Saturday, January 21, 2012

The Maple Blues Awards

Monday night was the annual gathering of Canadian blues musicians, promoters  and uber-fans. It's held in the newest and fanciest concert hall in Toronto, Koerner Hall.  Pretty ritzy.  I had intended to buy a new suit for the occasion, well, mostly for the Folk Awards event that I hosted last month but in the end it was black jeans for both. A lot of good lookin' bluesers in the hall. The highlight of the show was "Funky Louise", alter-ego of host Shakura S'Aida.  She had me in stitches - search for Funky Louise on YouTube and you'll see this hilarious promo for the awards also featuring co-host Treasa Levasseur. 

There were many great performances but my favourite musical moment was Bill Johnson and what a great guitar sound he had.  I had to ask, what was that amp? ...and he told me it's a hand-made amp made in his hometown, Victoria.  They're called Toneliner.  And they have the tone alright, though the fingers of Bill Johnson had a lot to do with it. I met Bill five or six years ago when he came to the Blues Summit and backed up Layla Zoe at the Blues Campfire.  I can't remember if he sang himself at that time but I do remember that he got me a gig in Victoria and I am eternally grateful to him for that. I've been playing his album a lot and so have a lot of other people, apparently, because it was nominated for Blues Album of the Year even though he's hardly ever played in this part of the country. I'd love to see him do a whole evening.

Speaking of sound I've got to say when you're in a hall like that, you're supposed to be able to close your eyes and it should sound like you're in a big living room listening to a very big, very expensive stereo. I'm always a bit taken aback when I'm in a premier concert hall and it still sounds like you're just in a big hall.  I don't want to hear the room, I don't want to hear the speakers working - I just want to hear the music.  Come to any show at the jazz festival and you'll see what I'm talking about - and that's in a bloody tent!

Ooops, am I getting negative? Well I feel I'm entitled to my opinion, especially considering I actually bought a ticket for the first time in 15 years.  Yes, this old media mooch actually laid down a few bucks because the Blues Society seems to have taken a page from the Folk Awards and the JUNOs where EVERYBODY buys their ticket. Though I'm sure a few VVIPs slipped through...

After the awards a few of us made our way to the hotel and had an impromptu jam session in Rick Taylor's room where I had the pleasure of sitting across from Joe Murphy and hearing him for the first time (he did a tune at the Awards but he is best appreciated up close and personal). I never heard of Joe Murphy until last month though he has been a fixture on the East Coast blues scene for decades and I can now attest that he is definitely the proverbial "real deal".  Great meeting you, Joe, and great to say hello to many other visiting artists who I only run into once or twice a year. It was a delight to look across the lobby and see the chrerub-face of Tim Vaughn smiling at me.  Tim had introduced himself to me at a Blues Summit five or six years ago - he was just a teenager then, surely the youngest delegate ever at the Blues Summit, and now here he was attending as a nominee in the "new artist" category.  Good on you, Tim.