldry band-mate in the book...and boy have I been hearing Baldry stories as we travelled along those Swiss mountain roads. Tomorrow we head to Prague where Hansa, Baldry's long time road manager will be picking us up and managing the rest of the tour...I'm sure there will be more stories. I still can't get used to paying for a washroom (and it's not cheap, sometimes as much as a buck). And the quality of the facilities varies from a hole in the ground to the most sophisticated antiseptic toilet that has a seat that rotates around a cleansing pad of some sort...pretty freaky.

[Posted Wed Oct 10, 2007] Here I sit running over the chords for tunes I haven't played in thirty years. Whiter Shade of Pale, Southern Man...I've never been much of a "jobbing" musician. I don't have a vast repertoire of standards - I do what I do but here I am figuring out the guitar parts for Long John Baldry and Rolling Stones tunes. As I have probably bragged below in earlier installments of this blog, I am off to Europe in a few days to do a big German tour (big for me!) with legendary vocalist Kathi McDonald.

I'm sitting here listening to Steve Gash being the guest host on Low Down to Uptown on CKLN-FM, his old stomping grounds. I'm juggling my iTunes between the radio show and downloading songs that I have to learn in three days because in a few days I'll be on stage playing them with Kathi McDonald and Butch Coulter.

Mama! I'm a jobber! I can't remember the last time I actually had to figure out the chord changes from a recording. But who would have ever thought that you could dial up any song you want and download it...even if it costs 99 cents.

OK Folks, I'm going to get back to learning some tunes and then....I'm outa here. My Blainletters will be short and sweet from here on out.

Saturday October 6: Here are some of the gang at Michael Jerome Browne's Toronto CD launch at the Acoustic Harvest. Pictured above are Grit Laskin (Borealis Records), MJB, drummer John McColgan, the legendary Stephen Barry, Suzie Vinnick and moi. This was not a show I was going to miss even though I should be home preparing for my European tour - I leave in A WEEK! And meanwhile I've got the OCFF conference where I hope I might line up a little work for next year. I had also hoped to attend Liam Titcomb's show tonight but that was not to be. That song I wrote for him is getting to a good comfort zone for me. I had to put it into the third person but I think I'm going to pull this song out at an appropriate time - it's a bit rocky for yours truly but always nice to have a change. I was riveted by Michael's performance. I called him the "professor" because he has such a schooled approach, without diminishing any soul or heart. He's got it all. I saw Suzie Vinnick taking it in from the front row. After the show, I looked over and saw Suzie stacking chairs - just like the old church-basement concerts. Everybody pitches in.

Thursday, October 4: Here I am on the big stage at Healey's. I one of several guests at the jam hosted by Danny Marks - a throwback to the days when I first met him hosting the Stormy Monday blues sessions at Albert's Hall. That's back when the blues clubs were packed on the week-ends and you could even get a crowd out on a Monday night. I'm excited because I've got a new pick-up in the old Epiphone and now I will see what it sounds like through a big PA. Well, I plug into the DI (direct box) and...nothing. The sound man just points me to the Fender Twin and has me plug in there. Would it have been too much trouble to try another direct box. So much for hearing my new pick-up (LR Baggs I-Beam, fyi)...But what a treat playing with keyboard genius Dennis Keldie for the first time. He is most highly regarded in this town and now I know why. He picks up on what you're doing and fits right in - phenomenal solos. Danny also played some great guitar and I had Jerome Godboo on harmonica and the dream rhythm section of Al Webster and Alec Fraser. And on the break, there we were, a bunch of blues musicians in the "Green Room" talking about how to edit video clips for YouTube...

Before heading to Healey's, I swung by Hugh's Room to hear my old buddy Ray Bonneville who was opening for Guy Davis. I had actually jammed with guy in a hotel room at the Folk Alliance conference a few years ago. Ray played great and I only stayed for a couple of Guy's tunes - Ken Whiteley had just climbed up and played some killer mandolin.

Wednesday, October 2: I got invited to be part of the audience for a video shoot for Country Music Television (CMT). I'm planning a DVD so I wanted to see how they did it (six cameras, fyi). The band was Little Big Town, who I had never heard of but are apparently the next Dixie Chicks. beautiful harmonies, to be sure - never got to hear the band as a whole - they had set up a wedge monitor for the small audience but all it projected was vocals. All we heard was vocals and drums (the band were all wearing hi-tech in-ear monitors). It's the first time I've ever been to a session that got interrupted so that lipstick could be adjusted.

Sunday, Sept 30: Just back from a little getaway to the Eastern Townships & Montreal. Somebody said the fall colours were beautiful but they forgot that Ole Colorblind needs some pretty dramatic reds and yellows to enjoy the light show. The subtle colours escape me. Got to hang out with my old friends Allan Fraser & Donna (The first Fraser & DeBolt album has been re-issued and the Cleveland paper just reviewed it - " denying the raw emotion of this rediscovered gem"). Then I saw Maurice Singfield from Oliver Klaus and the brilliant Daniel Racine who's been producing some very atmospheric music. A great visit even though I missed 2 CD launches, a book launch and Nuit Blanche. It's hard to pull yourself away from Toronto - so much going on. As I pulled out of my old stomping grounds, Waterloo, Quebec, bluesman Bob Walsh was setting up for a concert in the old Masonic Temple. Wish I could have stayed.

