BLOGGING AND VLOGGING FROM CANADA'S BEST KNOWN UNDISCOVERED OLD WHITE BLUESMAN

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Blainletter #25 December 1, 2009


In This Issue:

• Season’s Greetings
• Colorblind Brian's Blues Campfire (that’s TONIGHT – grab your guitar
and come on down to Highway 61)
• Yes, there will be a new album in 2010
• Women’s Blues Revue, Downchild and Massey Hall
• Overqualified still spinning
• Out and About
• Thelonious Monk’s advice for musicians (via Steve Lacey)
• Are You a Google Genius?

Well, it is December so I will say Season’s Greetings to all my Blainletter subscribers and on this occasion I’m doing a little outreach and blasting the whole world via MySpace, Facebook and the listserves where I mostly lurk (sorry for any duplicates). It’s a one time thang so no need to unsubscribe unless you’re already subscribed.

I hope I’m not jumping the gun but the Holiday Blainletter is usually a last minute scramble between Christmas and New Year and I thought I’d get it out of the way right now – not that I have a lot of gigs to promote this month. I’ve got a band gig on the calendar for the end of January but I hesitate to advertise it because the venue is not convinced they will continue presenting live music.

Last month three gigs fell in my lap and then fell right out of my lap. It's not like I'm getting rejections, because I don’t even ask. So far, I've been happy to play when invited and leave it at that but I think I need to get more pro-active, especially now in the last gasp for festival submissions. If you've heard my music and you like what I’m doing, please feel free to put a bug in some club owner or festival director's ear. Word of mouth seems to carry a lot more weight than a fancy press kit.

Still gathering around the Campfire:
Meanwhile “Colorblind Brian’s Blues Campfire” every Tuesday (7 to 10pm) at Highway 61 (1620 Bayview) has been going great. Interesting guests...many of them part-timers or hobbyists but I love having them around the campfire and making them sound better than they ever have. Many pros drop by too, the elegant Rita di Ghent, Doc Mclean & Big Dave dropped in on their cross-country "Century" tour, Robin Banks raised the roof, Son Roberts a real natural and a delight to play with, Roberta Hunt and Martin Aucoin have brought their keyboards on occasion and last week I had “Professor Piano” himself, Scott Cushnie. Everybody loves the food and the campfire is much less of a "show" than a regular gig or “open stage.” Musicians arrive, pull up a chair… it’s very casual. We tend to stretch out the songs, everybody plays along and there's no break. Who ever heard of a break at a campfire? We just keep passing around the mike, the guitar and the bass. We play for three hours then it's over.

Yes, there will be a new album in 2010
I’m getting ready to record a new batch of songs including a new version of “Another Song About Alice,” my paean to the wonderful Alice Brock, last celebrated in the song “Alice’s Restaurant.” She’s a great artist and has been an angel to many, including my family, and I’m doing my bit to give her the recognition she deserves (visit www.AliceBrock.com <http://www.AliceBrock.com> ). This tune and several other new compositions lend themselves to the “bluesgrass” sound that has morphed from several gigs I’ve done with members of the Foggy Hogtown Boys and other local bluegrass players. It’s like bluegrass slowed down and dropped into a minor key. Of course I’ve got some rockin’ tunes to record with the fabulous Blainettes and maybe a track or two with my son the DJ (we call it BLAIN! BLAIN!)

Women’s Blues Revue, Downchild and Massey Hall
Donna Grantis and Rachelle Van Zandt were the two surprises of the night for me. These two women have raised the bar for female blues guitarists...both virtuoso players...and they’ve got soul. Mind you, I don’t think either could do the demanding "utility" job of Marg Stowe, house guitarist for the band for many years. Everybody agreed, all the performances were exceptional. There wasn't a weak set by anyone. Carrie and Suzie each did a song too and raised the roof. Some of my friends thought Sass Jordan was a little out of place, but Shakura’s set was a hard act to follow, for anyone short of Aretha herself. If you hear the show on the radio, you might even hear my name come up in the intro as Shelagh Rogers read a quote from me about Carrie's performance at a previous show. She referred to me as "the great bluesman Brian Blain" and I told her I told her I’m putting that on my website!

Backstage at the WBR (the stage door, to be precise) was the first time in recent memory that someone felt the need to calm me down. Anybody who knows me will tell you I am the most mild-mannered guy you will ever meet, but…well let me tell you the whole story: I arrive at the Massey Hall box office to see the Women's Blues Revue and get tapped on the shoulder by a west coast blues radio guy who is supposed to be on the guest list but isn't. He's asking me to help out and I go on a mission to find the prez to arrange the comps. I know from experience that when you’re dealing with Massey Hall you have to do it “by the book.” I can't find the prez at the bar so I head out to the stage door to see if he's backstage. I’m usually hanging backstage at this event because the band are long-time friends and bandmates but this time I was just trying to make my way to my seat to enjoy the show. The "gatekeeper" at the stage door at Massey Hall is a grim character who’s been there forever - probably because he does his job so well. Nobody gets past Gene unless they are on *his* list. I'm sure he would turn away the President of the United States if he wasn't on the list. Meanwhile, I just wanted to get a message to the boss! Anyway, after repeated run-arounds and conversations to various locations on an antiquated walkie-talkie system where he had to repeat the name three times to be understood, a couple of Blues Society staff had came back to the stage door. Gene was calling the office and when I tried to tell him that the guests were in the box office, he said something like "I can't do this any faster, sir" and I responded "I think you could"...well that's when I was told to "take it easy". I guess I might be getting a little ornery now that I’m pushing 64. You have been warned.