Monday, Sept 24 - I'm sitting here putting some new strings on the old Epiphone and then heading down to the Now Lounge to do a couple of tunes at the Anniversary Party for Jennifer Claveau's Groovy Monday concert series at the Now Lounge which I played at last year. The long rambling Blainletter below was supposed to go out in August, but this time the technology got the best of me and I couldn't send it to my whole list - so here it is for any and all interested. This is going to replace my blog. It's so easy.

The August Blainletter was supposed to go out at the beginning of the month to promote my gig with Lily in Hamilton (and we sure could have used a little promotion) We played in a restored train station of sorts...weird setting.

...Anyway, here's your monthly update from the front lines in my "career development" (career development tips are highlighted in red, in case there are any other 60-something emerging artists out there who might benefit). This week-end I was planning to go down and check out the Burlington Ribfest where I have some friends playing and this morning I get a note from Michael K. who books it saying he's sorry he wasn't able to fit me in the programme this year. Now I just remembered he offered me a gig in the festival when we played together a few months back. So much for my follow-up skills. Memo to self: Follow up, follow up, follow up

Here's another valuable tip: Always bring a back up guitar in case you break a string and make sure it's tuned up. I'm usually good about this, but the one time I don't check the spare, I get a flat (so to speak).

For a while, I've been reading the infamous "Lefsetzletter"(yes, that's where I got the idea to call this the Blainletter) but lately I heard him speaking in a podcast from a music conference in Australia...and he was coming down pretty hard on artists who don't have a following (ie, "if you don't have any fans it's because you suck. If you are great, they will find you."). He's got a point. The good news is that it doesn't take a huge ammount of fans to support a career - not in this town anyway. If you've got 50 friends who will come out, you can play practically any club in this town.

Lefsetz was mostly talking about the MySpace phenomena. We'll I've got a MySpace and until now it served as my default website but starting now I will use this Google Page to keep everything under one roof - my bio page at, my old blog, my photo album and a couple of podcasts More podcasts to come, some right from my backyard.

These Google Pages are great because they're free and easy (I never paid for web hosting yet and I wasn't going to start now). Try it yourself, it's a robust elegant interface.

Anyway, back to music - my career development - which is what this blog is supposed to be about. The Hamilton gig was the last gig between now and my European tour with Kathi Macdonald and Butch Coulter - and I just got a call this morning with two new dates - Nov 2 at the Palette in Kappeln, Germany and Oct 25 at the first place I ever played in Europe, The Pod Garou in Pisek, gateway to the real Bohemia in the Czech Republic.

I've been messing around with video editing software and will soon be loading up more performance clips - maybe raise the "profile" a bit, and of course, show any potential employers what I can do. My friend Harry Manx was in town last week and we grabbed a clip of a DVD he brought and sucessfully loaded it up to YouTube (search for Harry Manx Portugal).

And a Blainletter would not be complete without a quick look back on all the great music I've heard this month: The latest was Carlos del Junco last night. Just him, Mark Sepic on guitar and Al Cross on drums. Three virtuoso was mesmerizing. Lot's of really intricate worked-out stuff. I don't think Kevin Breit played those tunes with Carlos...though I love Kevin's wild abandon. I kind of missed Henry Heillig on bass but Mark had it covered, in some tunes he had a bass sound on the two low strings of his MIDI guitar. Anything Carlos tries is OK with me. The night before him, we went to the Bob Snider CD release. I was with my best-ex who never lived in Ontario and had no idea of Bob Snider's special place in the hearts of Toronto folkies. He was charming and Paul Mills did a great opening set but I realized that this would have been an ideal show for me to open. This was "my crowd" (though they hadn't heard me...yet). Tip of the Day: Don't be afraid to suggest yourself as an opening act when it seems like a good match.

The fellow who designed my CD (and Bob's), Michael Wrycraft, was sitting next to me and I couldn't resist mentioning that the one typo that had slipped through the long, arduous CD artwork process created a problem this month when a radio host Lynn Thompson played the wrong track while interviewing me live from Nanaimo. She was getting the track number from the booklet rather than the back of the CD. Oh well..

On the non-musical front, I'm back on the Board of Directors of my housing co-op (my last residency resulted in the song "No More Meetings" - maybe this round will inspire another tune...But this time I'm NOT going to be secretary! I was so eager to get back in the game that I seconded the first motion that came up - only to be reminded you cannot second a motion to approve the minutes of a meeting you weren't at (that would count as a tip, too, but not that important to your career development.

Earlier this month I had the extreme pleasure to watch my son Joel (aka DJ C.O.I.)on stage at the Rivoli and he put on a great display of scratching and beat- making - he had the crowd mesmerized including his mom who came up all the way from Cape Cod.

A few days before that I heard the internattionally renown bluegrass group, the Grasscals - I have been hearing about them for from my friend Donna Wilson and after hearing the group I went to their website and happened upon a picture of the group backstage at the Grand Old Opry with Dolly Parton...and there in the picture are Donna and Ken!

I had a chance to sit in with UK guitar whiz Steve Payne at the Gate 403. Haven't been there in quite a while and it's a great place with a PA, a real piano...who could ask for more. Well, an attentive audience would be the final ingredient. Steve played great and I hope to hook up with him in the fall when I go to Europe.

Here's my closing tip (got this from Tom Jackson, a "band-coach" (not the actor/musician) who is full of tips for performers. Tom believes that the audience wants to see something spontaneous - something that's never happened before. Well, no problemo when it's a Brian Blain show. Just ask anyone who's ever played with me. I couldn't play a song the same way twice if I tried...well, maybe if I ever took some time to rehearse, but for the moment, let's be happy with the spontaneous effect!