Just the week before, I was reminded that my ladder does not extend to the lofty heights of Massey Hall when I had to go through three publicists in order to schmooze my way into the big Downchild 40th anniversary show, which in fact was sold out. Neither the publicist for the Hall or for the band had any more comps but alas a wonderful young lady at the record label came through for me. Downchild gave an impeccable show, of course - worthy of the big stage at Massey Hall. I was in the balcony for Downchild and I think it sounded better there than the third row, where I sat for the Women’s Blues Revue. The vocals sounded boxy and the bass did not have much definition (considering it was the phenomenal Brandi Disterheft playing it). Can't remember if the lighting was any better at Downchild, but where was the light man at the Women's Blues? It seemed like all the lights were on, all the time, and it's too bad because the ladies were looking fabulous and it would have been great. There was one dramatic scene where Shakura S'Aida slithered onto the stage - slow and cat-like while Donna Grantis was playing a great solo. It would be great for the photographers but in their old-fashioned way, Massey Hall still forbids picture taking and enforces it aggressively.

Overqualified still spinning:
I was happy to see one of my tunes on Danny Marks’ playlist this week, and they still crop up here and there. The days of being in the “rotation” are over, I’m afraid, but I still get the occasional encouragement and this month it came in the form of two “fan” letters, both from CBC listeners in the far north (hey, I thought Jurgen Goth was the only CBC show that ever played me but maybe I’ve got a champion in the Arctic). One letter was from Yukon and the other from Nunavut and both were from ex-pat Townshippers who remembered the Terrace Inn and had great memories of that lakeside bar in Quebec where I played with the band Oliver Klaus in the mid-seventies. One of the letters was forwarded to me by the band leader, Maurice “Oliver Klaus” Singfield who has suggested I come down next year and take part in their annual reunion concert. Maybe I can parlay that into a Quebec tour!

I'm also learning a couple of Stompin Tom songs so I can be part of a Stompin' Tom tribute night in February. And last week I was at an agent's office and the owner of the agency liked my beard and mentioned they were looking for Santa Clauses, but no, I have to draw the line somewhere.

Out and About:
I was supposed to go to the John Mayall show, had it all arranged, but I didn't pay attention to the start time (7pm, WTF?) and it would have been over by the time I got there. I heard some great reports...especially about his new guitarist (Rocky Athas?) I remember seeing Coco Montoya for the first time when he played with Mayall at Ontario Place. I continue to be amazed by Coco, but I'd like to see this new guy. There were lots of other great shows on my calendar in November, but I missed most of them. I did get out to the Sky a couple of times, and saw Lily Sazz's band, Groove Corporation rocking the house and then last Friday I took the ex-wife dancing and where better than Paul James Band at the sky. It’s been great having this regular Tuesday gig at Highway 61, but I had to miss a lot of great shows this month including John Showman’s CD release, the Socan Awards, Paul Reddick and lots of other faves.

Thelonious Monk’s advice for musicians (via Steve Lacey):
Just because you're not a drummer, doesn't mean that you don't have to keep
time. Pat your foot and sing the melody in your head when you play.
Stop playing all those bullshit notes. Make the drummer sound good.

Don't play the piano part, I'm playing that. Don't listen to me, I'm supposed
to be accompanying you.

Don't play everything, let some things go by. Some music is just imagined.

What you don't play can be more important than what you do play.

A note can be as small as a pin or as big as the world, it depends on your
imagination.

Stay in shape! (When the gig comes, you have to make it.)

What should we wear tonight? Be as sharp as possible.


Looking for a Google Genius:
Much as I would rather be playing guitar, the demands of being a part-time (desktop)publishing mogul are still taking up a lot of my energy but my son the DJ has been pitching in with the “family business” and I’m making greater use of some of the wonderful online publishing tools being developed by Google. To that end, I am searching for someone who is more comfortable than I with Google Code and Google Gadgets and thought I would mention it to my immediate circle before I start trolling in the tech sector. The idea of using open source software and free utilities to service non-profit arts organizations does not necessarily appeal to most entrepreneurs and venture capitalists, but if you happen to know an altruistic techie, send him over.

Thanks for reading this far. Most of this is extracted from my blog at http://torontobluesdiary.blogspot.com.

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